The World of Bids and Tenders
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Tenders and contracts have been in the news a fair bit recently. I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles and social media posts referencing the awarding of contracts without tender, but what does that mean?
By law, public sector buyers such as housing associations, councils, and other relevant government departments who are dealing with public money (taxes!) have to adhere to strict regulations - the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 - and any goods and services must be sourced in the fairest and most transparent ways possible, including in the way they are advertised. If conflicts of interest and/or bias occurs when tendering there can be serious consequences, and buyers may be subject to large fines with representatives on either side facing potential prison time.
This can all sound quite daunting to the newbie, but in fact all businesses – including small businesses and voluntary organisations – can tender for contracts in the public domain. Depending on the value and/or sector tenders are published on the government’s Contracts Finder or Find a Tender services. Anyone can register and search using keywords or locations, setting up alerts to email you when tenders are published that match your search terms.
OK - you’ve found a contract that matches your search terms; the main questions to ask yourselves are:
Can you provide the goods/service?
Can you offer a competitive price and value for money?
Can you complete the paperwork in the timescale given?
Clearly, it’s going to be more involved than that, but these three questions will filter out most opportunities leaving you with a smaller pool to review. Completing a tender submission from start to finish takes time, and - not going to lie - it can be pretty stressful especially if you are new to the process; you don’t want to be putting yourself through that unless you are confident you can answer ‘yes’ to your starter questions. That’s when the fun starts 😊
I’ve been managing bids and tenders for a number of years, but fell into it quite by accident. My first foray into this strange world was while working for a small business as an office manager looking after the bookkeeping, payroll, and preparing quotes for some of the smaller jobs. One day I was handed a supplier questionnaire, and while the first part asked for company details, the questions further on called for more detailed information. Method Statements. I’d never heard of these before, but as the name suggests they are paragraphs (or occasionally full-blown essays) describing the methods to be used; how many staff would be attending, the start to end process, the health & safety precautions, and the policies and procedures involved.
It was a couple of years after I’d moved on that I found myself completing questionnaires for another company, and was soon completing tenders and proposals and managing the full end-to-end bid process.
More than a decade later and I’ve written and supported tenders large and small. I’ve produced thousands of words, formatted hundreds of documents, and coached colleagues and clients both.
A little bit of ‘how-to…’
Over the years I’ve picked up many tips and hints for completing successful tenders. I understand how e-portals work, the way certain questions are worded (and what they are actually asking for), and how to navigate the process. For me, the most important things would be:
Read everything. Twice. This can be long-winded, often quite boring, but it’s essential to know exactly what the contract is asking for and whether you can deliver. I always prepare a summary for each tender noting all the deadlines and important dates, highlighting specifics such as expected insurance levels, and any qualifications or accreditations required, and include any other information relevant to the contract.
Complete a bid/no bid checklist. Not every project or contract is right for your business, so how do you choose the right one to bid for? Create a checklist with 5-10 questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to bid for a project and give each a % score – if the score is too low, think carefully about whether you should be bidding.
Familiarise yourself with the e-portal. An e-portal is a website set-up to share documents, allowing you to correspond with the procurement team if there are any clarifications needed, and to upload the completed tender and any supporting documents. The link for this will be included in any published tender opportunity. Make sure you know your way round the screens, and read any instructions given.
Each tender has a deadline, and the e-portal will show a countdown – make a note of the submission deadline and set a reminder (or two!) on your calendar, or phone, or even a post-it on your screen. E-portals are designed to close the tender at the deadline, so if you are late your submission will not go through. Where possible submit your tender early to allow for any problems with internet connections or file sizes. You can always carry on updating your tender after it’s been submitted, and upload the latest version nearer the time – the contracting authority will only look at the latest version.
Get your quotes early. If you need to speak to suppliers for parts or products, or need to sub-contract any works, set up the meetings or phone calls at the beginning of the process. You don’t want to spend a month writing and perfecting your submission only to find you’ve not worked out your prices or discussed lead times.
What happens next?
Once a tender has been submitted it’s now a waiting game. You may receive a message through the e-portal asking for clarification on a particular point, or to give a general update if there is a delay, and when a decision has been made the result will be notified the same way. The notice of award will usually contain a hard-copy award letter, with further instructions.
Whether your submission has been successful or not, its always worth requesting feedback.
Whatever the result, it’s worth remembering that there are many factors that can affect your win rate. If you take a scattergun approach to tendering, and bid for every opportunity your search throws up, your win rate will be low. If you apply strict filtering early on, and only tender for contracts you are confident you can win – and have the case studies and references to back it up – your win rate will be far higher. Many smaller businesses make the mistake of thinking they should be winning 75-80% of submissions, and getting disheartened when that doesn’t happen, when realistically most tenderers have a win rate below 40%.
The important thing is to keep learning, and using feedback to keep improving; if you are losing on price, look at your commercial strategy, and if there are specific quality questions that are scoring low, use the feedback to work on those areas for next time.
Support and Coaching
If you are new to bids and tenders and would like some help to get started, I can provide a personalised one-to-one Power Hour, by telephone or online via Teams or Zoom. You choose the areas you want to cover, or the skills you would like help with, and I’ll do the rest.
I also offer a more comprehensive course which can be delivered at your premises or online, and includes a 4-week support package to answer any tender-specific queries following the course.
If you are already involved with tender submissions I also provide a review service. I can proof-read your responses to ensure they include the right level of detail and answer the questions, that the grammar and spelling are on point, and offer suggestions for amendments and supporting evidence. I'll even look at ways to reduce your word count without losing key points.