Thursday, November 22, 2012

Compiling a commercial writing bid

If you're getting into commercial writing as a way of making money, you won't get far unless you have a strategy regarding the compiling of your bids. Don’t worry, though, because I've got some suggestions that will boost your chances of being successful. I'm making one assumption and that is you've already signed up with one of the main freelancer sites.

Before we begin, I need you to completely accept that the PRIMARY objective is to win work, not reduce the time you spend putting bids together (although I will help you avoid wasting time).

My first rule is that all jobs are not created equal – some are fantastic, some are mediocre and some are <insert expletive of your choice>. Having used the freelancer website’s screening facility, go through each of the projects that you feel able to take on and make an assessment of:
  • How much the job interests you
  • What the total payment's likely to be
  • The track record of the client
  • Whether there's likely to be more work from the client
If you want to be mathematical, set up a scoring system but here's what I'm looking for:

How much the job interests you

You want job satisfaction and you'll be alone with this writing for a long time.

What the total payment's likely to be

It takes just as much time and effort getting started on a small job as a big one and most clients won't expect to pay you for this set up cost. Consequently you get a better return on your initial time investment if it's a bigger project.

The track record of the client

See how many invoices they've paid, how much they add up to and how long they made the freelancers wait. Look at their disputes record. Do they have a 'tame' writer? If so, why aren't they using them? Is your price just a stick to beat the regular guy with? What reviews have they given out and what did the jobs relate to?

Whether there's likely to be more work

If you can get to be that tame freelancer, you’ll be in the enviable position of being able to negotiate future work or even just get it 'on the nod'.

Having established the above, stream the bids into 3 categories along the following lines:
  1. Professional client, good track record, interesting job, good return.
  2. New client, OK job, reasonable return.
  3. New client, not very appealing job, moderate to low return.
Tackle all the 'A' jobs then the 'B' ones and only do the 'C' ones if you've time and if the number of bids you are limited to by the freelancer website permits. If you're heavily restricted in this respect, don't waste bids on Category C jobs.

It's very important to learn that it's far better to send out half a dozen properly targeted bids than a hundred or more 'one size fits all' quotes. If the client has to make guesses about you, they just won't bother. It's very simple.

Now the bid itself.

If you were to pretend to be a client (I'd never suggest such a thing) and put up an imaginary job, you'd get a number of responses, most of which would be:
  • Badly written
  • Generic (i.e. they're just a copy and paste affair)
  • Irrelevant
  • Confusing regarding the price
Would you choose someone who does that?

Consequently, you need to make sure that your bid:
  • Comes well written, is grammar and spelling checked, is lucid and properly set out.
  • Demonstrates to the client that you have actually read and understood what will be required.
  • Establishes that you are capable of carrying out the project to a good standard.
  • States the price in an unequivocal manner.
This may seem obvious but, in the heat of the moment, it's so easy to forget. Create a checklist, just like pilots use when they're taking off, and stick to it religiously
The bid needs to answer the following questions:
  • Who are you?
  • Why do you believe you are capable of doing the job to a high standard?
  • What do you charge?
  • Can you prove what you say?
Obviously each of these needs to be carefully thought through. For example, if you're bidding to write a non-fiction book, your knowledge of the subject matter is paramount. On the other hand, if it's fiction, then describing your writing experience is going to be more likely to succeed.

Always address the job. Even in the most clear-cut of bids, find some snippet of the project briefing that you can mention in your tender just to prove that you've read the job description. Most of your competitors will only have scan-read it at best so this simple act immediately makes you stand out from the crowd.

Isolate the client's core requirement and state how you have the experience and knowledge to tackle it. Leave them in no doubt that they’d be in good hands if they chose you.

By targeting your quote you can leave out irrelevant rates. Thus, if the bid is for editing, why include your hourly rate for cover design? If your bid is accepted, it IS a good idea to include your other rates on the contract that you will be required to draw up however don't confuse the client with all this now - stick to just quoting for what they've asked.

If you can, send 3 to 6 samples of your work. Make sure that these are as relevant as possible and that each bears your name - ideally as a footer and as a watermark <Format, Background, Printed Watermark in Word>. You should then turn the samples into pdf's before sending. Unless you are acquainted with a client, for all you know, they could be just collecting writing samples that they can use themselves.

Beware of sending a former client copies of items you wrote for them because that might be deemed breach of their copyright or distribution rights and you may be putting your head in a noose.

And the best way of assessing your bid (apart from the price)? Pretend you're the client and your bid has just come through by email – if the price was right, would you give you the job?

Clive West spent 16 years as an estimator in the highly-competitive construction industry. In that time, he literally submitted thousands of tenders and drew up countless hundreds of contracts. Since then, he has gone on to become a very successful and sought-after commercial writer.

He is also co-owner of indie publisher Any Subject Books and you can see more about them on their website or on Facebook.

Click on the link to see a complete list of the books published by Any Subject Books Ltd.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has been freelancing for awhile, I would totally agree with all of your points, Clive. The only thing I would add is that when you look at a proposal and the client is saying things like, "I could do this myself" then ask "Why aren't they?" I have found this type of client to be very unappreciative of my time. They typically think they don't have to pay much for the work because "they could do it themselves." Be wary of proposals where a client is saying that!