Six mistakes to avoid when bidding for contracts

Tendering for work can be a nerve-wracking and time consuming endeavour, but it can lead to substantial rewards. Give yourself the best chance of winning contracts by avoiding these six common bidding mistakes.

1. Responding to everything that comes down across your desk

The first step in scoring a contract is responding only to proposals that you have a realistic chance of winning. It can be tempting to try to respond to every tender that crosses your path, but the shotgun approach is rarely effective. Instead, be selective. Devote more time and effort to drafting the best possible responses to RFx* that seek out the specific expertise your company provides.

* 'RFx' is a catch-all acronym for tender types and stands for “request for ___”. See below for more jargon busting.

Unravelling tendering terminology

We have busted some jargon and explained some common terms used in tendering.


A term that covers all tender types: Request for Information (RFI), Request for Quote (RFQ), Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Tender (RFT).

Request for Information (RFI)

A market research tool. A formal request from an agency to the market, for information that helps identify the number and type of suppliers and the range of solutions, technologies and products or services they can provide. It must not be used to select or shortlist suppliers.

Request for Quote (RFQ)

A formal request from an agency asking potential suppliers to quote prices for ‘stock standard’ or ‘off-the-shelf’ goods or services or works, where price is the most important factor.

Request for Proposal (RFP)

A formal request from an agency asking suppliers to propose how their goods or services or works can achieve a specific outcome, and their prices. An agency issuing an RFP may be open to innovative ways of achieving the outcome.

Request for Tender (RFT)

A formal request from an agency asking for offers from potential suppliers to supply clearly defined goods or services or works. Often there are highly technical requirements and a prescriptive solution.

Notice of Procurement

A document published on the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS)(external link) website that advertises a new contract opportunity (e.g. a Registration of Interest or Request for Tender). New Zealand Government contract opportunities are open to both domestic and international suppliers.

2. Not (really) reading the brief

Nothing will get your proposal thrown out faster than not complying with the RFx. You need to read the document carefully to make sure you understand exactly what the buyer wants and what information is being requested. Not answering all the questions, failing to answer all parts of the questions, or neglecting to provide requested information can give the buyer good reason to toss your proposal in the bin.

If there’s a page limit, make sure you stick to it.

If there’s a page limit, make sure you stick to it.

3. Neglecting to do your homework

The better you understand the buyer, the better your chances of winning the contract. Take the time to get some background on the organisation requesting the work. Look at their website, check out their annual report and search online for news about them. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what they do, you can’t propose a targeted solution to their problem.

Include a great cover letter or executive summary that shows you understand the buyer's needs.

Include a great cover letter or executive summary that shows you understand the buyer's needs.

4. Failing to sell yourself

Merely complying with the tender requirements is not enough. Differentiate yourself from your competitors and convince the buyer that your proposal offers something that outshines competing offers. Be specific about what makes your proposal unique, new or different.

Make it clear that price is not the only factor differentiating you from your competitors. Instead of trying to convince the buyer you are the cheapest option, focus on convincing them that you are the best fit for the project.

5. Sloppy presentation

There is nothing more irritating to buyers than reading a slapdash proposal that sounds generic and is poorly presented. Take the time to customise responses to each question – it will be obvious if you’ve done a hasty cut-and-paste job from previous bids. Answer the questions in the same order they are listed in the RFx. Get someone to check for consistent language throughout your proposal – especially if the document has had many contributors.

Most importantly, leave time to proofread. A proposal filled with errors gives the impression you are not detail-oriented and could ultimately kill your message.

Use colour and design where they add value, but don't let them overwhelm your document.

Use colour and design where they add value, but don't let them overwhelm your document.

6. Procrastinating

The first thing to do when you see an opportunity is to quickly get your team together. Even if the tender closes in six weeks, meet on day one. Allocate tasks to those with the most skills in that space, and have everyone report back to one person who will pull together a complete response.

Remember: meeting deadlines is critical. In most cases, late submissions are automatically disqualified.

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