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Bid writing under pressure: The 10/80/10 rule

It’s 7.45 am and I’m just getting to the office. The coffee’s hot, the day is young, and my inbox is…hold on…my inbox has an email. What’s this? A bid response due back by 4 pm today?

Worth how much?

And how many questions are there? Five pages? Surely there’s some mistake…

What’s the plan? What do we do?! Who knows?!? Where’s the Bid Manager... Oh hang on… That’s me.

As a Bid Manager, my job revolves around deadlines. Planned deadlines, missed deadlines, changed deadlines, you name them, I’ve got them. Some of them are comfortable, some of them are as welcome as a brick through the window, but all of them require me to work effectively. By now, it’s 8 am. That gives me 8 hours to get this done.

Step 1. Keep calm and create a plan

Stressing, panicking, having emotional outbursts, all are wasting valuable writing time. Instead of getting emotional, set yourself up for success by following the 10/80/10 rule:

  • 10% of your time should be spent planning.

  • 80% should be spent writing.

  • 10% should be spent reviewing.

This applies whether you have an hour, a day, or a month. Always set aside distinct time for planning, writing, and editing. In our case, that’s about 50 minutes planning, six and a half hours writing, and 50 minutes reviewing. Probably a bit less as the response needs submitting by 4 pm. Better get to it!

5 people in a modern office discuss business writing around a table and clip board

Our plan needs to include a structure based on the client’s Request for Proposal document and should include the key messages based on our solutions to the client’s most pressing and critical challenges.

The plan needs to include owners for each section of the response and deadlines for when content is needed back. If we have time, it should include a rough outline of expected sub-themes for each section, as well as unique selling points that will help differentiate your offer from your competitors.

Step 2. Writing. Try not to overthink it.

With writing, the best strategy is to get started. In this case, our client has shared a scoring matrix against which our bid will be marked, so we need to ensure we concentrate the majority of our writing time on responding to the most high-scoring areas.

Due to the short timeframe, we won’t worry about getting the perfect turn of phrase but will try to write in full sentences – bullet points would only have to be rewritten later.

A person's hands are crossed over an open notebook, holding black glasses and next to a gavelle on the table.

We’ll focus on the questions we have been asked and ensure we mirror these in our responses. If we’ve been asked to detail the “plans, processes and procedures” for delivering a service, then our response could logically contain a few pieces of information such as what they are, how you monitor their effectiveness, and what you do if they fail to deliver the desired outcome?

When getting into the writing, there are a few tips I keep at the front of my mind:

  • Keep focused on the question at hand. It was asked for a reason, so be meticulous in ensuring we answer it as concisely and precisely as possible.

  • Write in an active voice. An individual should always be doing something.

  • Explain “so what” when stating something. We always need to explain why we are proposing to do something and the benefit it will bring to the client.

  • Avoid empty sales speak. We'll only highlight the benefits of our approach.

Step 3. Reviewing. Get help if you can.

During our review phase there are three key checks to make. 50 minutes left on the clock and we’ve been non-stop all day, so if possible, ask a colleague to undertake the following checks:

  1. Grammar and spelling – spelling errors distract from the message.

  2. Key messaging – are our key selling points included in the response and easy to identify?

  3. Structure and flow – how easy to read is our response? Does it follow a logical order and engage the reader?

  4. Have we answered the question?

2 people sit at a wooden table with windows behind them looking onto a tree and street. They have a laptop, tablet, and charts in front of them. Both are dressed formally.

Bonus step: Improve outcomes next time

The thought of producing a compliant and engaging bid in eight hours is enough to give most Bid Managers a migraine. So by this point, you’re likely to be tetchy and testy given the seemingly impossible miracle you’ve just worked... The final step to working to a tight deadline is to speak to your Bid Lead and explain that whilst the occasional hospital pass is to be expected in bidding, improved visibility and warning of an opportunity could only have helped to improve your chances of success.

If you can manage this stage with a smile, all the better, after all, we’d like some repeat business, even if this one was a bit of a scramble to get over the line. Now, all that remains is to submit your proposal and wait for a, hopefully, positive response for the client.

Want to learn more from Henry Viola-Heir? Follow him on X and enjoy his expert blog, the Ethical Entrepreneur.



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