After graduating in English Literature and Creative Writing, Lizzie Buwu entered the fast-paced and demanding world of bid writing and management. She joined PCSG’s Content, Communications and Work-winning team this month.
We talked tenders, teamwork and Muay Thai….
Life in lockdown – how was it? What are you most looking forward to as the restrictions ease?
Before lockdown, I felt I wanted a career change, so when lockdown began, I decided to proactively take charge of where my life and career were going and not just go through the motions as in 2020. I spent time reading up on the jobs I wanted, I got back to exercising regularly and spending intentional time with my family. I stuck at it and I got the job I wanted. The exercising has now started to lag a bit but I’m glad the gym is back so I can do some classes…and restaurants are open too.
Working from home or living at work?
Switching off when your office is in the corner of your room is an adjustment and not being able to meet people and work with them in person has been challenging. I am really excited about heading back into an office, especially as I started this role remotely so have not had the opportunity yet to meet my new colleagues in person.
But it has been a good learning experience about how I work and what works well for me. It has taught me how to be very disciplined and shown me just how important routine is.
Everyone at PCSG has been going above and beyond to make sure I am equipped to do my job.
I’ve been playing hockey since I was 8 and fortunately made it to national level, but only briefly before relocating to the UK from Harare, Zimbabwe, where I was born and raised.
I just haven’t had a chance to play since leaving university.
I enjoy staying active though and most recently, I have been practicing Muay Thai.
Bidding is a very precise form of writing. What skills do you need to excel at it and to help clients secure highly in the evaluation?
I think being methodical helps, fully understanding the questions and continually going back to what they (the client) have asked and cross checking with what you are producing.
Had you envisaged using your degree (English Literature and Creative Writing) in this way?
I didn’t know what bidding is or what a tender was for until applying for a job in business development, so I definitely hadn’t imagined using my degree in this way. In fact, I hadn’t envisioned using my degree at all – most people I know don’t.
What would you say are the common pitfalls that bid teams fall into?
Probably not having an organised and updated library. You do not realise how important having and being able to access, the correct information in one place is until you get a bid with a short turn around or at the last minute and something is missing. Bid teams, I believe, should always be working on their library as that’s possibly the most important part of the job. It can be a boring job but when it’s well done and consistently maintained it makes so many other processes easier.
You spent two years as Bid Co-ordinator and Writer at Careys, the family civil-engineering organisation, developing and managing bid activities at the group. A pretty intense role? What did it teach you?
Working at Careys taught me how to work as part of a team and how to lean on others when it does get intense. On my first day, they had an ITT submission deadline. The client had asked for 48 printed, filed, and bound copies of the bid as well as USB copies. I remember thinking if this is a taste of how its going to be. I couldn’t do it by myself even if I had attempted, but luckily I didn’t have to. Being a bid coordinator taught me confidence, how to voice my opinion and how to work more efficiently in a way that benefits the team dynamic.
Engineers often seem reluctant to shout about their accomplishments. What’s the best way to tease the details you need from them when you are writing a submission?
I think the best way to tease the necessary information is to just pick up the phone and speak to them. Emails are great, but sometimes so much strong technical information about what they have accomplished can get lost in translation or misunderstood. Then we don’t want the hassle of sending another one of the same emails reiterating/ asking the same things. So I think a personable call when possible works and is always a great way of just getting to know everyone around me and what they do.
How important is an understanding of/research into the Client and its values and priorities ahead of getting stuck into a submission?
I learnt very quickly all bids will end up being repetitive and formulaic if I don’t take the time to understand each client and their values. The work becomes repetitive and less fun to complete for me too. Researching ahead of a submission encourages a different headspace especially if it’s right after another bid submission and it allows me to understand why the client is asking these particular questions.
It is obvious to the client through the work that is produced when you don’t invest time in their priorities.
A male world?
I have been fortunate enough to work alongside a lot of great women. My background is mainly in construction which has been male dominated, but my experience has seen me working with a majority of women, which I’ve just loved. The women I have come across are visibly and capably taking up spaces historically reserved for men and I feel lucky to have started my career in bidding during such an important shift in the industry.
How do you ensure that you are always learning and building up your knowledge?
Reading and talking to people and sparking conversations to understand different points of views is a route I follow. I’m always asking questions as well to build up my knowledge.
I’m proud to have learnt Spanish though I’d say I’m a confident listener more than I am a speaker. Growing up in Zim, I was mostly exposed to American television and obsessed with a show called The Brothers Garcia. When I moved to England and got a chance to study Spanish (most schools in Zim offer only French & /or Latin), I jumped at the chance! I try and sharpen my speaking and listening by using apps regularly.