Tendering

Business Networks

What possible use are business networks when trying to win tenders? There are lots of potential benefits.

  1. Potential Suppliers – so, you’re tendering for a contract, but your Health and Safety Policies aren’t up to scratch. It is highly likely that within many business networks, you will find, or meet someone who can introduce you to, a good health and safety consultant. The opportunity to find people who can work with you on your business to maximise your potential means you can then bid with increased confidence.
  2. Collaborative Partners – thinking about bidding for a contract, but you haven’t got the capacity to deliver everything yourself? Effective business networking is likely to introduce you to businesses similar to your own. Are they competing with you? Probably, yes. Could you work in partnership with them to bid for contracts that you’re not likely to win on your own? Almost certainly. Approach your competitors in business networking with an open mind, they may just open the door for you (and them) to bigger, longer term clients.
  3. Potential Customers – are you going to sell your services to people in the room with whom you’re networking? Possibly / possibly not. Are those businesses working with clients of their own. Almost certainly (at least, they are if they’re any good!). Are they able to introduce you to their customers. Well, that will depend on how well you get to know, like and trust them, and them you. If you’re looking for a contact into a specific organisation, ask people. You never know who they know and for lower value tenders, the process may be less formal, they may only need three written quotes for example, in which case having your name and contact details alone could be enough to open the door for you.
  4. Knowledge – there will be lots of it within your business networks, have you tapped into it to find out what people know about the organisations you want to supply?
  5. Confidence – it’s possible that there will be a copywriter or bid writing expert in your networking group. If not, someone may know someone who is. Having the confidence to bid, safe in the knowledge that there is someone who can review what you’ve written prior to submission and give you some feedback could make the difference between the winning bid and the losing bid.

Never underestimate the power of your business network! If you want to know more about how to capitalise on your existing business network, please do get in touch with us for a chat. We’ll happily share our own experiences of business networks and the benefits to business development, identifying ways of making sure your own networks benefit your business.

Social Value

Have you heard of social value? Have you been asked to demonstrate it when responding to a bid?

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 is a relatively recent introduction, but the concept of social value, or corporate social responsibility, has been taken into account in tenders and bids for a number of years. So if you haven’t heard of the Act, it is well worth researching. The Act became law in March 2012 and was enacted from the 31st January 2013, from which time public organisations conducting tenders must be compliant with the provisions of the Act.

The Act was initiated by Chris White MP as a Private Members Bill and aims to make ‘social value’ more relevant and of increased importance in the placement of public services. In a nutshell, public authorities must take into account the following when they are procuring the provision of public services:

  • How what is proposed to be purchased might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area
  • How, when conducting the procurement process, that process might act with a view to securing the improvement identified

The procurement must continue to comply with all other procurement legislation, and many public bodies are still getting to grips with this Act and how it impacts on their procurement activities. The new legislation encourages public bodies to focus on the ‘whole lifecycle requirements’ of a procurement project, and therefore the project can include both social and economic requirements.

Typically, public bodies have up to now focused on the use of local labour, the employment of apprentices and training opportunities that may be provided. But social value is much more than this. It covers charitable works, environmental practices, how you work with suppliers, staffing and much more.

 

If you’ve never considered social value before, a great start point is to find out what charitable and voluntary activity your staff are engaged in. As an employer, is there any way in which you can support them to engage more fully, or get more involved. Are there sponsorship opportunities? Do you recruit apprentices? Are your staff based locally, thereby spending their wages with local businesses? How do you select your suppliers? Are they locally based? Do they supply locally manufactured products?

 

If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch with us and we’ll happily discuss social value with you. If you’re based in Staffordshire, talk to Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, who have a Social Value Forum, or take a look at www.tradingforgood.co.uk which is a free to use website that captures your social value activity and helps you to consider what might count as social value.

Innovation

Innovation. The one word that strikes terror into the heart of many people responding to bids. What does the evaluator want to see? How do I know if what I’m proposing is innovative? What if it isn’t something that they want? These are questions I’m frequently asked.

There may never be a right or wrong answer to this question, but what is important is that you justify why what you are proposing is innovative, and what the benefit of that innovation is to the buyer. Don’t assume that everything you do already isn’t already innovative. Do you know whether your competitors do the same things that you do, in the same way? They may not, therefore your standard offer may already be innovative. But that is no reason to rest on your laurels, you should always be looking to the future, working out what will benefit your business, but more importantly, what will benefit your clients.

Examples of innovation I’ve seen recently include:

  • new technology to reduce the turnaround time for a particular service, benefiting the customer by providing enhanced responsiveness
  • use of tracking technology to reduce complaints
  • regular briefings from the seller to the buyer, providing continuing professional development opportunities for the buyer’s staff

Look around your business, look at your competitors’ businesses and see whether you are ahead, or whether you have got work to do. If you’ve not done much product or service development, the chances are you need to refocus. Most importantly, ask your customers what they value and what they would like to see.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate innovation into your bid responses, get in touch.

Maximising Opportunities

So, it’s the New Year. Over the Christmas break, you focused on your business objectives for 2017 and determined that to grow your business, you need to win more contracts, from both the public and the private sector. The question is, how do you do that? How do you make sure that you maximise opportunities.

Clearly the first thing you have to do is find the opportunities, right? Well, actually no! The first thing you have to do is get your business in shape, to make sure that when the opportunity presents itself, you are able to capitalise on that opportunity and focus on winning it. So, there is preparatory work that needs to be done, and depending on your business, that may take a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks.

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to bid for contracts, get in touch with us and we’ll work with you to help make sure you’re ready to maximise the opportunities that come along in 2017. We’ll also point you in the direction of where to look for those opportunities!

How do I find opportunities?

I’m frequently asked how companies find out about tender opportunities, as many people only realise too late that there was a contract relevant to their business. The short answer is that there is no single solution to this conundrum. You could choose to sign up with one of the many subscription based services, who will alert you to tender opportunities that meet your profile. If it was my money, I’d sign up with either Tenders Direct or B2B Quote (note: I don’t have any affiliation to either of these companies, but do see the quality of information they put out to clients).

The other option is to search the websites yourself. My recommended starting point would be the Contracts Finder website, which is the Government’s free to use website that details all central government opportunities above £10,000 or other public bodies’ opportunities above £25,000. Contracts Finder also allows you to search for awarded contracts, so is useful for research purposes, or if you’re looking for sub-contract opportunities.

If you’re bidding into local authorities, each will have different levels at which they advertise opportunities. So, for example, Stoke-on-Trent City Council will advertise all opportunities over £500 on their website whereas other authorities may set much higher levels. If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is contact the authority concerned and ask them the question.

There are other websites that may also be of interest. If you wish to supply the emergency services, then Bluelight is the best website to look at. If you’re not sure of the best approach to adopt, get in touch with us, and let us help to guide you through the maze of websites that exist.

Feedback

I’m always surprised, when talking to businesses, how many don’t seek feedback on tenders they have submitted, whether they won the bid, or lost it. Feedback is absolutely essential to inform your future bids. If you won the bid, more often that not you’re busy getting ready to deliver the contract, but take 5 minutes out to ask the buyer what it was about your bid that stood out from your competition. The answer you get might not be the one that you were expecting, and that will help to inform future bids that you submit.

If you were unsuccessful in your bid, don’t despair. The feedback you receive can inform future bids. If the feedback you’ve had doesn’t tell you much, then ask for a more detailed de-brief, so that you can learn for future submissions. It may be that your pricing was wrong, or it might be that part of your narrative response didn’t quite hit the mark. Whichever it is, unless you know, you’re not in a position to improve things for the future.

In my experience, only about 1 in 5 bidders asks for detailed feedback, so why not give your business the edge and be the one to ask for feedback. And don’t forget, once you’ve got that feedback, take action!

Review Your Bids

OK, admit it! You’ve been tendering for contracts for quite a while. You’ve won some and you’ve lost some. How often do you sit down to review the bids you have submitted? It’s really important to understand why you have won the bids you’ve won, just as it is important to understand why you’ve lost the ones you didn’t win. It’s all too easy to be so immersed in the business that you don’t have time, but you must take a step back and find the time to review each of your bids, learn from them and understand what you can do to improve future bids.

If you haven’t got time, ask someone else to help you to review those bids that you’ve submitted. The review should help you to refine future bids, and should inform you which bids in the future you have a better chance of being successful with. That investment of time now should save you time later.

So, remember to take time out to review the bids you’ve submitted, learn from them and apply that knowledge to future bids. If you require external assistance with those bid reviews, get in touch with us to find out how we can help you through the review process.

Bidding on behalf of a charity?

Working in the third sector is hard enough; every penny has to stretch that little bit further and funders want to know that money helping to fund a particular project, is money well spent.

And let’s face it … large donations and the occasional unexpected legacies rarely arrive just when you need them. Income can be sporadic and unpredictable. Bid writing to successfully win financial support for staff, marketing, equipment, training or anything else necessary for the charity to function efficiently and effectively, can be hard work. Simply describing what you need the funds for just won’t cut it.

Sources are varied and extremely diverse, so it follows that their criteria and requirements will be equally searching and wide-ranging. Thus, you will have to think carefully about how to approach this type of tender writing, who will form part of the process and what you need to do to prepare. You’ll also need the why and the when factors

why you need the funding and when you will have the time to do it all and submit it in time!

And when I say… “why you need the funding,” what I really mean is… “why you should have the funding.” This is the crux of the matter. Why should you have the funding in preference to any other charitable cause? I can’t possibly cover all the different formats of tender application here, but I can certainly give you some useful pointers and typical information about how to make your bid more attractive, well presented, suitably evidenced, and professionally written.

Having done your research, you will know where the funding streams are, along with deadlines for your bid(s) and any possible restrictions such as size, demographics and location. There are generally two types of funding bid. The first is an application to foundations or companies. These require the charity to explain why it needs the money and what difference receiving it will make. The second is a bid to a public sector body such as a local authority, which may be for funding to deliver a service. Your charity must show it is able to provide the service at a competitive price.

The exact words and phrases included within your bid will be down to you however, I can give you some common sense guidelines, in plain English, that will hopefully help you to get focused on writing a winning bid for your charity.

FIVE TOP TIPS FOR A WINNING CHARITY BID

1. Refrain from using jargon. It sounds obvious but many bids fail because the fund provider simply doesn’t know what a certain sentence or paragraph means. If you’re going to use technical terms or acronyms that you are familiar with, take time to explain them in full at an early stage. Provide a glossary if necessary and use a suitably sized font if typing and your neatest writer if doing by hand. It’s the little things that go a long way.

2. Don’t assume anything! Even if you’ve tendered to this provider before, don’t assume they know everything about what you do. More often than not they will not. Panels of assessors change frequently so explain your role clearly.

3. Do your research. Have the providers funded similar projects before? What do they seem passionate about? Seek out this information because knowing a little about them will reap rewards. See if you can secure a little chat with someone from the funding department in the initial stages.

4. Gather and present your evidence. Your charity may well do absolutely brilliant work. You may be like a breath of fresh air out there but you will need to prove its worth.  Evidence such as feedback, case studies, thank you letters, awards etc. will be needed to show that what you provide actually does work!

5. Do the maths. Whatever you’re asking for, you must ensure that the numbers stack up. Can you deliver the service efficiently for the price? Have you budgeted for everything?

This list is by no means exhaustive and you will probably think of other important points that could be included. But common sense must prevail. Explain everything. Assume nothing.

Anyone who has a good command of the English language and knows a few ostentatious phrases can write what looks like a grandiose bid. But the best bids will be written by people who are actually involved in the charity at a grass roots level. Ensure those working with the clients and delivering the project provision are involved on the bid writing team. They are the ones that know what a different the funding will really make!

The opportunities are there. Don’t mess it up!

Supplier Questionnaire

You may well be familiar with the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ), but what about the Supplier Questionnaire (SQ). Back in 2015, when the Public Contracts Regulations were revised, they stated that we would move to a European Single Procurement Document, which would replace the PQQ. Back then, there was no timetable for its introduction. Well, it’s here now, in the form of the Supplier Questionnaire. Any new public procurement projects should now use this document, so you need to be familiar with it.

It still asks for basic information such as company name, address, legal status and contact details. It also asks for parent company detail if applicable. The Statement of Good Standing is also included, separated into mandatory and discretionary exclusions. You’ll see that you still have to be able to provide 2 years’ accounts, or be able to demonstrate an alternative financial position if you don’t have 2 years’ accounts.

You’ll have to demonstrate technical and professional ability with up to three previous relevant contracts. There is now a requirement to detail sub-contractors and the relationship you have with them, if you’re going to use them to deliver a contract. There is also a section about modern slavery, insurances and for large value contracts, information about skills and apprentices, both within your business and in the supply chain. Finally, you’ll also be asked about past performance.

Much of the information is not dissimilar to that in the old PQQ document, but it is worth taking time now to familiarise yourself with the new questionnaire, and make sure you can answer all those questions.

If you’re not sure about any aspect of the Supplier Questionnaire, get in touch for a no obligation chat.

Tried to tender, but failed?

Never fall into the same trap again by understanding common mistakes you really ought to know about!

Who said that the tendering process is easy? Er … no-one … ever … as far as I know! That’s because there are often large sums of money involved, many applicants, many evaluators, and many pitfalls.

 

So here, and it might sound a little negative, we’re going to go through some of the common mistakes that are made during the bid writing procedure that just keep popping up time and time again. And don’t worry if you hear bells ringing. If you’ve made any of these errors before, you won’t be alone. Leave errors well and truly in the past and learn from them. Move on.

Hindsight is a fabulous thing, but whilst it may come too late to win your bid, it’s also a valuable way to discover where silly mistakes were made and how, with a little time and patience, those mistakes can be turned on their head into something that brings success. What follows is just a handful of oversights and faults that could have easily been avoided…

1. Not reading, or mis-reading the paperwork 

It isn’t too much to ask is it? Once the paperwork has arrived, sit down, grab a cuppa, and read the whole thing through. Then read it again. It doesn’t have to be straight away if time is short, but always, always read it again. This second read-through will consolidate what you’ve read first time round and questions that may have felt vague now make sense. You should also pick up things that you might have mis-read at first. It’s so easy to spot when a question has been mis-read or not read through thoroughly. The answers and details (however clearly put) just don’t match up with what’s being asked. The result is a poor score, a thrown out bid and a waste of your time!

2. Not presenting the correct documents

This is bread-and-butter stuff and bidders lose easy marks for not including the right documentation. Getting things ready before making a start means that nothing gets left out or forgotten. Evaluators won’t waste time chasing up missing documents and something as straight forward as this could mean the difference between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’ Core documents such as insurances, policies and procedures, testimonials, financial data and previous contracts should be easily available. Not presenting what has been requested is a sure route to failure.

3. Rushing

Pure and simple! And whilst I’m not a patriot of old saying and clichés … if you fail to prepare – you prepare to fail! It’s so obvious when reading a tender that the writer has rushed through the whole thing. Answers and explanations seem disjointed and some sections are barely answered at all. It soon becomes clear that little planning has gone in to the process, yet alone time. A well-presented tender will by no means be the first draft! There should have been at least two or three prior to the final one being prepared, and this really does take some time. Evaluators can soon spot a rushed attempt and will be quick to jump on poorly executed answers.

4. Poor use of language and over-use of jargon

These go hand-in-hand and make for an uncomfortable read by the evaluators. Answers and explanations should flow easily so that it’s clear what is being described. Poor grammar, bad spelling, disjointed phrases and scratchy responses won’t help the reader to picture the valuable skills-set and experience that’s on offer. Using the jargon and terminology that’s in use in the writer’s everyday routine won’t necessarily be understood, and the readers won’t want to start rooting around trying to find out what’s being said. Be clear and concise.

5. Not proof-reading

A continuation of point (4) above. It’s always amazing that some people fail to get ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ to look over their work. Not everyone is a star at putting things down on paper and many even feel uncomfortable doing so, yet they still try to muddle through without help. The resultant disorderly structure sticks out like a sore thumb and does little to inspire confidence. Having a bid document proofread is time well spent and can highlight any gremlins so that obvious mistakes can be rectified. Poorly phrased answers can be recast and an alternative perspective can be gained. The result will be a well-presented and well-written tender that’s a pleasure to read.

So never fall in to the same trap that others have fallen in to. Address the basics and you’ll form a sound foundation for your bid writing. For more information on getting it right, contact us for a chat, we’ll be pleased to help.