Confused?

Are you confused about tenders? Do you think that tenders are something you should be considering for your business, but ultimately you’re not really sure? As part of our holistic approach to working with our clients, before we jump into a tender, both feet first, we always review whether this is the right strategic approach for your business. Whilst public and private sector tenders are potentially a good source of business, there has to be a strategic fit, and the tender process is a key part of the sales process, alongside all the other channels to market that you have.

So, if you’re not sure, it is always worth seeking strategic advice about your business, and its growth potential first. To that end, we are able to provide you with help and support, to undertake that strategic review. Even better news for you is that the cost of that support could potentially be subsidised. We are accredited Growth Accelerator coaches, and also an approved Growth Voucher adviser. Both those schemes may provide part of the cost of funding (potentially up to 75%) for a strategic review of your business, and better news still, if your business is based in Staffordshire, I may be able to signpost you to an alternative grant scheme which works in conjunction with Growth Accelerator to provide a further 25% subsidy to your total cost.

If that is something that might be of benefit to your business, and interests you, then please do get in touch with us to find out more about how tenders might benefit your business.

We’ve written a book!

I know, I know, i’ve not blogged for ages and ages. Why is that? Well, there are lots of reasons, but the primary one is that I have been busy writing a book! “Winning Tenders” has now been published and you can buy your copy on Amazon, either in paperback form or as a Kindle book. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but this year I committed to write it as part of my 2014 objectives. By pure coincidence, a very good business contact – Charlie Hutton, whose business is http://www.hutchinsonwebdesign.com/ launched a new service, helping budding authors to write a book within 6 weeks! So, the challenge was set, and the outcome is here:

Product Details

 

I’ve also worked hard to produce my second newsletter, if you want your copy please get in touch via email and I’ll add you to the mailing list. There are two formats – an emailable pdf version, or you can have a proper, traditional newsletter that drops through your letterbox in a stamped envelope.

So, now you know why there has been a bit of a time gap between my last blog post and this one, but hopefully they will be a bit more regular from now on!!

Keeping your cool!

So, it’s great news. You’ve just received notification that – subject to the ten day standstill period – your company has been awared the contract that you tendered for! Time to get the champagne out, right? Wrong! The letter you have received is a notification of intent, so don’t start celebrating just yet. You can, by all means, contact the awarding body and make preparations for the contract award, but until the standstill period has concluded, and you receive confirmation of signature of the contract, it is possible that a challenge may be launched by another bidder who was unsuccessful. There have been many high profile examples of this, including the West Coast Rail franchise award, where ultimately the whole process was abandoned due to an error in the scoring process.

There is also a tendency, once you have won the contract and you have signed the contract, to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and think that everything is great. Winning the contract is just the beginning of the hard work. You need to forge relationships with the people you will now be working with, establish exactly what they require and how they require it. A familiarisation process needs to take place where you get to know their team and vice-versa.

The other piece of advice I would offer to you is this. Once you have secured the contract, ask for candid feedback about your submission. What were the good points? What needed to be improved? What made your bid the stand out document that led to the contract award. Very few, if any, companies who win contracts ever ask for feedback, but this is critical if you are to use that knowledge to help you with future bids.

Congratulations on winning that bid, celebrate at the appropriate time, but make sure you learn from the process too – that learning will help you to go on and win other tenders.

Contract Win!

So, it’s great news. You’ve just received notification that – subject to the ten day standstill period – your company has been awared the contract that you tendered for! Time to get the champagne out, right? Wrong! The letter you have received is a notification of intent, so don’t start celebrating just yet. You can, by all means, contact the awarding body and make preparations for the contract award, but until the standstill period has concluded, and you receive confirmation of signature of the contract, it is possible that a challenge may be launched by another bidder who was unsuccessful. There have been many high profile examples of this, including the West Coast Rail franchise award, where ultimately the whole process was abandoned due to an error in the scoring process.

There is also a tendency, once you have won the contract and you have signed the contract, to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and think that everything is great. Winning the contract is just the beginning of the hard work. You need to forge relationships with the people you will now be working with, establish exactly what they require and how they require it. A familiarisation process needs to take place where you get to know their team and vice-versa.

The other piece of advice I would offer to you is this. Once you have secured the contract, ask for candid feedback about your submission. What were the good points? What needed to be improved? What made your bid the stand out document that led to the contract award. Very few, if any, companies who win contracts ever ask for feedback, but this is critical if you are to use that knowledge to help you with future bids.

Congratulations on winning that bid, celebrate at the appropriate time, but make sure you learn from the process too – that learning will help you to go on and win other tenders.

Living Wage

An increasing number of tenders issued by public bodies are incorporating requirements into contracts awarded for suppliers to pay their staff the living wage. This is currently set at £8.55 per hour for those in London and £7.45 for those outside London. The national minimum wage is currently £6.19 per hour. A lot of companies have contacted me to ask whether public bodies can legally include this term within contracts.

The simple answer to this question is yes, they can. However, it is never that straightforward. Public bodies need to consider this on a case by case basis and the requirement should apply to all bidders equally. Further, the European Commission clarified this issue as far back as 2009, when it stated that “living wage conditions must concern only the employees involved in the execution of the relevant contract, and may not be extended to other employees of the contractor.” The requirement to pay the Living Wage should be clearly indicated either in the OJEU notice or the tender documentation, there should be no surprises at contract award stage.

The Living Wage Foundation has conducted research amongst those businesses who have committed to pay the living wage to determine the benefits. They include: staff leaving rates fell by 25%, 54% of employees felt more positive about their work place and companies stated that it had enabled them to attract new business and customers.

So, if you see a contract advertised with a living wage requirement, don’t dismiss it as out of hand. There are clear business benefits to paying the living wage, and it may increase your chances of securing new contract successes.

What Tenders Are Out There?

How often do you spend 5 minutes checking what tenders are available and appropriate to your business? If you’re like most businesses, I suspect the answer is not very often. Whilst I always advocate checking for yourself, I know from experience that sometimes life just gets in the way. That is why most website portals allow you to register a profile and then issue email updates of tenders that are available.

If, for example, you register on Contracts Finder, you have the opportunity to build a profile and select a frequency for notifications. So, every day, usually at about 11pm at night, I get an email from Contracts Finder setting out some of the new opportunities that have been listed that may be relevant to my business. It isn’t a substitute for checking each tender – it isn’t unknown for people to categorise tenders incorrectly – but for those times when you’re busy it helps take some of the pressure off.

I’m also asked by clients why tender deadlines that are published in documents can slip with alarming frequency. Ordinarily, within Pre-Qualification Questionnaires, a procurement timetable is published and it is not unknown for those timetables to slip as the process progresses. There can be lots of reasons for this. Generally speaking, higher response levels than anticipated can lead to project slippage, or due to the nature of the contract, it takes longer for the process to pass through internal due diligence and sign off (by Councillors, Trustees or Boards) than is anticipated. The buying authority should keep you updated on any changes to the timetable however. If they don’t, then do contact them to ask them for a revised timetable, but don’t hassle them, as that will further slow the process down!

Uploading Tenders

So, you’ve spent hours crafting your tender documentation, you’re delighted with your final documentation. All there is left to do now is to submit everything you’ve created. Easy, right? Well no, not necessarily.

There are many different ways to submit tenders, so it is essential that you are aware of how the tender should be submitted well in advance of the deadline date. Is a paper copy required? If so, how many copies? Where should it be submitted to? What is the deadline time Can you get it there for that time? Can you be certain? Many companies have failed in tenders which they have spent hours creating simply because on their way to deliver the tender, something unforeseen has happened (traffic, breakdown, accident). It is YOUR responsibility to make sure the documents are there in time, so ensure you allow enough time to comply with the deadline. If in doubt, deliver it the day before.

Nowadays, the majority of tenders are submitted electronically, either via email or by uploading documentation through an on-line portal. Even with these, you need to be careful. Some portals only accept files below a certain size, so you need to read the submission requirements very carefully. If you are uploading through an on-line portal, are their instructions for upload clear? Are you sure you understand them? It is no good, trying to upload documentation 5 minutes before the deadline, only to find out that you don’t really know how the upload process works, because at that point, their helpdesk will probably be overwhelmed with calls, and you probably won’t get to submit in time.

If in doubt, contact the helpdesk well in advance and ask them to talk you through the process, most will be very happy to do so. Again, leave yourself plenty of time, especially where you have multiple documents that need uploading. Some portals allow ‘bulk’ uploads, others require you to attach one document at a time.

Imagine how annoyed and frustrated you would be if you wrote a winning tender, only to be disqualified because you didn’t submit on time. And yes, before you ask, even if your tender submission is only a few seconds beyond the deadline time, it will be rejected.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Think Local…

A slightly different train of thought this week, and a challenge to local authority procurement teams! How much of your authority’s spend is with suppliers based in your authority area? What about in your region? There are many reasons why local authorities procure services from companies based outside their authority area, all of which are valid (price, quality, availability, technical expertise and many others).

However, when did your authority last engage with local businesses to make them aware of what goods and services are procured locally? When did your authority last explain to local businesses what you expect of your suppliers? When did your authority last publish in advance the tenders that would be available to businesses in the forthcoming twelve months? When did your authority last review the levels at which you seek quotes, go out to full tender (excluding OJEU) and review where you advertise and promote tender opportunities.

Many local authorities operate a system whereby for contracts up to £30,000 it is sufficient to obtain three written quotes, but how do you select which businesses can quote for those contracts? Is it through a supplier listing? If so, how do companies get on to that supplier listing? How do you know that you are securing best value if those contracts up to £30,000 have not been openly advertised? For many smaller businesses, those smaller contracts could make a significant difference to their business.

If you haven’t reviewed your procurement activity recently, what are you waiting for? The benefits could be significant to the authority, to the local community and to local businesses.  I read somewhere – and I can’t remember the source at the moment – that for every £1 a local authority spends with a local supplier, 76 pence of that is re-spent with local people and businesses, whereas for non-local businesses, that figure drops to 36 pence. Think about the benefit to the local economy..

…Think Local (part 2)

I want to continue a theme I developed in my last blog this week. Through my work, I see many different examples of procurement practices within local authorities; each appear to have their own procurement guidelines that potential suppliers must follow. Here are two examples from Local Authorities within the UK.

Authority 1 has a published procurement policy that requires all contracts with a value in excess of £30,000 to be advertised through their website, through social media and through the Contracts Finder website. A minimum of three quotations must be secured and if the contract value is greater than £50,000 a full tender process must be followed. For contracts greater than £3,000 but less than £29,999 there is no requirement to advertise the requirement, but three written quotes must be secured. The authority does have a register of potential suppliers, but senior managers are not compelled to contact every supplier on the listing who can supply the services they require, only to ensure they have quotes from three suppliers.

Authority 2 has a published procurement policy that requires all contracts with a value in excess of £1,000 to be published on their website and through social media. For contracts valued at £10,000 or more, they must also be advertised through Contracts Finder. Additionally, staff are encouraged to actively seek out potential local suppliers and invite them to tender for contracts in accordance with the requirements of the particular activity.

Authority 1 manages to spend approximately 14% of its external spend budget with local suppliers (defined as those within the local authority wards). Authority 2 spends 39% of its external spend budget locally. Yes, there is slightly more work involved for Authority 2 as they generally have more quotations to evaluate, but their processes are open, transparent and actively encourage local businesses to trade with them.

So, do you know what your local authority policy on procurement is? And as a taxpayer, which approach would you prefer your local authority to take? Maybe you should check and make your feelings known, after all, if no one challenges existing practice, it probably won’t change!

Here We Are…

For those of you who are observant, you will see that all my former blog posts are now conveniently available below, rather than being on a separate blog site. Hopefully this will make it much easier for you to find previous blog posts that may be of interest or relevance to you. Some of you may also notice that I haven’t blogged very much recently. There are no excuses, though I have been exceptionally active with clients, and I’m also trying to update my website, which as you will see is very much still a work in progress!

However, I will certainly try to blog a little more often than I’ve managed in the last few months, and if I don’t then I’m quite certain that social media expert ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ (www.followthethread.co.uk) will gently remind me.

As well as focusing on work for clients over the last 6 months, I have also moved into a new office, which gives me space to meet clients without having to negotiate my way around all the kids junk which invariably finds itself lying around whenever clients visit. So, if you have been putting off getting in touch, now is the perfect time as you can come and visit us in our new, ground floor offices located just 5 minutes off the M6 in Stafford. The kettle will be on, and we generally have a supply of chocolate biscuits!

Look out for more (and more frequent) blog posts over the coming weeks!

Thanks for sticking with me.

Jonathan