From English Lit to Proposals Manager: A Career in Bid Writing
Lizzie Anstiss, a graduate of our BA (Hons) and MA English Literature programmes, reflects on how the skills she acquired in her degree have equipped her for a career in technical writing and the authoring of bids. Her great writing skills have proven valuable to the corporate and business world.
I was a student at Leeds Beckett from 2011 to 2015, first for my English Literature undergraduate and then my Contemporary Literature Masters.
When I was an English student, I felt very unclear about what career paths were open to me. Academia and teaching were spoken about a lot, but beyond that, I was mainly told “not much requires English, but loads of jobs just need you to have a degree, you can do one of those”. Whilst this was usually said with good intentions, I found it disheartening because I loved my degree, and I knew I wanted writing to be a key part of my career. Luckily, it’s not true. My career has been entirely reliant on my degrees.
I've worked for the same educational software company for the 5 and a half years since I finished my Masters. I joined as a Technical Author before moving on to be a Bid Writer and now a Proposals Manager. I had no idea that these jobs existed, let alone what they entailed, before working there.
I stumbled upon the job advert for the Technical Author role when job hunting towards the end of my Masters. I applied on a whim really and was not expecting to get an interview - it sounded way too technical for me, but the advert did say it was ideal for English graduates. In fact, it’s much more important for a Technical Author to be a skilled writer than have technical knowledge. The job requires you to provide guidance on how to use software and so you therefore need to be able to translate jargon into clear instructional language. Sure, this sounds potentially a bit dull, but I enjoyed the linguistic challenge of helping people understand complex processes.
The longer I worked in the company, the more I got involved in bid writing. Bids are formal documents which companies send out when they are wanting to buy new products and services. So, we receive a request for a bid, and we respond by writing about the products we develop in the hope that we are successful and win the business. It is a major part of business-to-business sales (and doesn't involve any unpleasant 'salesy' cold calling etc.).
I find bid writing is incredibly satisfying because you need to find creative ways of showing your company in the most positive, but factual, light. You also get to learn a LOT about how other companies work - what they need, what their processes are and how much money they can spend on products. Bid writing therefore allows you to hone your writing skills while understanding business and financial concerns too.
With experience, I moved onto managing this process and I am now a Proposals Manager. Bid responses are often major documents and as a Proposals Manager, it is my job to co-ordinate our response, make sure the tone is consistent and positive, as well as other project management activities such as meeting deadlines, communicating problems to senior staff and leading meetings. Our bid responses are usually 50 - 100 pages long and they are made up of things my company is asked all the time and other things that require more thought and creativity. Responses are evaluated against strict criteria (a bit like an essay mark scheme!) so it is vital that the language is clear. If we win the bid, they also form the basis of the project as a whole, so you have to be accurate, otherwise you risk causing damage to a new business relationship with a company.
Bid writing and proposals management really appeals to me because I am someone who works best with a deadline and loves that 'just submitted it!' feeling. It feels very similar to submitting your module essays or a dissertation. And when we win, it's like that feeling when you've bossed your assignment.
If you want writing to be a major part of your career but you're not sure where to start, my main advice is to trawl the job sites for anything with 'writer' or 'author' in the title. This will give you a good overview of the writing jobs on the market and if they seem too technical or corporate for your skills so far, don't be put off! In my team, I want people who can write more than any other skill. Software, business processes and industry knowledge can all be learned, but writing well is a fantastic skill that - believe me - not everyone has.
If students in the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities would like to get in touch with Lizzie to learn more, then contact Rob Burroughs (firstname.lastname@example.org) using your university email address.