10 mistakes to avoid when you are pitching for work

Dec 11, 2018 | Marketing and promotion

The ten mistakes I share below are based on the lessons I have learned from personal experience during which I was wearing one or other of the following four hats:

1 – A partner (in the past) in two large firms of accountants where I was responsible for writing pitches and fronting bids;

2 – Deputy treasurer of a top 150 charity and on the receiving end of more than 10 face to face pitches by different firms of accountants over the years;

3 – Treasurer of The Magic Circle (a high profile but modest-sized private members’ club) where I put the recurring accounts and tax work out to tender a few years ago; and

4 – An independent adviser who has researched the subject in more detail since leaving private practice. I also sometimes make proposals in response to invitations to do so for consulting, training and speaking engagements.

Here are my top tips to avoid the ten mistakes I made or experienced others making:

1 – Ensure you address all of the issues set out in the ‘invitation to tender’ (ITT) document. This is the same advice given to students taking exams, and to entries for awards and competitions. Consider what is being requested and ensure you also make it easy for whoever is going to receive your pitch document to see you have answered their questions and that you have the necessary experience and expertise.

2 – Unless you have been explicitly told not to do so, make sure you speak with and/or meet with the prospective client to ensure you don’t need to make any assumptions when you formulate your bid. Asking good questions can help evidence your experience and expertise and may also reveal other key points that were not addressed in the ITT. The higher up the chain of command you can go to ask your questions the better in most cases, but ensure you focus your attention on the likely decision makers and do not upset junior staff who may have more influence than you might have expected.

4 – Remember that any written proposal document is like a CV. The purpose of your pitch document is rarely to get you the work. No. Its purpose is to get you invited to a face to face meeting. Too long or detailed and it won’t be read.  Too short on substance and it won’t have credibility. But don;’t feel you have to address every issues that might be discussed at a meeting. Indeed, it can help to leave things out that would be better discussed face to face. (Similarly, a CV should be written to secure an interview, not in attempt to secure the job itself).

5 – Do not assume that price is the only key factor and that you need to be cheaper than the competition. More often you need to be more credible and better able to provide a good value service than others.  Depending on how much detailed information you have been able to obtain beforehand, you may be justified in quoting a range of fees, with a promise to firm up on a quote once you have clarified any outstanding matters. You are the expert and it is for you to determine what dat you need before you are willing to quote a fee.

6 – Try to ascertain with whom you are competing. Even if you don’t know for certain, you can guess – local competitors, bigger firms, smaller firms, a niche practice, a more general practice. Identify your relative strengths and be ready to refute any perceived relative weaknesses – from the prospective client’s perspective.

7 – Be consistent when you attend the formal pitch. If what you say you will do is different to what you promised in the written tender you will lose credibility.

8 – Do not assume that everyone on the selection panel has read your written proposal – some of them may have just scanned it; Some may have been drafted in to add weight to the panel at the last minute. Even if you ask if they have all had a chance to read it, be aware that few people will want to publicly admit that they haven’t given it the attention you think it deserved.

9 – Beware that at least one person at the meeting will challenge something in the written proposal – be prepared.

10 – Plan for the face to face meeting. Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. Ensure the team will give consistent replies;  Possibly the biggest mistake is to put a disproportionate amount of time and effort into the written document as distinct from rehearsing the face to face meeting.  The latter deserves much more time and effort than it typically gets.

And a bonus tip:

11 – Follow-up promptly and succinctly after the face to face meeting. Thank the panel or your main contact for their time and for seeing you. And use this opportunity to clarify anything you left open when you met.

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