Have you thought about bidding for government contracts?

As we work to reboot the economy after the coronavirus crisis, has your business thought about bidding for government contracts?

In 2014-15, the public sector spent £242bn on procurement. The government aims to award a minimum of 33% of all procurement to smaller businesses by 2022, and has made changes to help smaller firms bid on public sector contracts.

  • All available tenders are published on the Contracts Finder portal. This should be your starting point to find tenders which are appropriate to your business and, if appropriate, geographical area. You can also sign up for email alerts when new tenders are published. 
  • Attend local information events or public meetings - local authorities and other organisations often discuss future projects at such events.

In thinking about writing a bid: 

  • Play to your strengths, and be realistic.
  • A scattergun approach isn't the best way to win government contracts. You can't tender for every opportunity that arises and hope that you win one. Instead, be realistic about your firm's stature, and focus on the tenders you have a genuine chance of winning.
  • If you're new to public sector tendering, it's best to look first at opportunities worth less than £100,000. That's the threshold under which you don't have to complete 'Pre-Qualification Questionnaires'. Those questionnaires remove many firms from the tendering process at the preliminary stage.
  • When you bid for a contract, make sure to play to your strengths as an SME. The government likes to work with smaller firms as they can often offer better value and flexibility over big corporations. A common mistake is for SMEs to pretend to be larger than they are. Instead, highlight the strengths and agility of your business, particularly if you have strong local knowledge and expertise that's relevant.
  • Before tendering for any contract, make sure you know the procurement process inside out. This is the route by which the tender will be awarded. The authority advertising the contract will share all the relevant details of the process at the outset.

Most authorities will follow a process similar to this:

  • Advertisement: publications of the details of a forthcoming tender. These details will include eligibility criteria and explain what a firm must do to bid.
  • Tendering and selection: businesses bid on the available contract, and the authority assesses the various bids.
  • Award: each tender is weighed according to various contract-specific criteria. The company submitting the most viable bid becomes the preferred bidder. That company receives a legally-binding acceptance letter, then signs a formal contract.

Your bid should consist of the following:

  • A summary of your company's track record in delivering the kind of service or product required.
  • An explanation of your unique selling point (USP). What is the one solution your company can offer that no-one else can?
  • The price you're quoting to fulfil the contract. What pricing strategy have you adopted, and how will it represent 'best value'?
  • A SWOT analysis (or similar) to display the depth of your understanding of contract requirements.
  • As much evidence as possible to back up all other elements of your bid.

Post-bid

If you're new to tendering, the chances are your first public sector bid will be rejected. The best advice is to keep trying. Where authorities are willing to give feedback, it's worth asking for it, and using the learning points to improve your next bid. Being awarded your first contract will be the hardest part: once you've won one and demonstrated your ability to successfully deliver a contract - and have the references and public profile that results from such a success - you're far more likely to write winning bids in the future. 

If public sector contracts go to SMEs, it's a win-win for everyone. The government often gets better value and can support an essential part of the economy. Smaller businesses, meanwhile, are able to open up a lucrative new avenue for ongoing work. They also get a boost in public profile from providing a service to the government. 

Securing government work isn't easy, and every tender that goes to market generates lots of interest. But by following the tips above, you'll be able to identify the right opportunities for your company, and produce a winning bid giving you the best possible chance of landing a transformative public sector contract.