Supply2Gov caught up with Principal PASS Consultant Eddie Regan to discuss how micro businesses can get started with public procurement.
What can a micro business do to stand out against businesses with more experience?
Small businesses and micro businesses must identify markets that are suitable for them. It is important that you identify the market, find the niche and have something that buyers are looking for.
If your business does not have a product or service that is unique, chances are that the public sector will not give you a contract that is over twice your turnover, especially if you are a start-up that cannot prove what your turnover is in your first year. The public sector is risk-adverse. It tends not to take risks when it doesn’t have to.
The market does not have to be niche, it just can’t be flooded. A new stationary business has a slim chance of working with the public sector in its first three or four years as it will be up against thousands of more experienced businesses. Your business must build a reputation.
If your micro business is a specialised tech company, providing technology that the NHS or MOD wants, there is potential for your business to succeed even six months in as there are opportunities in the market.
For example, there are only four MRI scanner suppliers that the NHS will work with; if a fifth one came onto the market then it is likely that opportunities will open up as the market will become more competitive, driving down some of the costs for buyers.
What type of training would you recommend for micro businesses looking for public sector work?
I would suggest that they think about courses that will teach them what the tendering process is, what the selection questionnaire looks like and entails, and what the overarching requirements in procurement are.
Going to a bid-writing course is all very well, but you must have knowledge of the public sector marketplace before you do that.
Suppliers should try to understand what the buyer is looking for. “Added value” is an incredibly important part of the selection questionnaire but suppliers often ask, “what does that mean?”.
This section is the part where you can promote what your business does. For example, if your business supplies equipment, mention in the Added Value section if your business will fit it for free.
This is the kind of thing the public sector is looking for, and it may be something your business won’t think twice about doing.
That’s just one example and it is something that suppliers need to get a hand on.
Are procurement events important to smaller businesses?
Meet the Buyer Days are extremely important – if you get the chance, start going to them, even just to make contacts. Attending events is a fantastic way to get your name out there and will give you the chance to start conversations with public sector buyers.
Where is a good place to start for smaller businesses that want to bid for government contracts?
First stop is to look at the selection questionnaire and see what is required by that document. After that, it becomes market-specific.
We do a training course called “Bid Prepare” where we spend an entire day with a business, going through a checklist of all the things their market requires. A consultant will talk them through the process and help them to gather everything they need to prepare for the tender process. We review the business’s policies and make sure that they are fit for purpose.
Any final advice?
Stop waiting for the opportunity and start looking for the opportunity.
Stop waiting for a particular contract to drop onto your lap and start looking for other contracts that may be valuable to your business. We have had clients over the years who have done this and they have been extremely successful as a result.
Can you give us any examples of this?
Many years ago we had a client that supplied workstations, long before public sector organisations advertised for workstations. So they went knocking on the doors of government buyers. Every time they saw a public sector IT contract come up, they contacted the organisation looking for the IT equipment asking them if they also needed workstations.
After a trial with a local government department, the department liked the workstations so much that they signed a contract with the client. From there they expanded and secured work with local government departments across the country. It started a market.
We had another player in the marketplace that supplied recycled toner, long before anyone else was doing it. They looked for every photocopier contract and they went knocking on doors. People started to open those doors and realised the savings that could be made. At that time, no one advertised for recycled toner, and this is the way small businesses must think.
It all goes to show that there are lots of opportunities out there for small businesses.
Introduction to Procurement
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