Tips for winning a tender

10 September 2009 By Northern Lights

Tips for winning a tender image

Write, writing, writing pad, pen and paperHow girlie lunches have changed! I’ve been in London today with about 40 girlfriends and the chatter was not about ‘where have you been on holiday’ but sharing ideas to win tenders!

Over the years we have invested a huge amount of time in doing tenders and refined the process. We have a high rate of success – a bad year would be 50% success rate and a good year around 80% to 90% success rate.

This last year, I’ve been mentoring several businesses to help them win tenders – and even a client – so thought I’d share with you my own tips on this.

    1. Think of a tender as a rigorous exam. If they ask a question, answer it. There is a detailed scoring system and you can lose points for not covering simple things like putting a ‘No’ in a box or even ‘N/A’ for not applicable
    2. Be prepared to make the same points several times over. You may think you have already told them the key points in an earlier question so there is no point in repeating it. Tenders are often scored by panels – with different experts looking at just one or two questions, so they may never see all the other points you have made elsewhere in your submission
    3. Be selective about the tenders you go for and then be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort into the ones you choose. When I reviewed one friend’s tender, I said I felt it lacked research and tailoring to the specific problems of that Council. She said ‘but I spent a day on that tender’. I paused and said we could spend 5 to 10 days on a tender we really wanted. A day is nothing
    4. Get all your quality systems in place. Ask Business Link for advice on this. You need all the basics such as equal opportunities and health and safety policies as well as writing up all your quality processes. You are nearly always asked for details of any quality marks that you have achieved – such as Investors in People; ISO 9002 etc. Someone mentioned today that they were being asked for specialist quality marks in training – but she didn’t believe the other tenderers would have this any more than they did. You will have to make a judgement call on what is essential to win a tender and what would be too costly
    5. You will be asked for your accounts. Most tenderers are looking to check for
      1. Financial stability – track record of profit for a year or two. They don’t want to give a contract to someone who could be out of business in six months
      2. Your turnover in relation to the size of the contract. If you are a new business with £20K turnover in your first year, you are highly unlikely to win a contract value of £200k. The new contract would be too high a percentage of your overall business – few tenderers want the risk of making your business so dependent on them
    6. You usually have to submit your track record of experience. I get the feeling that an awful lot of businesses have a pretty standard list of what they are good at – probably what’s on their website – which they just cut and paste into the tender. We would never do this. If we are bothering to do the tender, then we tailor everything. If we are asked for experience in organising rural events, we talk about rural events, highlight issues to do with distance of travel, promoting through parish council newsletters etc. We don’t talk about a non-executive director event for a business school unless we can find relevant angles. Yes it’s hugely time consuming but frankly, there is little point in starting the whole process if you don’t tailor
    7. Most tenders come in two stages. The PQQ – pre qualification questionnaire – which covers all the basics mentioned above such as finances and policies as well as your track record of experience. You may think the first stage is exhausting but if you are one of four or five chosen to go to full tender, the work has only just begun! For the second stage we usually do a huge amount of research, talking to people who know the organisation and its issues, what is really concerning them and what will press their buttons. People are very kind in helping us on these things – but know we’ll help them on something another time.
    8. How do you decide if it’s worth it? I saw a freelance PR consultant earlier this year who was really struggling with his business – he specialised in property – to see if I could help him with ideas. I suggested public sector tenders but he was dismissive ‘I’ve talked to friends but they say you have to invest too much time and almost never win them’. Well, we are proof that a small agency can win large contracts. And once you have won one, you then have track record to go for others. If you’ve been awarded a contract through a tender process, then the organisation can give you further contracts without necessarily going out to tender again – and this is when you can really reap the benefits of your hard work.

Going the tender route is tiring and demoralising – I can’t pretend otherwise – and we often tackle them in phases. We might do three or four and then decide, no more for six months or a year. There are no real rules of thumb.

It is hard but once a contract is awarded, the awarding body usually has the budget for your contract ring-fenced (that could change with the economy but we haven’t seen much being pulled so far) and you will get paid on time. They are a lot more secure than most other work around, particularly at the moment.

If you are going for a tender – good luck!

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