Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019 15:20 GMT


Winning successful bids for high-profile jobs in the public sector can mean big money and advertising for companies. But how do you produce a successful tender? Carys Evans finds out

Broaden your horizons

Global sporting events such as the Cricket World Cup, the Olympics and FIFA World Cup provide an opportunity for companies to bid for high-profile jobs that will get their work and skills noticed.

Local councils, governments and independent bodies such as universities are examples of other places for print companies to access fixed-term, well-paying work.

The type of work on offer can vary from a £25,000 contract up to £70m. Often, most contracts will be term contracts and act as a framework over a period of time rather than being a single printing job. This means that commissioners don’t have to re-buy time after time.

Global events usually provide good opportunities to apply to tenders

As a result, they often prefer to secure a company for a longer period of time. An example of this type of contract is government print tenders for voting leaflets, ballot cards and so on. This means the level of outsourcing in terms of what value-added services get bundled in varies largely from company to company, and from country to country.

Public Contract Regulations 2015 outlines what companies can and can’t do in terms of how they can buy contracts and how long these can be prolonged for. These contracts are often structured for an initial contact period and companies will have the option to extend this for up to another period. This is set out in the contract from the outset and once this time has passed, the company has to retender the job and go through the procurement again.

DIS Media has been serving the large-format signage for over 22 years. Established in 1997, Dave Purcell, sales director, describes how the company was “right at the start of inkjet large-format printing”.

As a result of this experience, DIS Media has been a major supplier to Wolverhampton University for over 18 years and must complete a tender every three years for this contract. This tender is managed by the university in accordance with the EU Procurement Directives and Public Contract Regulations 2015.

Purcell explains: “We have a three-part tender process, the first being an application to test our credentials for the tender, then a full tender for works, including pricing, material, management structure, account management structure, financial stability, eco credentials and social responsibility.”

As a result of the contract, DIS Media produces all large-format display for the university, all graphics for its open days, graduations and special events as well as producing external signage for all its campuses.

Opening the doors

Tenders UK was founded 11 years ago when the founders who had discovered a way to write bids that was proving successful, noted a number of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and specialists were “doing their thing” really well but weren’t bidding often enough or didn’t have the right experience to actually win contracts.
The Melton Mowbray-based company has since grown to comprise of 25 employees and is still primarily working with SMEs.

Gemma Fesemeyer, business development director describes where the team begins: “What we look at is the scoring mechanism used for scoring that tender and if they have a quality-price ratio that is in favour of quality then that would be something we would be interested in.”

Chris Martin, creative director of the firm, adds: “In most scenarios where it is 100% quality, that is where the council has a fixed price per hour. This is a case of having a separate conversation with the client about whether this is a sustainable rate for them and if they can make it work.

Sometimes they’re pitched just at a place where if you’re a smaller-scale operation, it might be harmful to run at those rates for a considerable chunk of your work

“Sometimes they’re pitched just at a place where if you’re a smaller-scale operation, it might be harmful to run at those rates for a considerable chunk of your work.”

Watch your back

It is these types of contracts that Fesemeyer and Martin warn businesses to be careful of. How a tender is being scored is critical as it tells you what the buyer is most looking for and whether there are any fixed constraints. Martin goes on to explain that it is often the contracts with extra added-value services or fulfilment aspects that are less focused on a specific product and the price for that unit and are more about the service and experience that the buyer gets.

“That’s often where smaller providers suffer a little bit because all of their examples and references will be specific projects,” Martin says, adding: “Even if they have key accounts that they do regular work with, odds are they don’t have a single £250,000 a year framework but a lot of £5k orders.”

David Hatmil, founder of Tender Assist, gained experience of bidding for tenders whilst working within the security guarding industry and in 2010, he noticed a gap in the market to help clients bid for public sector contracts.

Hatmil describes the process of tendering as “complex and formulaic” which means following a number of rules and regulations as well as perfecting the art of bid writing. Hatmil notes that bidding for tenders can prove to be costly in terms of time. He says: “[Businesses] must be able to prove that they have the relevant experience and capabilities to provide the services and products. They must also be prepared to invest sufficient time to completing what can be comprehensive documents and questionnaires.”

Be patient and don’t rush into anything without the right preparation and research

DIS Media has experienced first-hand the amount of time it can take to complete a tender, as Purcell explains: “We have to allocate a member of our management team to be solely on this process for three to four days and ensure he/she has all the information they require.

“With the Health and Safety Executive regulations on all installation work getting stricter, we found our membership of professional bodies such as Safe Contractor and of course Construction Skills Certification Scheme has enabled us to be seen as a responsible partner for such world-leading education institutions.”

The solution? According to Martin, it’s helping businesses to create a narrative where there is one so they can still compete and tell the story that commissioners are looking for. “In most scenarios, they’re looking for a relationship, not just a product,” he adds.

Pick your battles

For a business which may be looking to bid for tenders for the first time, Martin describes it as a case of picking your battles: “In every case, there’s only ever going to be one winner most of the time, and if there’s one winner, it takes a lot of time and effort to do it right. It’s better to make the right decision very early and say no a couple of times and yes at the right time.”

In terms of what’s involved in the actual process of completing a bid, this can vary hugely. Some government departments and universities take time to make sure their contracts are suited to SMEs and are easy to bid for. However, the amount of work involved can vary a lot.

For smaller businesses, this can prove to be another challenge. Although there will be someone within a business who knows the company inside out and can spare some time to write or think about these contracts, the business still needs to be run, and finding the right balance can be tricky.

In terms of how the tendering process has changed over the years, Martin notes austerity as a factor which has driven up the price balance and commoditised things, as well as causing shortened contracts. He explains: “As things become more price sensitive, they don’t want to issue a ten-year contract anymore, they want to issue a four-year with lots of pluses, because then if they think the market has moved they can get out of it quicker and do something.

Fesemeyer adds: “I think all public sector markets are really struggling with reduced budgets and so I think one of the things is that the government is slowly dissolving responsibility down to its suppliers. It’s now about ‘we have a print strategy and we want a partner to help us deliver that print strategy’.”

Advice and guidance

“The first thing they can do is give us, or someone like us, a call,” Fesemeyer says. “We can be very helpful at the beginning of the process and help them understand where they might need to be in order to start even bidding. Sometimes there is a caveat of ‘you must have a turnover of £10m or more’, we can be very helpful with that.

“If a company is not large enough or don’t have a revenue that’s big enough to justify using someone like us for a full writing job, we offer a service where we help by going through all the documents, pull out all the things they need to be aware of and put together a win strategy and response structures for the questions. We then give helpful hints and tips on where to go to make sure their responses are answering the questions as the commissioners would want.”

Make sure to thoroughly check prices and data before submitting your tender pricing schedules

Martin adds: “Just on the flip side of that, it can also be the case that sometimes the procurement is designed in a way that doesn’t actually make it accessible for them and actually having a perspective like we do can really help to work out what to say to the commissioner. There are lots of different services out there like mystery shoppers that help you get those procurements overturned or rerun to make them fair.”

You’re not alone

Hudson Succeed, the bid writing division of Hudson Group, comprises a team of bid writers, bid co-ordinators and bid managers. The firm offers a broad range of services not limited to simply writing tenders for companies.

The firm’s services vary from ‘Tender Ready’ which supports businesses who have never tendered before, to ‘Tender Improvement’ which supports those who are already tendering but aren’t seeing the success rate they are aiming for, to ‘Tender VLE’ which is the UK’s first free learning environment dedicated to tendering.

On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Tender Manager’ is a fully outsourced tendering service which has been designed to help clients focus on running their business while the service manages the complete tendering process from finding new opportunities to writing tender responses to asking clarification questions, to submitting the finalised tender.

When asked what the key to writing a successful tender is, John Hudson, chief executive officer of Hudson Succeed says: “We always advise ‘shredding’ the specification. Our bid writers never commence a tender until the specification has been thoroughly broken down into clear requirements and the supplier is 100% certain that they meet the buyer’s requirements.

O Factoid: According to Kreo, the top three challenges faced by the construction industry when preparing a bid was comparing and assessing bids, selecting contractors and completing risk assessment O

“Secondly, it’s crucial to provide evidence of every statement that is made in the tender response. In order to be successful, it’s not enough for the supplier to simply demonstrate how they will meet the buyer’s requirements. The supplier needs to show the buyer what they can bring to the table that others can’t.”

Hudson also adds that while “boilerplate” responses can save time creating new content, it is important to make sure that tender responses are specific. “Specificity will demonstrate that you are an expert in your industry and help the buyer to feel confident in your ability to deliver the contract.”

Providing one final piece of wisdom, DIS Media’s Purcell says: “Ensure you do your homework on what the client is looking for, make sure you answer each question separately and on its own merit, never answer a question with “please refer to my earlier answer”. This will only show you are skipping through too quickly. Also, take your time. Give it the respect it deserves. Ultimately this will ensure professionalism in your company and that is not a bad thing.”

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