Tendering for Government Contracts
We look at where small businesses can find opportunities in the public sector and how to go after them...
Increasing your chances
Although there are clear benefits from doing business with the public sector, it is important to realise that bidding procedures are tough. This is because the public sector must award contracts on the basis of getting value for money for the taxpayer.
In this section we have outlined some of the issues and given advice, which you may find useful in preparing a bid.
At each stage of the tendering process there are issues you should consider. We have outlined some of these issues. Some of the advice is obvious, but we have included it in this guide because it is not always followed.
In most cases you will have found out about the contract in OJEU, in one of the trade journals or on a ‘selling to’ website. This is likely to be your first stage in the process and will give you an opportunity to decide whether the contract is suitable for your business. If there is a contact name or number in the advert, you can contact the customer to check that you understand the requirement. This could be useful as the advertisement alone may not give all the relevant information. Be aware that OJEU adverts are limited to a certain number of words and you may need to get extra clarification.
Don’t be shy of making enquiries to public-sector bodies about available contracts. Look out for news and events in the magazines and publications in your own business sector.
Explore the internet for ‘selling to’ sites.
Feel free to market your products and services to the public sector just as you would to a private-sector firm.
Contact your local training provider, for example Business Link, to see if they provide training on preparing bids and selling to the public sector.
Your bid for business
You may be asked to fill in a questionnaire detailing information about your company’s financial position and technical ability. This can include information about when your company was formed, what experiences you have had providing the items being tendered for, details of where references may be obtained from, and details of your company’s finances.
- Only bid for work that you are sure you could deliver.
- Always provide the information you are asked for. If you are not able to do so, check whether your bid will be acceptable.
- Make sure you answer all questions accurately.
When tendering for a public-sector contract, you will be given deadlines to get information and documents to the customer. These deadlines are important and you should make sure you meet all requests on time.
- Plan your bid around the timetable the customer gives you to make sure you can meet all deadlines.
- If you are not sure of anything, ask in good time. Do not miss the given deadline.
- If your bid is unclear and the customer asks you for clarification, you must give this by the original deadline, unless they tell you otherwise.
Make sure you know early on in the procedure what format you will have to use to fill in the tender documents.You also need to know what the timescale is and whether interviews will be likely.
You will always be asked to provide information by specific dates. Remember that the date given is the last date by which the organisation needs information. It is important to make sure that information arrives promptly. Do be patient, as the procedure from the first advert to awarding the contract can take months.
Public-sector organisations may want to assess their contractors against certain quality assurance standards.
If you are in an industry where external assessments are normal, or are becoming normal, and if it is appropriate to the contract, you may find this a requirement.
Tip: Be aware of any quality assurance standards that affect your industry.
The ISO 9000 series are international quality management systems standards. The standards are published in the UK by the British Standards Institution as BS EN ISO 9000. If your firm operates an ISO 9000 system, you should be able to guarantee to provide consistent quality of your products or services. It is for this reason that a number of purchasers, including some government procurement agencies, encourage their suppliers to use the standard. You can also gain added confidence if you get independent assessment of the system in operation.
Tip: Ask the customer about any policies they have on quality assurance in awarding contracts.