When it comes to the pressure cooker of deadline driven tender writing you often need all the help you can get.
In this blog I’ll share some of our tried-and-true tools and techniques which may just help improve your tender writing.
Or as the Sound of Music song goes …These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things!
The tender writing tools and techniques I cover in this blog are for businesses that aren’t tendering all that often and are unlikely to invest in paid (specialist or customised) tender writing tools.
The good news, for occasional tender writers, is the easy availability of several no (or low) cost tools that will help improve your tender writing; plus some techniques that cost nothing to help with your tender writing process.
And for businesses that are doing several bids simultaneously and have access to paid tools – please read on you may learn something too!
Tender writing tools (mostly free)
The big daddy of word processing Microsoft Word is a tool that just about everyone already has; however there are some lesser-known Word features that can really power your tender writing.
Depending on your industry (and RFT requirements) you may have a long lead time on tenders and have the time to get your tender writing beautifully laid out in a graphics program such as Adobe InDesign to give almost a magazine-like feel and polish to your finished tender.
However, most bids (whether by time constraints or format restrictions) don’t often allow tenderers to respond in such a way. You’ll generally find you’re mostly ‘stuck’ with using Microsoft Word for writing tender responses.
It’s not all bad though, apart from the fact that just about everyone who will be contributing to your tender already knows how to ‘use’ Word there are some other neat time saving features you could be using in your tender writing.
Does your tender writing read OK but look a ‘mess’?
Word tender templates: If your company’s ‘look’ (or branding) as applied to Word documents requires specific formatting for different headings, fonts and tables you can save lots of time if you create Word templates as the basis for your tender responses.
By setting up Word templates with built-in branded ‘Styles’ you can concentrate on the tender writing aspects of your bid and leave the formatting up to the template.
Word Styles really are your friends – they will help you achieve the visual consistency that makes your tender a pleasure to evaluate and easy to read (with headings helpfully signposting significant information).
With typical tenders running at least 50 pages it’s a total nightmare to have to go through and manually overwrite formatting just prior to submission. Plus, too much tinkering over the top of your text can make your document buggy, misbehave and unstable. Crashing documents are not what you want the night before your tender hands in!
Is your tender writing … boring or repetitive?
Sick of writing ‘Jo has extensive experience’ constantly throughout your tender? Word’s Thesaurus function is your ‘inspiration’ short-cut.
Imagine how dull and thudding it is to read the same statement over and over in your tender documents for the evaluators (and in all the other tenders they’ll be assessing)?
Break up the repetition and drone-tone of your tender writing a little with some help from Word’s Thesaurus (after highlighting the word in question access thesaurus via the SHIFT + F7 keyboard shortcut).
For instance, why not try one of these Thesaurus generated alternatives in your tender writing for ‘extensive’:
Pro tip: Just watch the hyperbole with some of these (especially ‘unique’) and also with words like ‘recognised’ or ‘leading’. Make sure you are in fact ‘unique’ or independently ‘recognised’ as ‘leading’ through accreditation, award or other accolade.
Also, see JMA’s blog TL:DR.
How readable is your tender writing?
Word’s Readability Statistics: Often, you’ll hear it said that to make the complex side of tender writing simple (that is engaging, understandable and ultimately buyable) you should ‘imagine you are explaining your concept, service or product to a 7 / 10 / 12-year-old child’.
A quick way to check the simplicity (or complexity) of your tender writing complexity is Word’s Readability Statistics.
To enable this feature, go to Options > Proofing > check the box for ‘Show Readability Statistics’.
Then, in your tender document you can run the Spelling & Grammar checker (F7 shortcut) over your tender writing to view your Readability Statistics:
It’s a fairly basic ‘test’ but it can give you a quick indication if your text has become too jargon heavy, passive or overly long.
In the example above the Flesch Reading Ease score is 51.1, with scores between 1 and 100, with 100 being the highest (or ‘easiest’ readability score).
What will be appropriate for your bid of course all depends on your industry, the expectations and sophistication of your audience, and the level of technical detail requested in the tender you are writing.
A short quotation style tender that is really mostly about pricing for a routine service most likely won’t require the same level of technical detail in your tender writing as a detailed IT or engineering submission requires.
So consider this tender writing tool more a quick sanity check (are your sentences too long?) rather than a hard and fast ‘must-achieve-a-Year-5-reading-level’ for your tender writing.
See more on Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level here.
PowerPoint for tender writing? Yes*!
For less formal tenders (e.g. perhaps for a short introductory proposal) PowerPoint can be an excellent presentation medium for your tender writing as it forces you to write ‘short’.
If your tender format allows it consider PPT as an option. I recommend mapping out and preparing the (usually too-long) first couple of drafts in Word (which as its name suggests is designed especially for words and allows track changes to incorporate multiple rounds of edits and feedback).
Then once your tender writing has been distilled down into short, punchy, bullet point style prose you can take it out of your Word document and into your PowerPoint.
*Just remember if your response requires a lot of dense and detailed tender writing PowerPoint is probably not going to ‘work’ well for drafting or the finished product and it would be better to stick with Word which provides more control over the look of text and makes reviews easier through track changes and mark up.
Pro tip: Did you know you can know generate a PowerPoint presentation direct from your Word document? It won’t be perfect without some fiddling but it can save tonnes of time – learn more here.
Other tools for presenting your tender writing professionally
If formats allow it is a good idea to include images for covers, to break up text or to indicate new sections and to support your overall messages.
Some no (or low) cost and quick ways to inject some professional visuals to your tender writing include:
Yes, a pretty cover isn’t going to win or lose you the tender, but it never hurts to make an effort to look professional. Word has some basic cover options accessible from the ‘Insert’ tab that can be re-coloured to match your branding:
SmartArt (or other charts generated in Excel)
People think in pictures, and 90% of the information that comes to the brain is received and processed visually. So without overdoing it a few simple charts, workflows or schematics can help distil an otherwise long narrative about a plan, process or concept into an easily comprehendible visual. Ditto if your bid contains lots of data. Word’s SmartArt can be generated from a list of bullet points; so provided your tender writing is on point (and it makes sense) these graphics can can be ‘quick’ to create.
Use ‘Print Screen’ or the other screen capture software to capture screens relating to your report formats, special technology or other processes and make your tender writing feel ‘real’ rather than just a series of promises. It’s the old ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. Greenshot is a simple (and free) screen capture tool; or if you have Windows 10 installed for more complex screen captures try Microsoft’s ‘Snip & Sketch’.
No cost royalty-free images
If you’re going to include other images, prefer mostly photographs, but also the occasional illustration to lift your tender writing’s looks. Nowadays these can be found for free in a few places online, two of my favourites are Unsplash and Pexels (integrates with Microsoft Office and is accessible from inside Word and PowerPoint).
To keep things fresh (and profresh for that matter) avoid clip art or cartoonish images and visual clichés. Try to be a little abstract and less literal in your thinking when selecting imagery to support your tender writing.
Just ensure you double check licensing arrangements and if the downloaded images require you to credit the creator or payment for ‘commercial use’.
Creating infographics and other simple images
For creating other simple graphics try Canva which offers a fairly robust free version that allows you to create simple infographics. There’s also a series of free tutorials if you have the time to DIY simple diagrams to enhance the messages in your tender writing.
Need to touch up a photo and don’t have Adobe Photoshop?
Try Microsoft Office’s Photo Editor (or even MS Paint) or give the free version of PicMonkey a try for simple photo editing.
Need to match or identify a font?
Try uploading an image of your ‘text’ to What the font for instant identification.
Need to match a colour?
Try Pixeur to help you identify colour values so you can colour match all your ‘headings’ for instance.
Tender writing techniques
Again these tender writing techniques are mostly ‘no cost’ – other than the discipline to put them into practice.
Pomodoro technique for tender writing
The Pomodoro (that’s Italian for ‘tomato’) technique is named after the classic kitchen aid:
Simply set your tomato timer for 20, 25, 30 or even 60 minutes for a head down ‘sprint’ and write!
Then take a break once you hear the ding!
And after a break, repeat the timed process.
Studies have shown that in our digital world we’re interrupted constantly by notifications, emails and other distractions (Instagram I’m looking at you…too much!) and it can be hard to maintain focus. However, carving out 20 minutes can ensure you have some productive focussed time, and then a ‘hard stop’ followed by some more focussed time.
If you don’t actually have a tomato timer to pop on the desk while you’re tender writing check out some of the free online versions (e.g. https://tomato-timer.com/) or you can download as an app to your smartphone.
5 more minutes… of tender writing…
Another time-based technique if you are trying to ‘push on’ with tender writing is to give yourself ‘just 5 more minutes’ on a response.
Often you’ll find you can actually keep going and get to the end of a draft and may even be able to take it beyond the 5 minutes.
Print it out and read your tender writing on ‘paper’
Hit a wall and getting square eyes from too much tender writing screen time?
Hit print, make yourself a cuppa, and then take your hardcopy tender somewhere to read quietly with your red pen and away from the PC and desk.
You’ll be surprised by the different typos, inconsistencies and other boo-boos that ‘leap’ off the printed page just by changing your view from ‘on screen’ to paper.
Read your tender writing out loud
Feel that your draft tender writing is a bit garbled or clumsy? Or perhaps its getting unwieldy with meandering sentences?
Read the relevant piece out loud (perhaps under your breath if you’re in an open plan office).
Again by engaging a different part of your brain you’ll quickly twig to what parts of your tender writing sound unnatural or need to be fixed.
Learn some copy writing formulas to help structure your tender writing
Stuck on how to structure a tender response so it’s more persuasive and not merely compliant?
Bone up on copywriting formulas.
For example C B E is a classic tender writing response formula:
Claim> Benefit> Evidence.
Another popular formula is F A B:
Feature> Advantage> Benefit.
Or the classic N O S E:
Needs> Outcomes> Solution> Evidence.
Copyhackers has compiled a mega list of copywriting formulas that you can find here.
Create yourself a style guide for tender writing (and editing)
Do you find you’re constantly re-editing and fixing up the same ‘errors’ in your contributor’s tender writing?
If you find you’re doing more and more tender writing involving different contributors you may find a definitive style guide prepared in advance (or a default external style guide) to refer to a handy technique as it can short circuit a lot of pointless wordsmithing or editorial differences.
If you don’t already have one consider if there’s value in creating a simple ‘style guide’ or ‘house style’ for your firm. Start with some ‘basics’ that you can add to over time (after each bid) as a ‘style’ emerges that represents your firm ‘voice’.
For instance it might be simple things such as:
- One space after a full stop
- No intermediate capitalisation in headings (unless it’s a proper noun)
- Words for numbers between one and nine, then digits or numerals for numbers 10 and above.
- And so on…
Or if in doubt, or its not worth creating your own style guide the Plain English Foundation’s Australian Style Guide is a great ‘default’ authority. Oh and it’s free!
So there you have it – some of my favourite low and no cost tender writing tools and techniques to help you save time and money and hopefully win your next tender!
If you need help with tender writing for an upcoming bid (or one on the go right now), why not get in touch – JMA’s tender writers can help.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]