The iNorthumberland Business Support initiative is penning a new column to pass on top tips for businesses. In this first article, it looks at tendering.
The tendering process is becoming increasingly electronic in line with the latest legislation, and with plenty of contracts up for grabs through online tendering websites, there has never been a better time for Northumberland-based businesses to get to grips with the process.
Here, Marianne Raine, founder of business consultancy Red Whippet, shares her expert tips on the online tendering process and what SMEs should keep in mind when applying for opportunities.
As part of iNorthumberland Business Support’s fully funded programme of digital training, Marianne Raine has put together an in-depth training module on online tendering for SMEs, aimed at businesses that have never applied for public sector contracts online before, or that have tried but found the process difficult.
It will guide businesses through the pitfalls and highlight the opportunities for them to shine.
Ms Raine advises that the first step is to investigate online tendering websites.
She said: “These will help you to find out about opportunities as soon as they arise. Search terms such as ‘Northumberland tender opportunities’ on Google to see the most relevant contracts for where your business is based.
“It’s a good idea to register with multiple websites that are suitable for your business to gain access to a greater number of opportunities.
“Tendering websites usually concentrate on either a geographical area or a particular sector so for businesses in Northumberland the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) website is a useful place to start.”
The online tendering course will give more guidance on how to register with websites like NEPO.
To save time, it is worth remembering that many tenders will ask the same questions so you can prepare a bank of information that you can use in all your responses, for example, your insurance and accounting documents. While you won’t be able to recycle an entire tender, it’s beneficial to have as much as you can ready in advance.
Ms Raine recommends that SMEs take time to decide whether each opportunity is right for them.
She said: “I strongly recommend that businesses invest the time to look into and consider each opportunity as this can save valuable time and free you up to work on high quality responses for the projects you really want to work on.
“In addition, make sure to check whether it would actually be viable for you to take on the work if you were successful, both in terms of finance and resource. If not, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t throw your hat into the ring – consider whether you could subcontract or partner with another business on the tender.”
An obvious-sounding, yet valuable, piece of advice is to ensure you read every question properly, underline key words and double check that you submit all the required information.
Ms Raine said: “It’s also worth remembering that everything you submit should be relevant to the specific opportunity so resist the temptation to include details of a great project you’ve worked on if it doesn’t fit the brief.
“My final piece of advice is be confident.
“When you see the council or NHS name on tenders, it can be daunting if you don’t have much experience of the process.
“However, large organisations are aware of the advantages that working with small businesses can have so have confidence in your offering and response because you do stand a good chance of winning the contract.”
For more advice like this, register at www.inorthumberlandbusiness.co.uk to take the online training course.
Other modules available as part of the programme include social media for business, cloud technologies, search engine optimisation and cyber security.