How do I apply for a tender in the UK?

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If you are working on how to apply for a tender in the UK, this blog is for you. Applying is, of course, an integral part of the tendering process so it is vital that you get it right as winning an opportunity could really benefit your business.


Getting started

Bidding for public sector contracts is a commitment. Before bidding for any contract opportunity, any business should ask itself “is it the right tender for us?”

Think whether your business meets all the criteria set out in the documents and whether this tender is a sensible commitment or one that would come to dominate your business, potentially putting it at risk if anything went wrong.

Applying for a tender of any size is time consuming. Going for an opportunity that can help you win big orders seems like a great idea at the time, but the process will tie up valuable resources, so you should be sure it’s right for you.

Make sure your business can tick the following boxes when applying for a tender:

  • Your business can meet the technical skills and experience required to fulfil the contract
  • The work involved is truly relevant to the strategy and positioning of your business
  • Your business can afford to invest the time and resource that is required to bid, even if you do lose out on the contract
  • The contract will help your business grow in the long term

Small businesses that dive in headfirst without asking these questions could risk losing time, money and the contract.

Tendering procedures

The tendering process can take different structured forms. You should familiarise yourself with them before you get started.

These procedures are governed by the EU and transposed into UK law by the Public Procurement Regulations 2015 so currently still apply even though the UK left the EU on 31 January. Each procedure sets out a series of steps suppliers must follow in order to bid for the tender.


Open Procedure

You’ll be pleased to know an open procedure is only a one stage process. To be successful you must submit the selection criteria and the full tender at the same time and submit them, on time and complete.

This kind of tender is evaluated, and the contract awarded to the successful bidder – it’s that simple!


Restricted Procedure

The restricted procedure is when things start to get more complex. This two-stage procedure includes a Selection Stage (SQ) and an Invitation to Tender (ITT). Every interested supplier must complete the SQ and submit it to the awarding authority by the specified deadline.

Once the SQs have been evaluated, the buyer invites a minimum of five contractors to submit a full tender by a second specific deadline. After the deadline, the buyer evaluates the tenders and awards the contract to the successful bidder.


Competitive Dialogue

Like the restricted procedure, competitive dialogue includes different stages.

After the SQ stage of the competitive dialogue procedure, there is a stage titled ‘Invitation to Participate in Dialogue’ (ITPD).

The ITPD stage is when buyers discuss with successful SQ suppliers the solutions they are proposing in greater detail. Mini bidding rounds may then take place to narrow down the number of bidders.

Following this, the buyer will then move to the full Dialogue stage of the procedure and will work closely with the remaining suppliers to test and assess the solutions being put forward.

When this concludes the buyer can then proceed with the ITT, an evaluation will happen, and the contract will be awarded.


Innovation Partnership

Unlike the other procedures, this procedure has been designed by the public sector to encourage innovation and invite new players into the marketplace.  This procedure is particularly relevant for suppliers that can offer cutting-edge solutions. The procedure itself mirrors the Competitive Procedure.


What type of tender is best for SMEs?

Although Innovation Partnerships are great for new players to the marketplace, the Open Procedure offers SMEs a better chance of success as all suppliers that meet the selection criteria will have their tenders evaluated. However, this does require you to spend the time needed to put together a full tender bid with no idea how many others are bidding. The Restricted Procedure, on the other hand, only requires completion of the shorter SQ initially. Only if the buyer is really interested in what you have to offer will they invite you to submit a full tender bid, with all the work that entails.


Top tips: Applying for tenders in the UK

If your business has found a relevant opportunity and it can offer a product or service that can really deliver what the buyer needs, there’s every chance that you could be successful!


Don’t underestimate the application process. If you really want to win a tender, you should put together a timetable for completing your tender response.

Having this in place will enable your organisation to work back from the final tender deadline and will help you to prepare all the documentation you need for the process.

If you want a perfect tender try and aim to have your response ready a day or two before the deadline, and get someone else in your organisation to read it through with fresh eyes to spot any factual or grammatical errors before submission. No buyer will be impressed by a sloppy submission.


Be specific

When writing your tender response, try to describe what you do in detail, confirm how much it costs and the time scales involved, how long the project will take.

Talking about the benefit you can offer seems like an obvious thing to add to any tender. However, make sure that you are focusing specifically on that client, do your research and find out what matters to them.

Zone in on their needs and how the services or products your business can offer can solve their problems.


Stand out from the crowd

After you have outlined the benefits of working with your business, have a think about what differentiates your business from your competitors and what your solution can offer beyond the scope of the contract. This is where added value comes into play.

When you are writing a bid always specify the add-ons which are included in your price. The little things can add up, so make sure that you are putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes and give them the full details of what your business can offer as part of your package.


Always personalise

It may seem tempting to keep stock answers when applying for tenders, but a buyer will be able to spot them from a mile away.

Make sure that you always tailor your responses to the bid. If you don’t take time to read the questions and give a specific answer to them then you have failed before you have started.

Understanding the questions is incredibly important and as every tender is different and that means that every buyer is too. If you are not clear on what a question means, you will have an opportunity to ask the buyer questions. Remember, the more you know about the tender when applying – the better chance you have of winning!


Quality over price

Public sector organisations do everything they can to keep prices low. However, your business should not slash its prices as this is one of the most common mistakes made in the tendering process.

The cheapest bid doesn’t always win. The UK Public Procurement Regulations 2015 state that when buyers are scoring a tender, the focus is not just to be placed on price, but on the best value for money – the best price for the best quality, which increasingly includes life-cycle costs such as parts, maintenance and even disposal.


Why apply for public sector tenders?

The UK public sector spends around £284 billion each year on goods, works and services in the process we know as procurement. In recent years government has encouraged small businesses to seek opportunities, as aims to spend £1 in every £3 with SMEs, directly or through the supply chain, by 2022.

At Supply2Gov we help new and existing suppliers find contracts that are right for their business, to help them grow in this lucrative market.

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