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© 2013 Tim Gaunt.
Following on from my previous post of “Pricing your work”, I mentioned there were two questions I get asked on a regular occasion. Here, I’m going to cover the second (and more common) of the two “How do you get the work?”
I have to confess that since establishing The Site Doctor, we’ve been very lucky in getting work. This isn’t because when starting up I threw a load of pennies down a well for good luck (or at least I hope its not!), it’s more down to a lot of hard work. In my opinion, work comes primarily from two places:
The first (and best imho) – recommendation should never be discounted. When setting out, you will find that a lot of people do a lot of talking, this is something you’ll have to get used to, don’t expect something to come off until the contract is signed. Never, never, NEVER underestimate the importance of referrals or networking. Everyone out there likes to say “I’ve got a mate who can…” and when starting out, although you could advertise yourself, you’ll never get better advertising than recommendation. Plus it doesn’t have to cost anything!
Tendering (also referred to as procurement) is the process a business goes through when responding to a requirement for a service or good which has been identified by the ‘buyer’. You may well find that when starting out this is how you initially build your network of contacts. For those of you who don’t know, a “tender” or “tender document” is a document that outlines a customer’s project requirements.
Most large organisations in both the private and public sectors, have a procurement process in place. Within the Public Sector it is a strict requirement to put all work above £x out to tender1. Tender documents can take many forms but generally include the project requirements, resources currently available and an overview of how the final selection will be made. If you’re really lucky, the tender document will include a budget, future visions and a clear breakdown of what’s required.
1 Government tenders over a threshold of around £60,000 - £100,000 (depending on whether the procedure is for services or goods) have to be published through OJEU (link at the end of this post)
The tendering process is fairly simple:
Thanks to the internet, finding tender documents is getting simpler; the flipside however is that there are a lot more to sort through before finding relevant tenders. Plus it is also opening each tender up to a wider audience –increasing your competition (seeing as you’re the best company for the job, what’s a little competition!)
Over the past few years a number of tender portal companies have been set up offering lists of currently available tenders. On the whole they’re all much the same but the quality of the information and the price they charge for the information does vary a lot.
In theory, as the majority of the information is already publicly available with a little leg work you can find it yourself as long as you have a set criteria of what you’re after (e.g. Web design contracts). However, using an information service such as Infobrokers (http://www.infobrokers.co.uk/) saves a tremendous amount of time if you want to have access to a broader range of relevant tenders and avoid missing out on THE contract. Infobrokers for example specialise in Marketing Communications, including web-related developments
Infobrokers manually searches hundreds of sources every week on behalf of its subscribers, who would otherwise miss the more obscure tenders. Who wants to spend hours every day scouring potential sources on the off-chance? Much better to pay a small subscription charge and save yourself the headache.
As with anything when you’re competing for business, it’s also important that you get to the information first, this means you have to find a tender service that you feel is bringing you up-to-date information, rather than tenders which are 2-3 days old. Although it is a site we built, Infobrokers manages to pick up on all the latest tenders available through major portals (e.g. TED Online) as well as many of the more obscure sources within a matter of hours. Unlike many automated portal services, the list of current tenders is edited by hand to ensure the information is still relevant and accurate.
As well as listing the latest tenders conveniently on the site, Infobrokers also have a very useful service of a weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) email of tender updates ensuring that even if you don’t have time to read through the lists online you get them in your inbox too.
At the end of the day, it’s up-to you the route you choose but we would definitely keep an eye on a service such as Infobrokers for local, national and international tenders relevant to our industry. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your local council’s website for the smaller contracts that come up and have to be listed under new central government directives. You can easily find these using the links at the end of this article.
The first and most important thing you should do on obtaining a tender document is decide whether you’re in the position to pitch for it. Putting together a proposal based on a tender takes a lot of work. Even when familiar with the process and you have common blocks of information prepared, it’s not uncommon for a company to spend 2-3 weeks putting together a proposal so there’s no point in applying for i.e. a tender for blue widgets when although you could make them you specialise in red thingamajigs.
I’ve also felt that tendering is also a little like recruitment through agencies. If you apply for every position available, you’ll soon start getting a reputation, in this instance it’s likely to be that you don’t have a lot of work on –most likely because you’re no good. Although it is highly unlikely that two government bodies will talk on that level it’s worth bearing in mind.
Once you’ve decided that you have the resources available and you fulfil all (or at least most) of the requirements of the tender document it’s time to start doing a little research. As you would when going into an interview, do a search on Google for the company in question, learn a little about it’s principles and policies. If you can speak to companies who have dealt with them in the past. Basically, get as much background info as you can.
At this point if you still want to proceed with the tender, make the initial contact, express your interest in the tender and inform the buyer that you would like to put forward a proposal. If relevant, provide a little background information about your company and make sure it’s relevant to the client and also up-to-date!
If all goes well you should hear back from them pretty quickly –remember they need something that you can provide. They’ll most likely respond to you asking you to complete a PQQ which will no doubt be 10 pages asking all sorts of personal questions, right down to your inner leg measurements. Don’t panic and more importantly don’t give up!
In many ways I’ve always looked upon the PQQ as a form of filter, those companies who aren’t too bothered about the tender won’t bother filling it out, but you are, so give it the time and attention it needs. If you’re just starting out, I expect you’ll also feel intimidated (as I did) as they often ask for a breakdown of past accounts etc. Again, don’t give up, the government has a large drive on encouraging SME’s to grow in the UK at the moment and so they are encouraging larger organisations to consider the smaller companies as they often offer a more personal service. This was taken from the http://www.supply2.gov.uk/ site:
Small companies are often successful in public sector contracting because they can offer:
1. Expertise unavailable in larger companies 2. A better understanding of their products 3. A better understanding of client requirements 4. A willingness to work closely with clients in partnership
Depending on the tender document you will either be required to return the PQQ in order to obtain the detailed spec or to return it along with your proposal. Either way you should start on your proposal. Firstly, if it’s included, read through the weighting system. This is often at the end of the document and can be confusing so don’t waste too much time on it but it’s always useful to bear in mind when writing your proposal.
Spec the project out as you would any other project, to ensure you cover all their requirements you may find it helpful to print off their tender document and then highlight (and subsequently cross off) the requirements as you write your proposal. Ensuring that you’ve covered all their requirements is important as it clearly shows interest, willing and diligence.
If you have any relevant experience, ensure it’s clearly stated and if at all possible highlighted. It’s also worth highlighting issues that you feel they may have been overlooked. As with any proposal, it’s also worth including your thoughts on how they can take it into the future, remember, this is your chance to impress them.
If you have any questions don’t be shy of asking, there should always be a contact for these within the tender document. Making contact with them is always useful as they’re usually your first point of contact for your proposal. Rather than bombarding them with questions as you write the proposal, make a note of them and where possible group them together. If it’s a question your proposal hinges on, it’s best to call them or email them as specified as sometimes they won’t respond to another form of communications (they often have one preferred method due to the level of interest expressed).
Some authorities pool all questions together and circulate or publish the answers for all interested parties in one go, perhaps on their own website.
Once you’ve written your proposal, it’s always best to have the first sheet as a summary page that the directors can read, ultimately they will be the decision makers but they won’t want to wade through 200 pages of your technical drawings. Keep it brief -2 or 3 paragraphs with all the information they require –and don’t forget price!
As with a job interview, presentation is everything, ensure the proposal looks smart. If it should be submitted by post, bind it nicely and send it recorded delivery so you know it arrived on time (sometimes obtaining this proof is part of the set criteria). Including a cover note is always a bonus. Again, depending on the tender itself, if you feel you’ll be required to make a pitch, think about it while writing your proposal rather than when they invite you!
As with anything, the actual process may differ from that which I have outlined here but I’m sure you’ve got the idea, just remember to read the instructions carefully and you’ll be fine.
That’s it –the easy part’s done! All that’s left to do is sit back and wait for the ok to go… -on that note, don’t be worried if it takes the organisation a month or two to get back to you, if they’ve supplied a “Deadline for our response” type date, or you’re concerned, make contact, you never know –it may sway their decision!
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