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About competitive tendering for research contract work

October 20, 2015

2008-12-03People often ask me how I go about finding research contract work as a research consultant.

Sometimes I find research contract work through my networks – I’ll meet someone and they will have a need for some research, or they will recommend me to someone they know who needs some research.

But often I find research contract work through competitive tendering.

Competitive tendering is the process through which people who need research advertise a research contract and then select a contractor from the bids they receive back.  It is quite like applying for a job and it goes like this:

  • The client (i.e. a charity in the case of Ruthless Research) disseminates an advert and accompanying instructions (Brief), outlining the research requirement – usually on their website and perhaps on sector job sites or news sites.
  • The supplier (i.e. me) makes a written submission (bid / proposal) as per the instructions in the Brief.
  • The client selects a supplier, either from the received written submissions or by interviewing a shortlist based on the written submissions

A typical proposal might contain:

  • Introduction
  • Background and understanding of the Brief
  • Proposed methodology with worked task list / timescales / costing
  • Information about approach to project management / ethics
  • Information about the supplier (description of business / staff CVs / case study projects)
  • Other information as requested by the client (clarifications / policies / signed agreements)

Some of this can be copy/paste from previous proposals but it all needs to be made relevant to the contract in question and the methodology section is extensive and new every time.  The thing will be more than ten pages long and take a day to prepare.

It isn’t easy for the clients either!  Often, many many suppliers – could be as many as 30 – send in written submissions so it can be time consuming and difficult for a client to make a decision.

This means that as a supplier you are unlikely to win most of the bids that you put in – even when you’ve worked out your niche and are selective about what you bid for.  Which means that you spend a lot of your time writing proposals for work that you don’t win (many of which you never hear back about).  And you are not paid for this time.  Which means that when you do work your daily rate needs to reflect the fact that half of your working week is unpaid.  Which means that your prices look pretty high.


Well that’s how it is.

You win some, you lose some.

Luckily I win some.

If you’re looking to commission some research yourself, why not check out my free e-book: the Ruthless Research guide to…. Commissioning and managing research projects.


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