A.The first thing to think about is whether a public sector contract is right for the size of your company, says Matthew Perkins, deputy regional manager for south-west London at Business Link, the government business resource body. Bidding for public sector contracts can be very time consuming.
Also, companies with experience working for the public sector stand a better chance of eventually winning the contract. For some small businesses Perkins suggests it might be more cost effective to piggyback on a larger company’s tender.
This was the advice that Business Link offered to Cathy Ryan and Mark Seneschall, founders of Transformosys, a consultancy focusing on business change and transformation. They found it frustrating that it is so difficult for start-ups like theirs to win government contracts because they have not got a history working on projects in the public sector, even though they have more than 50 years’ business experience between them. Perkins says that if a young business like Transformosys decides to make a bid, it should mention the founders’ experience, as this could improve their chances of beating the competition.
Q. Where do I find details about the different tenders available?
A.Local authorities and chambers of commerce usually deal with the bulk of public sector tenders, and they usually advertise on their websites. They often run “meet the buyer” sessions. For example, the 2012 Olympic committee ran meet and greet sessions for companies thinking about making a bid and the committee’s procurement managers.
Q. I am planning on making a bid. What advice can you give me?
A.First you need to become a qualified vendor. To do this you need to at least have public liabilities insurance (there will be other insurance that you need – that will depend on the type of contract you are bidding for and you should check with your local authority for more details).
Next you need to make sure that you have an approved quality standard that has been independently verified. The main ones recognised by the public sector are ISO 9000 and Exor.
They can be quite expensive, says Perkins, but they are necessary for your bid to progress. A diversity policy and a staff-friendly HR policy will also work in your favour, says Perkins, and local authorities won’t look kindly on any blemishes on your record regarding these two things.
There is a big push by government and the local authorities to enhance their green credentials, so if you have a green policy then that could also work in your favour. But the main thing to get right, says Perkins, is your costs. Include a list of all of your costs and don’t skimp on the detail.
Due to the squeeze in public finances next year, Perkins expects competition, especially on costs, to increase, as government spending is slashed. Perkins’ main advice is to be flexible, especially on cost, and fully transparent.