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Spending time on the right public sector tenders

With over 50 per cent of his business coming through public sector tenders, Richard Blanford reflects on why he's been successful in getting work this way.
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Since returning to work we’ve been focusing on several public sector tenders. Approximately 60 per cent of our annual revenue comes from working with the public sector and we focus on winning business through tenders.

Like most things we had to learn the right way to respond through trial and error, and having now spent several years concentrating on selling to the public sector we’ve already had considerable success. We’ve won contracts with organisations ranging from central and local government to the NHS and emergency services.

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The amount of work in responding to these public sector tenders can appear daunting, but once you understand the way the process works it becomes much more manageable. Like every other organisation, public sector bodies are wrestling with the challenges posed by digitisation, flexible working and cybersecurity, and the answers are the same as those we use with our clients in the private sector – just on a larger scale, or perhaps with additional constraints.

In my early years of business we wouldn’t have thought that an SME like Fordway could win work from government departments with thousands of employees. Yet here we are bidding for contracts from, among others, HM Treasury, and with a realistic chance of success if our technical solution is effective, our prices are competitive and our staff have the experience to deliver what’s needed.

Working with SMEs is important to the government, and it has specific targets, as this report by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows. Its aim is to benefit from our innovation, agility and creativity, as well as obtain what the NAO describes as “value in terms of local investment and improved social outcomes”. To me, that means someone has recognised the importance of sharing work around a large number of organisations rather than confining it to a few large players.

Our public sector customers also love our responsiveness and flexibility, which they don’t typically get from established major players – and which most SMEs are renowned for. The key to winning business through public sector tenders is understanding the “rules” of tendering and how they are reviewed. It’s also about whether there are any reasons why you can’t win the business if you respond.

These can include value of contract relative to your turnover, having specific accreditations or independent validation of what you are claiming and, above all, having good reference customers where you have done this before – and these do not necessarily need to be in the public sector.

In the IT sector the government has set up specific procurement frameworks such as G-Cloud to try and facilitate this process, and like many others we’ve won considerable amounts of work in this way. It’s also led to us working alongside some of the largest IT contractors, and we’ve been involved in some very successful collaborations, with benefits to all parties.

In our experience too many SMEs are still reluctant to engage with public sector tenders. It certainly takes a lot of time and resources to complete a tender response, and so it pays to be choosy. Having the required accreditations is important – in our sector, IT, that includes Pan Government Accreditation to enable us to handle OFFICIAL and OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE information. If you meet the criteria, and your products or services are a good match, it’s well worth the effort as the prize is likely to be several years of stable income.

Now I’d better get back to the tenders on my desk.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Richard Blanford

Richard Blanford set up Fordway in 1991 and grew it through winning and delivering increasingly larger contracts. In 2011 he led a major investment in infrastructure, staff and training to enable Fordway to offer managed cloud services, which now provide approximately half the company’s total revenues.

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