Across the UK, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector. Simply put the UK is a nation of small business holders, many of which are key sources of innovation and new technologies.
Over the years, a lot of work has been done to improve the process of bidding for work with local councils and government departments. Whilst there remains some administrative burden to join frameworks, doing so in many circumstances is relatively easy. Of course there is always the ability for processes to be further refined and simplified, but if you’re an SME who has never joined a framework, our advice is to just start – once you’ve done one, you’ll get better at applying (and even if you’re rejected the first time, you’ve learnt something). Our other top tips when looking to bid for government work are:
- Longer lead times. There are longer times between the opening, closing, review and award of work than your company may be used to. Factor this into your bid and cash flow cycle.
- Scanning. Sites such as the government’s contract finder show opportunities that are early engagement. Make sure you look at these so if you’re interested then you know to watch for the initial tender being released.
- Be realistic. If the tender says it is suitable for SMEs, look at the criteria and decide if it’s suitable for your SME. The difference between the size, structure and turnover of a micro, small and medium-sized company is quite a lot. So if the contract is suitable for an SME look at the criteria and think hard about if you could deliver. We’re not saying don’t be ambitious, far from it. What we are saying is with the limited time resources you have be ruthless about what you choose to write bids for.
- Be clear on what you bring – including your IP. SMEs can often offer a level of flexibility and agility that isn’t seen in larger companies. Show what skills you have in your company and what, if any, IP you have that will help deliver the project. Also don’t be afraid to partner with other companies who can bring complimentary skills in their own niche area to really create a compelling offer to deliver the project.
- Style of writing. If you’re a SME the chances are you don’t have a dedicated bid writing department, so lots of people in the company “pitch in” to make sure the bid response is the best it can be. Whilst it’s important to retain the company voice, also keep a track of why you lose bids so you can start to see what detail needs to kept in and what taken out for each different type of bid/framework.
- Accurate budgeting. Look at the available budget and decide if you can deliver what is needed within the budget. If not, you’ve got a range of options from not bidding, to accepting a loss leading contract (if you win), to bidding and stating you don’t think the budget is realistic but showing what you can deliver. This isn’t an easy call but it can start really helpful conversations for both sides.
- Social value. We’ve seen an increasing request to show and create social value such as apprenticeships and investment in jobs within an area. This is where the powerhouse of SMEs really comes into its own. Don’t be afraid to show all the great work you do – are you members of the Living Wage Foundation, do you provide apprenticeships, are you members of the Armed Forces Covenant or something else? This is where SMEs easily match larger companies.
These are our learnings over the last few years – we’d love to hear your top tips for bidding as well and your successes!