10 top tips for pitching for government contracts
The coalition wants small firms to bid for public sector jobs - and here are some tips to help you take advantage
With the creation of the Contracts Finder, and the creation of Dragons' Den-style panels, the government is striving to open up the public sector procurement system to small businesses – which means more chance for you to grab a lucrative contract.
However, if you want to get a government project, you'll have to compete with dozens of like-minded firms, and impress teams of expert procurement agents. To help you do that, we've asked a team of experts to give us their top pitching tips. Here's what they said…
1. Understand what's involved
It's crucial that you recognise, right from the outset, that the pitching process can be very time consuming and expensive; if you don't grasp what the process entails, you probably won't emerge triumphant.
The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) is still a major factor, as Chris Gorman, of the Forum of Private Business, told us:
“You don't need to fill out PQQs for contracts worth less than £100,000 for central government work, but that doesn't mean to say you won't have to go through the PQQ process for the many other types of public sector organisations, like local authorities or universities, so you have to familiarise yourself with the process. “
2. Know where to look
If you know how to find each of the relevant procurement sites, or, even better, have a personal contact, you should be able to find a contract relevant to you – without forking out money for the privilege.
Chris Gorman continued: “You shouldn't need to pay for information on available contracts – this should be available for free through a quick search of the relevant government websites like Supply2Gov, Contract Finder and the Official Journal of the European Union.
“But having said that, don't feel you have to go through these websites if you have a much more direct way of contacting the public body providing the tender.”
3. Review everything
Once you've received an application pack or brief, you must review all the terms and conditions to ensure you meet the qualifications before proceeding with any work. Make sure you understand every aspect of the project, down to the tiniest detail.
Michael Parker, founder of Pitchcoach and author of pitchcoach.co.uk, says those pitching for government business should “read the questions asked, and read them again. Answer each question on the assumption it is being separately scored and evaluated. If they have 50 submissions, they'll be looking for reasons to discard applications, and they will clamp down on you if you've overlooked anything. Even basic information, such as where your offices are, is important.”
4. Send a summary
If you're sending a written pitch, you can really stand out by sending an executive summary, as Michael Parker says:
“You can send an executive summary, even if it's not asked for; it can be put into the accompanying letter, or e-mail. Typically you'll be required to fill out four or five pages of terribly formal legalese, and it doesn't give you the opportunity to put across the three or four key selling points in a punchy, enticing form. An executive summary allows you to do this.”
5. Keep it clear
If you want to win a government contract, you're going to have to take the time to ensure your submission is clean and clear. Make sure you pay attention to the typography and spacing, to ensure your words have space to breathe and the content doesn't look squashed or scattered. If they've used a particular numbering system, make sure you follow it; if you reflect the style of the people you're trying to impress, you're more likely to grab their attention.
6. Check your website
When procurement agents are reviewing your submission, it's best to assume they will look at your website – if you have one. If they're seriously considering your application, they'll want to find out a bit more about your company and the company website is a great place to start.
Make sure your site is clear, informative and up-to-date, and reflects the image you are trying to convey to the procurement team.
7. Be proactive
Once you've made your submission, and are waiting to hear whether you've won, or been selected for a face-to-face pitch, it never hurts to be proactive.
Michael Parker urges: “If there is any opportunity to ask questions, you really should take it. If you're the first person to call, the first person to have really intelligent, well thought-through questions, it'll make a really strong impression. If they have said ‘we will not take questions,' then don't do it. But otherwise be as proactive as you can.”
8. Research your audience
If you're carrying out a face-to-face pitch, it's vital that you get into the mindset of your audience before you deliver it.
Alan Gleeson, of pitch and business plan advice site bplans.co.uk, says:
“You need to research who the audience will be and think through what their requirements will be so you can ensure you reflect these in your pitch. If you're a smaller company you'll want to convey the fact that you have sufficient resources to deliver the contract.”
Michael Parker adds that “the first thing is to understand the battleground. Who are you going to be presenting too? And how many are you presenting too? And where? Are they calling into a great big conference room, are they calling you into a little cubby hole? You can use this information to determine the number of people pitching – you should not outnumber the people receiving the pitch by more than one.”
9. Don't sell yourself short
According to Alan Gleeson, it's crucial that you avoid “‘winner's curse,' where you win a bid but have under-valued the contract and hence make no money from the deal.”
Don't undersell yourself. If you don't value your service, those receiving your pitch won't either. In many cases, a higher-priced bid emerges triumphant from the pitching process, because the procurement agents recognise that the company behind the bid values its own service, and understands its market worth – and isn't just trying to provide a cheap option.
10. Get feedback
You're entitled to feedback from the procurement panel, and you should ask for it – whatever happens.
Even if you don't win, you can use the feedback to make your written and verbal pitch even stronger for the future.