Getting Fit to Tender



The first Winning Bid seminar of the year was held at the West Kent B2B, which featured advice from procurement managers at Kent County Council and tender specialists BizPhit.

Whilst Kent focused, their tips are applicable to bidding for tenders across the UK. Read on for the insights.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Advice from Kent County Council to smaller businesses was that they should focus on smaller projects first, to build up experience ahead of going for the more tempting, large value tenders.

Selena Stray – responsible for Construction and Maintenance contracts – shared the following tip;

“I would suggest looking at opportunities with district councils first. Given some individual contracts at the Kent County Council (KCC) are worth more than the entire budget of a district council, they are a lot harder to win as a result. We are under pressure and accountable to spend tax payer’s money wisely, which is why most big contracts inevitably go to the ‘big’ suppliers – we can’t afford to take a chance on unproven businesses.”

That’s not to say small businesses can’t get a slice of the action. To reduce the bias towards larger firms, the bigger contracts are frequently broken down into lots. This means a small business has a greater chance of meeting the requirements.  In fact, Selena pointed out that large firms are restricted from bidding on all lots.

The key for any sized tender is being able to tick every box; a view shared by Susan Rom at Bizphit;

“Bidding for contracts can take an enormous amount of time, so it’s imperative that you can meet every criteria. From having the technical capacity, to ensuring you have the necessary procedures and experience, you must be able to answer every question fully to stand a chance in this competitive environment.”

READ MORE: A beginner’s guide to winning tenders

There’s never been a better time

With the government pledging to spend £1 in every £3 on Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), the opportunity is out there for smaller businesses.

The likes of Kent County Council are also keen on buying local, which offer advantages, including;

  • Better service/delivery times;
  • More important to suppliers;
  • Improved supplier relationships
  • Reduced environmental impact and;
  • Price

The Kent Business Portal lists lower value contracts across councils in the Kent area, and follows a similar format to councils UK-wide. You can register for free notifications to match your services, and you can find sub-contracting opportunities where some businesses wish to collaborate.

Above a certain financial threshold, contracts are also published on the government’s Contracts Finder website. For even larger contracts – worth over £100,000 – they will also be listed at an EU level.

Getting fit to tender

To make bidding easier, procurement is moving towards a more simplified, consistent layout for Pre Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) – the first step towards winning a tender. This layout is set out in the PAS 91 standard, which is free to download.

Medway Council – a local authority with Kent – use this standard, and shared a comparison of a weak and good response to a typical PQQ question;

What Quality Assurance arrangements does your company operate? If no accreditation is held please explain why not and what alternative steps you take to ensure quality at work?

  • Weak Answer: “We operate our own quality system.  We have determined that formal accreditation is inappropriate to our company’s needs.”
  • Good Answer: “We regard quality as a vitally important part of our business activity and we operate a comprehensive and strict internal quality assurance process covering all aspects of our business activity (details can be found in Appendix 2). We are committed to a process of continuous improvement and we are in the process of applying for ISO 9001 (we expect to be assessed in May of this year)”

Many perfectly competent businesses often fail at the first hurdle due to simple mistakes like going over the word count, or missing the point of a question.

An enormous amount of time can be wasted on contracts that – truth be told – aren’t really a good fit. Ask yourself:

  • Do we have a good track record in relation to the opportunity?
  • Do we have the necessary trading history (e.g. 2 years Accounts)?
  • Can we meet the eligibility criteria (technical qualifications, policy compliance and insurance?
  • Can I make sense of the budget and can we deliver the contract on time?
  • Does the contract represent a significant percentage of our turnover?

It’s important that you don’t simply go through the motions. Make the effort to understand what the buyer is looking for and bespoke your bid accordingly.  If you’re unsure as to why a question is asked, then follow this up with the person responsible for the contract – a phone call can often reveal far more detail.

Finally, don’t forget that you are in a competition! Consider who else may be bidding and think about how you can overcome their strengths.

Looking to improve your competitiveness? ISO 9001 certification has been proven to help businesses win tenders. Find out more in our essential guide, or call us free on 0800 404 7007 for free advice.

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