Submitting a tender is a skill that, like any, only gets better with practice. Practice requires trial and error, but in the case of tendering those errors can present costly and detrimental losses to your business. Having lived and breathed tenders on the cusp of twenty years now, we’re here to illuminate the most common mistakes we notice time and time again. If you learn from the mistakes of other businesses you can avoid incurring losses that could cost you even more than just income. Now I can tell you that it’s not worth taking that risk.

Common Mistakes in tendering

So here we have the most common mistakes when preparing a tender submission:

Referring to the third person.

When writing a tender for your business you are writing from your business’ perspective and not from a third party perspective. Yes it may be persuasive but you are not a lawyer presenting the case of another. You are presenting your own case therefore you must use first person. In saying that, do not use ‘I’. Your business presents a team (and there is no ‘I’ in Team!) even if you are the sole proprietor; it comprises many factors and subsidiaries that make it all that it is. “We are a leading provider of xyz”. “We require xyz in order to fulfil the contract”, for example.

Not providing evidence for all claims and capabilities.

You must ALWAYS provide evidence to substantiate all claims regarding your business’ capabilities, or otherwise. You need to illustrate how and why and provide anecdotal examples wherever possible in order to show how your business provides elite customer service, for example. If you fail to provide evidence at all times, you run the risk of presenting an exaggeration, thus your business and tender will not be taken seriously. Always remember that your tender submission seeks to gain the trust of the organisation, therefore not backing all of your claims threatens to undermine that trust. When trust is in question, you can literally forget about securing the deal.

Using passive phrasing.

For example, “we believe we can deliver the contract…” is more poignantly and assertively expressed as “we have proof that…” or “we will ensure that” by using active instead of passive verbs. The phrasing “we believe” is prophesizing and wishful thinking, rather than the confident assertion of ‘we will’. Similarly ‘ensure’ relates to insurance that we all know is the sure-fire safety blanket and therefore something to which we can rely upon. Substitute “we will try/aim to…” with “we WILL improve” or “we WILL deliver”, again directly invoking a sense of trust in the readership.

Not being proactively honest in mentioning any gaps in your company’s capabilities.

If you talk around potential gaps you will only raise questions about the remaining submission. The reader may have noticed that something is missing, throwing a spanner in the works of the trust factor. If you are lacking a component of the equation, prescribed or otherwise, ensure that you proactively mention this, including the measure you’re willing to take in order to rectify this. For example, your company may be lacking the skills in coding required so you should mention perhaps, “while we are not yet at an intermediate level in our coding abilities, our software engineers are currently undergoing advanced training courses in order to recalibrate their skills to the required level. It will take x amount of weeks for them to complete their courses.” Outline your own plan of action that will overcome any obstacles you face.

Not including examples of work done outside the specific field in question.

Just because it’s not directly related, doesn’t mean that it won’t be beneficial in presenting to the client. If it represents a positive effort conducted by your company, then it’s worth mentioning in the tender. However, ensure that you can still relate this experience to the requirements of the RFT. For example, you could mention that you conducted a fundraiser to raise funds for people with disabilities, and connect that with the tender requirement of caring for the local and wider community. Or that you started a campaign to remove a derelict building as responding to the requests of those in your local community.

Allowing flowery and lengthy narratives unrelated to the selection criteria.

Do not ramble on in great depths about other contracts with irrelevant details and description. We know you’re proud of the work you’re doing, but you need to ensure that you always get the maximum amount of relevant information across with the minimum amount of words. Draft, reread, edit and repeat – again and again and again. This is a skill that not everyone possesses so don’t be afraid to engage others and seek help where required.

Spelling, Grammar Mistakes and Inconsistency.

This is a no-brainer so it pains me to list this, yet time and time again simple errors are overlooked. Proofread the entire tender and have a professional writer and editor proofread the document before you submit.

Factual Errors and Inconsistency.

Another straightforward element yet oftentimes aspects such as number of years’ experience, number of offices and locations, are misrepresented in the tender submission. Fact-check the entire tender or have a professional fact-check it for you.

Not completing the required checklists or checkboxes.

Ensure that every. Single. Element of the RFT is completed otherwise you risk having your submission disregarded.

Not providing ALL of the required, supporting documentation.

Again, this is another requirement of the tender. You MUST have all supporting documentation otherwise you will be disregarded as a candidate, no matter how compelling your argument is otherwise. The client trusts you to fulfil all of the requirements of the tender (and to triple check that everything is complete) so you’d better not break that trust.

Simple logistical errors or errors in delivery.

This could include not providing the prescribed single electronic copy of the submission along with two printed copies, as requested in the RFT. Read and analyse each requirement carefully and TRIPLE CHECK that all (including logistical) requirements are met. Have another five professionals of varying qualifications, i.e. writer, lawyer, accountant, etc. Read over the entire document from their vocational perspective, in order to ensure that all needs are met before the final submission.

Having now read the common mistakes we most often see in tender submission, we hope that you will endeavour to learn from these mistakes, and avoid them at all costs when constructing your narrative.


If you’d like to connect with a tender writing professional with almost two decades’ worth of experience, let’s organise a time to chat.

Or download my free Tender Cheat Sheet, to get you started.

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Kristine Daw is the Managing Director of Dawtek, a Melbourne-based company specialising in tenders and proposals, technical writing, business documentation, copywriting, editing and creating business templates. Kristine and her small team have a range of clients including small businesses, multi-national corporations, all levels of government and not-for-profits.

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