Top 10 Tender Writing Mistakes

Business Growth

Let's be honest. Most businesses would prefer not to have to write a tender or a proposal to generate new business. But for many, business growth depends on successful tenders. It's true that writing a tender takes a lot of time and effort, so here are my top 10 tips on how to write a successful tender.

Mistake number 1: Forgetting to answer the questions
It might sound obvious – but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t answer the questions! With formal tenders, especially to government, answer the questions in the specific order they are asked. Many tenderers fail to do this and wonder why they are never shortlisted or selected.

Mistake number 2: Too much waffle
Keep it snappy – your prospect will be reading more than one tender or proposal. Yours will stand out if they don’t have to read through lots of long-winded waffle.

Mistake number 3: Using passive, not active, voice
Active voice is more succinct and direct than the passive. The voice of a verb tells us whether the subject is doing the action (active) or whether something is being done to it (passive). 

Active: We are submitting our tender. Passive: This tender is being submitted by...

Mistake number 4: It’s not all about you! 
Attract attention by focusing on your prospect. Begin as many paragraphs as possible with their name, and use ‘you’ and ‘your’ to personalise your tender.

Mistake number 5: Not revealing what’s in it for them
All that your prospect really wants to know is what they will get by selecting you – so tell them! Highlight how your skills, knowledge or experience or what you propose will benefit them.

Mistake number 6:  Making wild claims 
If you make statements such as ‘we are the leading/fastest/best value provider of’, back them up with proof from the media, quotes from happy clients, award wins or good survey results.

Mistake number 7: Not giving great examples
Give short and punchy examples of how you make a difference to your clients. Mini case studies are great. Provide specific, factual evidence (or even testimonials) to paint a picture of how you have helped a client to save time or money, or how you devised an innovative solution to their problems.

Mistake number 8: Looks can kill 
Poorly laid out tenders and proposals can fall at the first hurdle. If yours are well laid out, they’ll be visually appealing and easy to follow. Use headings, sub-headings, photos, diagrams and white space. If you are tendering for a project, include a timetable or a project management plan.

Mistake number 9: Forgetting to jog their memory
If your tender or proposal is to an existing client, remind them how much you have achieved together so far, all the problems you have resolved, or the extra value you’ve given. Describe the benefits of continuing to use your service or product.

Mistake number 10: Overlooking typos
Proofread your final draft. While a word-perfect tender won’t win you points alone, one with typos could cost you. Take time to check every word, and while you’re at it, check you’ve answered all the questions in the right order, and that you’ve met all the requirements for lodgement and attachments. 

Rosemary Gillespie

Director at

For more than 15 years, I have specialised in writing winning tenders for services and professional services seeking to win business from government, listed and private companies. Over this time, I've written literally hundreds of tenders for law firms, accountants, business advisory firms, SMEs and business services companies. I founded Proof Communications 13 years ago as a niche tender writing business, and today we look after the writing, editing and proofreading of many B2B documents.