One of the Hub's business growth specialists, Sarah Ludford, provides some hints and tips on how to approach tendering and maximise your chances of using these good quality opportunities to grow your business.
For SMEs there’s a range of what are collectively called ‘routes to market’ (find out more about developing your route to market here). These are the ways you find your clients with the intention of selling them your goods and services and include very common ways to conduct business such as marketing, direct sales, ecommerce and so on.
For the right SMEs tendering for contracts can be an additional, and very viable, route to market, as long as they understand the process and how to get the best from it. Changes in legalisation now requires public procurement to be structured in a way that allows SME businesses an equal chance of gaining public contracts. And with £144bn spent annually by public bodies, the rewards are there too.
To help you here are some hints and tips on how to approach tendering and maximise your chances of using these good quality opportunities to grow your business.
There are many places to source tenders. Some are free to use and others require a subscription. In the North West one of the primary portals for public tenders is www.thechest.org.uk. Here you can register your business and receive notifications of public tenders in your industry by email. Other sources include: http://ted.europa.eu and www.yortender.co.uk.
Also look out for tenders from private business looking to outsource some of their core services – for example, we feature all our tenders on our website under www.businessgrowthhub.com/tenders.
There are some sector specific portals that promote their calls for bidders such as: Blue Light https://bluelight.eu-supply.com/what-is-etendering or Public Sector contracts finder https://www.gov.uk/contracts-finder
In addition, there are bodies that many similar types of organisations opt into so that they can benefit from economies of scale when they buy from a framework agreement. These are often called buying consortiums.
Examples of these are: Crescent Purchasing: https://www.thecpc.ac.uk/ and Crown Commercial Services: http://ccs-agreements.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/procurement-pipeline
Check it’s right for you
A common issue among would-be tenderers, or bidders, is not adequately checking that they can meet the tender’s requirements. Even if it seems absolutely right for your business the qualification criteria, contract size or accreditation requirements may mean it’s best to wait for one that better matches your capabilities rather than waste time and effort applying for a contract you can’t adequately service.
Don’t forget, all applicants are judged objectively against the tender’s requirements and success could hinge on the slightest of criteria, so this is a crucial decision that could save you a lot of unnecessary time and stress.
Bids are generally judged on a points basis, predetermined before the tender is issued and the competition is stiff. There may be dozens or even hundreds of businesses bidding for the work. So if there is any part of the criteria that your business doesn’t meet, there is a good chance that a competing business will meet the criteria and win points above your bid. And, as they say, points make prizes.
It’s also interesting to note that not all bids are won by just one business. Sometimes, particularly when the award is of high value, there may be multiple ‘winners’, all of whom may be offered a slice of the contract. This reduces the risk on the buyer of having just one supplier who may not deliver to expectation; there is also a theory that says multiple delivering parties will drive competition and make the contract delivery competitive on both price and increased quality. So part of the decision process of ‘is this the bid for you’ may revolve around a strategy of winning work on a framework, even after the tender has been successfully awarded.
Completing the paperwork
Completing tender paperwork can be an exacting process. Not only is it likely to be extensive, it’s structured so that tender applications can be judged and scored on a like-for-like basis. As such, you need to answer ALL the sections ensuring you cover the ground required by each.
Try to write clearly, using short punchy sentences. Read the questions carefully and answer them fully, trying not to go off topic; chances are information you want to include will be requested further into the document. Ask a colleague to proof read your initial drafts and expect to tweak and change often until it’s complete.
Alternatively, there are professional tender writers that have experience in completing these types of document and well understand the nuances involved. If you have the funds this may be a good investment and should help to maximise your chances of success.
What is social value?
Virtually all public tenders will include a section about ‘social value’. Companies often don’t understand what this means but it’s something you need to address as it is becoming a key criteria in public procurement. Social value questions are asking what contributions your company is making to society. It’s underpinned by the notion that responsible companies who want to avail themselves of public monies, should be adding some value to the community at large.
There are many forms of social value and chances are you’re already contributing, you just don’t see it in these terms. So, charity work, employing apprentices, volunteering in community organisations or offering your services for free to deserving causes are all forms of social value which you can include. However, don’t think an annual cash contribution to a charity counts as social value as, despite what you might think, this is unlikely to score highly.
Social inclusion is also becoming a main theme in public procurement as social responsibility is now high on the government agenda. It outlines that services, such as tenders, must generate benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment. Click here to find out more.
Submitting your tender
Check you know how to submit the document; it could be by email, by post or by hand. Many a hard written tender has fallen at the final hurdle by not making the date, being submitted incorrectly or by trusting the mail, only for it to arrive a day late.
Plan your submission schedule to give plenty of time to successfully make the required date. Anything less will be a waste of your time and energy
Results and feedback
Once you’ve applied you should have an idea as to when the results will be published. Obviously if you’ve been successful you’ll enter into contract delivery negotiations and enjoy the benefits that brings.
Alternatively, your submission has not been successful. It will be disappointing but you’ll be offered feedback on the areas where your application fell short which you can feed into future submissions. Like all things in business there are highs and lows but with persistence, learning from the process and a can-do attitude your chances of future success are greatly increased.