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10 tips to help you tender successfully for public sector contracts

4 Mar 2021

The all-island public procurement market represents significant opportunities for small organisations to increase their sales and win steady business. Here are some useful tips to help you find tendering success.

The all-island public procurement market is worth approximately £10.4bn/€12.1bn, representing an untapped market for small firms to increase their sales and win steady business. However, some companies still struggle when it comes to tendering says Caroline Sweeney, InterTradeIreland’s Public Tendering Programmes Manager.

SMEs often comment that they don’t know where to go to identify contract opportunities in the public sector, or are cautious about tendering. The irony is that public sector buyers are keen to work with SMEs. The reason for this is that small business owners tend to be more invested in securing a positive outcome - they’re often agile, innovative and very accessible.

There are significant opportunities for small organisations to break into this lucrative market. Here are some useful tips to help you find tendering success.

1. Do your homework

      Preparation is the key to submitting a great tender response, so it is important to do your homework before you apply. Always be on the look-out for tender opportunities, make sure they are accessible and that you can submit a competitive response.

      Most public organisations tend to advertise their tenders on tendering platforms such as eTendersNI, and eSourcing NI. You can register as a supplier on these platforms to receive alerts of upcoming tender opportunities in your relevant sector. You can also find a wealth of information and advice on these sites.

      2. Be more competitive

            It’s important not to shy away from competing for public contracts, but you should always be competitive and make sure your bid document fully sells your company’s capability. Have a clear understanding of your business and look at new and innovative ways of providing a service that will stand out with potential clients.

            3. Don’t apply for every tender

            Don’t apply for every published tender. Focus your efforts and target the contracts that offer the greatest prospect of success. Whether it is in terms of sub-sector, size, geography or technical requirements. In addition, only submit a tender if you believe you can and should win it!

            4. Try not to misjudge what the buyer is looking for

            If you want your tender submission to stand out from the rest, you need to demonstrate from the outset, that your company understands the client needs. Always make sure to research the tendering organisation and find out what exactly they are looking for. Who are their competitors? What exact requirements do they have? Finally, why is your company best placed to address their specific needs? You will want to communicate clearly your proposed solution, and how you can add value to their business.

            5. Don’t discount the possibility of working with other companies

            You may wish to tender for a particular contract but do not have the necessary resources or skills to provide the full service requirements. Joining forces with other firms can allow you to address gaps in experience and tender for larger, higher value contracts -which could open the door to further opportunities.

            The main government procurement organisations, Construction and Procurement Delivery in Northern Ireland and the Office of Government Procurement in Ireland have made it easy to do this. To allow smaller firms to apply for public sector contracts, many tenders have been broken into lots, allowing companies to compete for smaller work packages in specific technical and geographical areas.

            This enables more SMEs to compete. There is also an increased emphasis on encouraging businesses to form consortia, so that they can join and combine their strengths.

            6. Invest time and resources to complete the tender response

            It’s recommended to try and submit the tender 24 hours prior to the time stated for submission. If you are submitting your tender response via an online tendering platform, this will give you added time in case of any technical hiccups. It also, more importantly, demonstrates your competency as a company who respects deadlines and can deliver on time.

            7. Build a team that can bring a great document together in a short time

            The entire process, from receiving tender documentation, pulling together costs, liaising with colleagues and submitting the bid, can average around three weeks. Surround yourself with a good team and have one central control point for the tender. In many cases, this will be an internal bid manager but for smaller organisations, this may fall under the remit of a senior person.

            8. Request tender feedback

            You may not win every tender, but you can learn from each. Always seek feedback which you can build into your next approach. Reviewing a tender document after a win or a loss is equally important and can be carried out internally within your company or by independent mentors or consultants. Support is out there for firms, it just needs to be accessed.

            9. Be Patient, tender success doesn’t always come easy

            Don’t expect tender success to come easily, it can take focussed research and resources. In the beginning, it may take some time to find the right approach, whether it’s getting your documents correct, or trial and error with applying for the right tenders. As mentioned above, tendering can be a bit of a learning curve – but once you are successful, the return will be worthwhile.

            10. Reach out to InterTradeIreland Tendering Supports

            InterTradeIreland has a number of tendering supports to help businesses tender successfully for public sector contracts.

            Our Go-2-Tender programme can help you and your business learn how to write good quality tender responses. With practical workshops and 1 to 1 mentoring, we give you the knowledge and confidence to submit quality bids.

            Meet the Buyer events give SMEs access to key personnel and staff who can commission and procure goods & services on behalf of public sector clients. These events can be an invaluable chance to find out about upcoming lucrative pipeline opportunities.

            InterTradeIreland’s tendering supports are an excellent first step for SME’s entering the public procurement market or improving their skills.

            Find out more at

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