SMEs face many challenges when trying to break into public sector contracting but shouldn’t let difficulties dissuade them: a sustainable pipeline of public sector work can be the key to prosperity in the long term. So how do you overcome the initial obstacles?

View pre-qualification as a boost, not a burden

With so many benchmarks to meet and standards to satisfy, becoming eligible to bid can be a major challenge in itself. Try to see it as a chance to ready your team for the pressures of sustained tendering and to prepare your business for growth.

Creating a bid library containing everything from evidence of financial stability and insurance cover to business continuity plans and sustainability standards isn’t a walk in the park, and if you find yourself having to acquire certain industry or commonly required certifications – an ISO management system, for example – you’ll need input from all sections of your company.

Take the opportunity to improve internal processes, promote company-wide cooperation and develop your team’s skills. Upskilling and cross-training – particularly in the creation and maintenance of complex technical documentation as well as project management and coordination – will help you build a high performance bid team and enhance your business more generally.

Exploit the dominance of larger competitors

When you’ve attained a basic level of eligibility, the next challenge is to select your targets and hold your own in a crowded marketplace. Above threshold contracts – those published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) – will rarely be suitable, as their scope can be too extensive or qualification requirements too stringent. Crucially, you’re almost guaranteed to be up against the biggest players in your industry.

Instead, seek out below threshold contracts that are not subject to the OJEU process. They may be less lucrative than OJEU opportunities, but are more accessible to SMEs and larger operators will often ignore them if they don’t deem the opportunity to be suitably profitable relative to their size.

By exploiting these openings in your competitors’ coverage, you’ll be able to shine without being overshadowed and consequently increase your chances. While a below threshold win may not fill your order book, it gives you the crucial advantage of applicable experience when you commit to winning a large contract.

Take advantage of your size through collaboration

Realism is critical but don’t limit your ambition – there are ways to punch above your weight. A contract partially suited to you but out of reach due to its size or scope isn’t necessarily a lost cause; it could actually turn out to be your big break if you take the right approach.

Buyers who bundle a spectrum of services into individual contracts will usually be open to joint bids from multiple suppliers. Forming a consortium can be doubly beneficial: it positions you to grab a slice of a project that would otherwise be beyond your means, and provides an opportunity to foster long term partnerships with other operators who can enhance or complement your capabilities.

The right mix of partners can minimise overheads and facilitate superior costing proposals. More generally, forming temporary or lasting alliances with other suppliers can help to boost your private sector lead generation efforts in parallel with your tendering activities.

If you’re trying to secure public sector business for the first time you can access our free library of tendering guides and resources here. For more substantial support, our Getting to the ITT training course blends the methodology of tendering with practical exercises. 

As always, feel free to leave a comment below or call 0800 222 9009 with any questions.