Joyce Pemberton Image

Joyce Pemberton


Joyce Pemberton - Lloyd-Davies Associate - Tender and Bid Writing.

Joyce Pembertons last eleven bids have seen ten tenders won, that is a 91% success rate in what is, in my view, the most important part of any business, generating orders. Understanding how Joyce became capable of delivering this level of success and how she has created an enterprise out of the skill.

Interview by Don Phillips September 2023

“Joyce I wanted to start with understanding how you became a bid/tender writer, what was the story that got you there?”

My background is a corporate background, I have personally sold services into all types of public sector accounts be that local authorities, NHS, education or housing, with contracts ranging from £30,000 to £30,000,000, some of them quite complex. The company I worked with had their own central bid management team. There is always change in any large organisation and they withdrew the central service and trained the account managers to be able to bid for business themselves so we had to do the business development and the bid management. This started for me in 1982?

Most people don’t realise that it is not just about writing the tender, it's the many steps and processes before that, they play into the bid writing process and the quality of the work you do. So the company withdrew formal support for anything that was valued more than £5,000,000 in value and over time withdrew the central support for this work as well.

So you learnt the skills and had a strong government/public sector background, did you operate in the private sector as well?”

I was working for a private company selling to the public sector so I got to understand the nuances of public sector procurement and how they get their budgets together. I also had management responsibility so was managing a team of Account Directors who we had to coach to operate at a senior level and develop solutions that would have impact on these organisations. Over the years you build substantial knowledge of how change impacts the NHS or local and central government organisations. So a good range of knowledge before I started to work for myself.

“This is one of the things that intrigues me about you as you took your skills and built a business from scratch?”

Yes, I started with nothing! I have built the company from scratch and it's been successful, hopefully it will continue to be successful. I wish sometimes I had more pairs of hands. What I did was take the skills I had learnt over the years and applied them to my business. I do sometimes wish I had more ‘pairs of hands’ to help out and do different things, but that does not always work out and can distract you if your not careful.

“You must believe that being a professional bid writer improves your clients chances of success. Have you any data to back that up?”

I have won ten of the last eleven bids I have done, which will be difficult to improve on!

“91% win rate is outstanding, I have always believed you learn more from the losses than the victories, did you understand why you lost the one?”

Yes, we lost on price. The client I was working with are a high quality organisation and they were the incumbents  in this tender situation for many years. We went through our process, did the SWOT analysis, did the Pestle analysis, did the business development activities that you would expect and came up with a long list of potential competitors who we thought we would be competing with.

When we found out who won the contract they were not even on the list! (a new entrant)

We scored very well on the quality questions, but the new entrant scored 100% on the price question. The tender said it would be scored 60% on quality and 40% on price, and the competitor scored 100% on price, so my client lost out.

“You are able to find out to a high level of granularity as to why you lost?”

Yes we can go through two levels of process to gain feedback. The first is an internal debrief where all those who take part in the bid formally discuss how we worked together and what if anything we think we can learn, and which areas we think we need to improve on next time. Secondly, once you get the result, the client will give you feedback either written or oral on your tender. You can take this information and feed it into your organisation to try and improve next time. You can always improve answers, or document the capabilities of your company better.

In government procurements if you don't get good feedback you can put a ‘freedom of information’ request in and formally ask for it.

“With your business you can trade heavily on your success rate I assume?”

Yes, but you can’t win them all!

If a bidder uses price alone to differentiate themselves they can win, and conversely you can lose. 

As long as you apply the best process you can, you will put yourself in a strong position, but there are no guarantees.

Go through all the steps, qualify it properly, make the right decision on bid or no bid and put the work in. Many wont go to the depth of work required, they wont extract the maximum information from their client or their own organisations, and you need to understand that they are the subject matter experts and know their businesses the best and the benefits that can be delivered.

It is this that I am personally good at.

Another example I will give you was winning a ‘construction job’ at the Science Museum who are a very prestigious client to have. My client was a subcontractor to the main contractor but put the time in to make sure they sat at the top table in terms of understanding the spiders web of many suppliers involved. In bidding we kept going back to all the site managers to ask them how things work, so we could write it down well, and extract the best practice from peoples heads. It was that detail that won us the bid.

“When do people approach you Joyce, is it small companies or is it big companies?”

The biggest I have worked with whilst independent is about £30 million turnover, though sometimes I have worked with a group that may be more than that, in general they are smaller and the contact is through word of mouth.

“Do you charge on a win fee or a time and materials basis, how does it work?”

No, I don't charge a win fee as there are too many variables and I never have control over the pricing, ever. So I have a range of charges depending on the service.

It can be a day rate or an hourly rate. I can offer a fixed price for a project with terms attached.

Often clients tell me they have information but often the quality is not there, so the documents need improving which is time consuming and affects the price.

I can also offer a retained service or a fully outsourced service.

“For you as an entrepreneur, what are your challenges?” 

Time…. Quality…. My own time and quality.

“Quality in the sense of work life balance, or quality of the work produced?”

I will always try to offer a quality service, I know there are bid writers out there who will offer a different service, but you have to offer the best you can for your clients. Many would not research social value to the level I will, you can just bid to a specification but it is always good to try to bid to a higher specification.

But the is its often my own personal time I am putting in which does leave me in the position of not having time to work on my own company.

“Because you're working for other people's companies?”

Yes, and that is a real problem for an entrepreneur. We will always say you need to work ‘on the job’ and not ‘in the job’ (i.e. work on managing the company, not doing the job yourself all the time.) As an entrepreneur you have to understand the costs and value of many aspects. You can use agencies but sometimes it feels like you are being charged an arm and a leg for things you could do yourself if you had the time to learn.

I should be spending a day a week developing my own business.

“This makes sense but it sounds like you are challenged to achieve this?”

Yes as we also all have to have a home life and if your not careful the business impacts on that as well. I sometimes think it would be great just to work five days a week and just do nine to five. 

“This is beginning to sound like an opportunity for LDA to support you as you develop?”

Hmmm. You may be right!


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