Finding Your Niche in Local Government Procurement

You’ve probably come across the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Well, it’s something for suppliers to bear in mind when they enter the public sector. Think, as a supplier, do you want to provide a range of products, services, or works to a government department, like healthcare? Or, would you rather become a specialist in a specific niche?

A niche comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’re going to look at how to identify your niche, as well as how to unlock the local government procurement opportunities that lead to niche contracts.

Niche Skills And Local Public Sector Contracts

Niche skills can play a very important role in winning contracts, especially contracts with a narrow focus.

But, how can you determine where your niche skills lie to capitalise on low-value government contracts? Let’s look.

How to Find Your Niche

Here are two essential tips to help you determine where your expertise lies and whether it’s a path worth following.

Unpack your skill set

When you first start operating in the public sector, it makes sense to provide a general set of skills to increase your chances of winning contracts. But as you gain experience, you might discover that you respond to tenders with certain requirements more than others.

At this point, it’s useful to determine why you have this leaning. Do you enjoy the narrow focus? Are you good at it? Or do certain contracts cross your path more often than others?

The answers will help determine which of your skills you need to enhance. You might be surprised by what you find. For example, the area of specialisation you enjoy, might not be the one that your business is best at. 

You must decide whether you’re going to go with the area you love and commit to a lot of hard work to build up the skills to an expert level, or you’re going to focus on the area that you specialise in (by default) and pour your energy into becoming a leader in the niche.

Research the market

Researching the market is an important step because you’ll learn whether there is actually demand for your niche skills. There’s no point developing a niche skill set that has zero earning potential.

You might be tempted to follow that path anyway, under the impression that you can be the exception to the rule. Don’t. Even if your research into patterns and trends indicates that the market will turn in the future, don’t. You don’t have the skills to single-handedly revive the sector.

You also find out about competitors in the niche. You can weigh what you offer against their offerings and see where you stand in the market. 

This way you’ll know which skills in particular need to be developed and how your strategy should be structured to outpace the competition in the race of contract opportunities.

Popular Niche Government Contracts In The UK

We’re going to take a quick look at three of the most in-demand niche public sector contracts in the UK.

1) Healthcare

Healthcare can be divided into several sectors or services, including:

  • Home care
  • Dentistry
  • Nursing
  • Medical PPE
  • Social care

Each sector has niche sub-sectors; for example, dentistry includes oral hygiene, surgery, oral medication, and pediatric dentistry.

Given the level of expertise required, public sector bodies must have absolute trust in their suppliers, which is why they often use frameworks to award contracts. Suppliers in the pool have already been vetted, making it easier to choose a winner from a limited number of candidates.

Tips to Win Healthcare Tenders

Here are five tips to win niche healthcare tenders.

1) Know your capabilities and limits. Play it smart and don’t choose contracts with requirements that exceed your resources.

2) Understand the risks. Low-value government contracts can be lucrative, but only if the potential profit opportunities outweigh the risks.

3) Abide by the regulations. Healthcare has stringent regulations that require absolute compliance. There’s no wiggle room.

4) Be aware of all costs. You must consider all related costs, from materials right down to equipment maintenance.

5) Be qualified. There are strict criteria regarding qualifications. If you aren’t qualified, you’ll miss out on important business opportunities.

2) Public security

Public security tenders can be divided into three primary sectors with several sub-sectors:

1) Surveillance, including surveillance equipment, alarm services, CCTV monitoring, and access control.

2) Manned security, including event security and security guards.

3) Cybersecurity, including cloud-based security, security for IT infrastructure, and security for mobile devices and applications.

3 Tips to Win Security Contracts

Here are three of the best tips to win niche contracts in the security sector.

1) Know the market. Research and collect data to fully understand the security market. The information can be used to compare your services against current demands and trends. It also points out potential opportunities in the public sector that you might not be aware of.

2) Know your competitors. Knowing what your competitors are offering gives you valuable information that helps you decide whether submitting a bid is worthwhile. 

Look at their pricing structures and value for money. You can use this information, combined with market knowledge to refine elements like pricing, added value, and enhanced business operations.

3) Health and safety/risk management. Security sector contracts require a comprehensive Health and Safety policy, extensive risk assessment and management, qualifications, and certifications like the Defence and Security Public Contract Regulations (DSPCR).

If you lack any of the above, don’t take your chances and submit a bid anyway. You’ll waste your time, but worse, you’ll waste the contracting authority’s time.

Information Technology (IT)

IT is one of the trickiest niche public sector bodies purely because it evolves so quickly. IT service providers need to keep up to date with the market, the tools, and public demands to ensure their offerings align with contract criteria. 

Bear in mind that local council tendering in IT has some unique requirements. For example, services and solutions must integrate with existing IT systems, as well as the systems of any other IT company working on the same project.

Solutions must also meet the specific needs of end users.

It’s not like providing cleaning materials which have broad applications like cleaning all the windows at a job centre.   

IT solutions often have one application, like a library filing system which can’t be generalised to other filing systems. That’s why IT techs must create user-friendly solutions for the end user in each sub-sector. 

It’s a good idea for IT suppliers to be familiar with the Technology Code of Practice (TCoP). It sets the standard for certain criteria applicable to public sector tenders. Service providers can then design their tender responses to align with the criteria.

How To Unlock Local Government Procurement Opportunities

Public sector suppliers must start gearing up for the new procurement regulations that are coming their way. Training is an important part of the process. Fortunately, the UK government isn’t leaving suppliers to muddle through on their own. 

It has released its first batch of training packs called Knowledge Drops. They target three groups:

1) Contracting authorities.

2) Government procurement suppliers.

3) SMEs and voluntary, community, and social enterprises (VCSEs).

4 Routes to market

Suppliers must familiarise themselves with four tender processes in the public sector, although only three are really relevant.

1) Open or Competitive procedure

This is the process most associated with tendering. A contract notice is published on a tender or contracts portal and anyone interested can submit a proposal. Bids are weighted according to preset criteria and the one that provides the most value wins the contract.

2) Competitive flexible procedure

Public sector bodies can create a bidding procedure that relates specifically to the contract concerned. This can include different stages in the evaluation and assessment process, as well as tailored formats that simplify and streamline the bidding process.

3) Framework agreements

Public sector bodies have the option to use a pre-selected supplier pool to award contracts through frameworks.

4) Direct awards

Direct awards are the exception. Public sector bodies bypass the competitive process and directly award a contract to a supplier, but only under specific circumstances.

Tips To Unlock Local Council Contracts

If you want to unlock local government tenders in your niche, follow the tips below.

1) Understand what is being asked of you

Do you understand the details of the contract? Are you positive you meet the required criteria? Is your business suitably accredited? Are your employees suitably qualified?

The answers to these questions tell you whether bidding is worth your precious time. 

2) Have the requisite policies in place

Do you have inclusive (non-discriminatory) employment policies? Is your health and safety policy compliant with the national regulations? Are there quality control policies for goods, works, and services?

This is information that most contracting authorities look for. But, they don’t just take your word for it. They want proof to back up your answers, so you must have sufficient evidence to support your claims.

3) Read and understand the tender documents

Contract notices include tender documents that fully explain proposal requirements; for example, if the document calls for three relevant case studies, don’t provide two or provide one relevant case study and two tangential.

Contract documents supply details of the accreditations required. If you aren’t properly accredited, can you get accredited before the closing date?

Some accreditations almost always crop up, so obtaining them is worth the time and expense. On the other hand, some crop up very rarely. You can afford to let them go.

4) Adjust for single or group tenders

Pay attention to the structure. For example, some council contracts divide large tenders into different parts.

A cleaning tender might be divided into cleaning materials, office cleaning, and window cleaning with separate bids for each part. In this case, you’ll share the contract with other niche companies. 

Alternatively, the tender might be for the whole cleaning set (materials, office, and window).

In this case, collaboration could be the key to unlocking the tender. 

5) Add value

UK government tenders look for public sector suppliers that provide extra value for money; for example, streamlined processes that improve efficiency and save costs. Make sure you can support this in a case study or client testimonial.

Don’t forget about social value, especially projects in the local community, for example, on-the-job training and apprenticeships to combat unemployment.

How To Find Niche Local Government Contracts

Suppliers can find niche, low-value public sector contracts on tender portals. Once they register for tender alerts, they can create email alerts specific to their niche. 

Supply2Gov (S2G) allows you to create an email alert profile that sets up alerts for contracts in your sector and chosen area of operations, whether that’s for local community tenders or tenders across the UK.

Register for free and set up your alert profile to access tendering opportunities that meet your requirements.