Technique: Get the most out of bid contractors

It is not easy bringing someone new into a team, particularly at a busy period. We offer a few tips for getting good value and performance when using a subcontractor or freelancers to help you work on a big bid project.

I have been part of a large and busy bid team bracing ourselves for a flurry of new funding rounds. The opportunity is exciting: with this extra funding we can grow and make a real difference in the lives of many people. But, like massed thunder clouds, it signals ominous times ahead. You think you are going to need support to not only weather the storm, but to take advantage of the prevailing wind to push your organisation forwards. So how can you prepare?

Plan ahead

This is the first and arguably the most crucial step. Get a plan. Work out what you want to bid for and what you will have a fair chance of winning if you put in the effort (I would consider 1 in 3 as a fair chance, but you may have different benchmarks). Then build a plan to put in the effort. Who needs to be involved? What resources will you need from senior management, operations, service users, partners, external specialists and bidding resources? Try and put some timelines against it. This should help you identify where your crunch points will come.

Value your outcome

A key part of any planning process is to define the expected benefits of the project. Bidding for funding is no different. Be clear on what the value of a "win" would be to your organisation and its mission. Bear in mind that you might only win a proportion of the bids so the value needs to be adjusted downwards to compensate for this.

How much are you willing to spend to achieve this outcome? Your notional budget should include all the internal and external resources you intend to use in the project. A figure of between 2% and 5% is not unrealistic.

Identify what you need

Having identified your resource needs and set a notional budget, you now need to be clear what you want from any external resources. Turn this into a brief for potential subcontractors. A good brief should include clear deliverables, quality measures, scope and an indication of budget.

Get the right support for you

You will want to find the right subcontractor to suit your needs - be it a company or an individual. Look around, get a few quotes and try to meet face-to-face with a shortlist. Obviously experience is useful. Chemistry will also be an important factor, given that you may well be working hard alongside the subcontractor for several months. Some of the softer things I look for are:

  • Did they respond quickly to your initial enquiry? If not, they might not be responsive enough.
  • Is it clear who will be working on the bid and in what capacity? You want to extend your team, not deal with faceless outsourcing.
  • Do they get along with people? They will need to if they want to produce a winning bid.
  • Do they give you the impression that they are organised? If not, you might need to pick up a lot of the organisational side of the bid.

Negotiate a reasonable price and contract

Getting a clear and reasonable contract for bidding activity is very important. You are going to be working together towards a shared goal under pressure. The price and terms need to work for both parties and need to allow some reasonable room for change.

"On-board" your contractors properly

Contractors will usually be new to your organisation. Just like a new member of staff, having a good on-boarding process or pack will help them get connected to your organisation quickly. Things to consider as part of that on-boarding process are: organisational vision and values, background and performance information, administration (shared workspaces, file sharing, emails, etc.), and an organisation chart of key people/interfaces.

Leverage the expertise

With the right subcontractor, your organisation will be buying in real expertise. To get the best value for money, make sure you draw upon their skills and experience wherever you can - from planning through managing and writing to reviewing. You are paying for it, so you might as well use it!

Review, reflect, repeat

Once your bid project has been delivered, there are a two critical stages left to make your next experience even more successful. We generally recommend two stages of lessons learned. You can do these at the same time if the results are due out quickly, but it is best to strike whilst the iron is hot (and memories are clear):

  1. Project Lessons Learned: A week or two after the submission, review how the bid went. What worked and what could be improved for next time. Involve your subcontractor so that they have the opportunity to help you improve your processes for next time.
  2. Bid Result Debrief: Once you have the funder's feedback, reviewing the bid submission against the scores will help you improve your quality for the next bid. Involving your subcontractor in this process is a professional courtesy as it will help them to improve as well (which is important if you want to use them again!)

Being able to flex your capacity to meet the changing opportunities could be the difference between growth and decline. Bringing external resources into your organisation is always a risk. I hope that this article gives you a few helpful tips on how to reduce the risk and feel more confident.


The Good Consultancy helps organisations that do good to win more funding for their social impact work. We can help you to plan and deliver your bid projects. For more information please contact us.