How to win public sector contracts

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a tick list you could follow that would ensure you win every public sector tender you go for?

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees and it would be remiss of me to suggest otherwise. There will always be variables beyond your control that can tip the balance – sometimes it may tip in your favour, other times those variables will work against you.

What I can offer, however, is advice on how to ensure your tender is at least in the running and has the best chance possible. So, from my experience, here are my tips on tendering success.

Be choosy

The art of successfully winning public contracts is being ruthless on which opportunities you pursue. Read notes thoroughly, and make sure you fully appreciate the requirements of the work before even thinking about submitting anything.

All contracts worth over a certain amount have to be published OJEC and OJEU which means they will be seen by lots of businesses, and you’ll probably face stiff competition from quite a variety of companies.

Don’t be unambitious, but do be realistic about your capabilities and resources to do the job. The financial rewards can often tempt companies to apply for contracts they cannot really win, and which therefore, waste everyone’s time and money.

Ensure your figures add up

Your finances are important as they are often used in the process to judge your capabilities, and determine whether you can really carry out the job successfully. It’s worth a sit down with your accountant to go through your figures, and ensure everything is clear and well-documented.

Quote realistically

Remember that the tendering process won’t allow you to negotiate on price, something you’ve probably grown accustomed to doing working in the private sector. If you’re used to inflating prices, ready to reduce them after some bargaining – think again when it comes to the public sector! You really do need to submit your best and last price. Don’t go so low that you can’t make money from it, but cutting your profit margin a little in order to win a prestigious contract could make great business sense in the long run.

Use your strengths to stand-out

How do you make yourself appear so much better than the competition on a piece of paper? You may have relied on your charm and sales skills in the private sector, along with word of mouth recommendations, but this doesn’t really fly in the tendering process.

The main thing that will shout out loud about your potential is any relevant industry standards and accreditations you have. Gaining these kinds of accolades can be time-consuming and costly, but ultimately, they will show you have the credentials to do what you say you are able to do. Where public money is being spent, it is very important to have credible companies working on a contract, so accreditations will be a huge help.

You can include a cover letter with your submission, however, so use this wisely. If there is anything you particularly want to draw attention to, this is the place to do some extra selling.

Offer added value

What you can do to help separate you from the crowd is offer added value. This may take some creative thought, but can often be all it takes to turn a no or a maybe into a definite yes!

Think about what else you can do, other than the job requirements detailed in the tender document, that will be of use to the client without it costing you anything to provide. For example, as part of a quote for security guards to patrol offices, you could offer to collect all confidential waste throughout the night.

This won’t incur additional costs for you as the security guard is already on site and being paid to walk around the building. It does show your willingness to go over and above in the service you provide, however, and gives added value to the client.

The chance to tender

Once all the companies meeting the necessary specifications have been identified, they’ll be sent an Invitation to Tender (ITT). Remember all the work that has helped you reach this point, and ensure you put together a tender which helps you stand out for all the right reasons. Being confident you can do something is not good enough now – you have to prove it and show that you have the experience. You need to offer firm assurances that you can deliver what you’re promising.
Is it worth it?

It’s not for everyone, obviously, but if your company has reached the right size and stature – absolutely it can be worth it. If you are at the start of your journey and want some guidance, or perhaps you’ve already begun, but faltered, I can help set you on the right road. It can be hugely rewarding, and offer your company the kind of financial stability you’d only dreamt of in the past. Be bold!

Tendering for public sector contracts – is it worth it?

Although there have been sweeping cuts across the board within the public sector, their operational model is still largely based on outsourcing project work to experts in their field and contracts can still provide a lucrative revenue stream for businesses who are equipped and able to do the work.

Before you start searching for available opportunities and launching headlong into the tendering process, however, you do need to weigh up the pros and cons of whether this will be worth it for you.

Public sector contracts can sound like the golden egg you’ve been waiting for, holding many advantages over work within the private sector. They invariably offer longer term contracts, usually of three years and often with the potential to extend that to five, and once that contract is in place, it is pretty secure. Together with the reliability of pre-determined payment terms, this can provide a business with much sought-after financial stability.

But this security does come at a cost. Here are some of the main issues you need to consider before starting the process.

The Pre-Qualification process

The biggest difference between the public and private sector is the tender process. Unlike commercial organisations who have more freedom to choose their suppliers based on a company’s USPs, ethos and whether they establish a rapport, if you’re looking to win public sector contracts worth over £100,000, you first have to go through a pre-qualification process.
The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) is a lengthy document in which you have to prove you have the capabilities to meet the contract’s specifications. You will need to demonstrate everything from your financial stability, to environmental and CSR accreditations and standards.

This can be restrictive, particularly for smaller companies.


Ensuring you comply with the PQQ can be a costly affair. Having all the correct policies and standards developed and in situ can mean a large initial outlay. Attaining ISO 9000 standards alone can cost upwards of £5,000, for example, which is a considerable investment for a smaller firm. But there’s no denying either that this kind of investment will benefit your company, and stand you in good stead not just to win these contracts but to deliver work for both the public and private sector.

Time and man-power

Believe it or not, there is often little difference in the time it takes to pursue a private sector sale and complete a public sector tender, but the way in which you allocate time and man-power to each is quite different.

The sales process in the private sector can be spread across weeks or months with the prospecting, the meetings, the sales pitch, the proposals, the negotiations etc. A sales team can spend considerable time attempting to convert leads, without any guarantees of success.

Whilst the public sector tendering process may appear complex at first, the time-frame is condensed and the process is actually quite transparent. There is a routine which you will become used to, the more tenders you do and providing you meet the pre-qualification criteria and submit a quality proposal, you have as much chance of winning a tender as you do a private sector client.

It’s important to note, however, that much of the tendering process is actually an administrative rather than sales-led task. It is imperative that you follow detailed guidelines on how your proposal is presented, ensuring all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Collation of information to provide evidence of your suitability is as important as ‘pitching’ why you are the best company for the job.

Some thought does, therefore, need to go into how you allocate the tasks amongst your team.

Changing contracts

I stated that one of the biggest advantages of winning public sector tenders is the stability this affords, but it is important to note that big government contracts can change with political power. You may win a four-year contract but often these are subject to political changes which means they can still end, or alter, without a great deal of notice.

Whether you deal with public or private sector contracts, every business needs to be prepared for change. This means doing everything you can to expect it before it comes, and reacting in a strategic and intelligent way when you’re faced with it.

So, in conclusion, is it worth it? As long as you are fully prepared for the process, understand that you won’t win them all and don’t hinge your business on one big contract, public sector tendering can bring real rewards and benefit your business.

If you want to discuss how you can develop your business to enable you to pursue public sector contracts, get in touch.