As a freelance newbie copywriter, you’ll most likely work with small businesses (SMEs). But what about bigger companies? How do you get on the radar for bigger contracts that are put out to tender? Here’s some advice on getting on the ladder for public sector work. This is pointy end nitty-gritty, and not for everyone! But it may be a future horizon, especially if you plan to scale, and work with another writer. This is UK advice, so you’ll need to check out how things work in your own country. Get ready for some terminology!
Background and mindset
In large companies and the public sector, copywriting and content are often created in-house. But occasionally, they may need extra pairs of hands. This work has to be advertised (put out to tender), and suppliers submit a competitive bid.
As with any line of work, it’s important to get into the mindset and terminology used in the sector you’re interested in. You might think of yourself as a freelance copywriter, but in public sector speak, you’re a supplier. How you project yourself and your skills is important here.
Check your website
Your website needs to send the right messages about the market you’re in. That includes branding. You may be a fantastic copywriter, but if your site is full of beautiful creative examples of copywriting for makers, the message is: you’re not in the public sector scale or niche. Branding and examples need to be aligned and add up to: you’re the type of company we’re looking for.
When I first started out, my creative and business identities were on the same website. This didn’t work, as each identity compromised the other. Over time, I changed this. You may want to get there quicker! Check that your website is aligned to the types of company you want to work with.
Check that your email and email signature look professional, too. I often get emails from writers who include no contact information, website link or logo. In a business context, you need this.
Proving your skills and value
Public sector bodies need to be sure they’re working with someone reliable. So there are several hoops to get through before you can get that work. You need to fill in forms, show good evidence of track record, and have systems in place to deal with unforeseen problems. This sounds like a lot, but actually, you just need to work through this once, and then you have the information you need for future applications. It’s also possible to get training on the process. In Scotland, this is provided by Supplier Development Scotland. Ask your enterprise body for your local equivalent.
Toe on the ladder
Getting on the ladder for public sector work is a bit like getting your actor’s Equity card – it’s chicken and egg. How do you prove you’re capable of public contracts, without doing a public contract? You need some calling card work as evidence. I did some charities work, which provided a chance to learn from organisations with a board structure and fund-raising experience. I also helped some SMEs with their public tender applications, and went to a couple of supplier development workshops. Looking back, it was a useful foundation.
Research the job landscape
Public sector contracts are advertised on procurement websites (in Scotland, it’s Public Contracts Scotland). It’s worth having a look, just to see the wild and wonderful work that goes on behind the scenes in the public sector. To see sample job specs, you need to register on the site as a supplier. It’s also possible to set up notifications for your areas of interest. Writing and content jobs are relatively rare, but they do appear from time to time, as departments do sometimes need copywriting services.
Applying for a public contract
Submitting a bid is like a job application – it’s a competitive process. And decisions aren’t made based on impressions or gut instinct! Applications are scored by several people and mapped to criteria. So you need to think in the same way, and provide evidence of fulfilling the criteria. This means giving examples of similar jobs, or jobs that used similar skills.
Maybe you handled a job with several contributors and needed to create an editorial pipeline. How did you handle versions? Quality control? Did you provide a style guide? Even if the job isn’t in the same sector, you can still provide evidence of a clear process. You’ll also need to say how you’ll handle the work if there are unforeseen circumstances. They simply want to know you can deliver the work.
After the application
If you’re successful, great! Deliver a good job and you’ll be on the radar for future. If not, learn from your experience. My first application was unsuccessful. I asked for feedback, and this helped me to address that issue the next time.
Hope this helps! If you’d like more on this kind of writing business topic, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out my best-selling book below.