Bid Management

Small businesses: How to win public contracts

By 23rd March 2018 No Comments
Small businesses can win local public contracts if they know how the system works.

Its not always easy to win local public contracts. Many small businesses are missing out on the chance to win public sector work in their local communities. I wrote an article for LaoisToday about the great opportunities to win public work in my home county of Laois for those who get to know the system.  The approach I described works for SMEs in every county and city in Ireland. So I’ve provided a (slightly) less Laois focused version of my original article below.

LaoisToday reported on the disappointment of councillors over the awarding of Laois County Council contracts to companies based outside of Laois.

The councillors asked a very good question: Do small businesses in Laois know how to win work from the local public sector?

From the discussion that followed on social media, it was clear that  the answer was no. Many local small businesses do not know what opportunities exist, how to find them, or how to apply for them!

This is not good because there are many public sector buyers in every county and city in Ireland. Remember that this list includes not only the local City/County Council, but also government departments and state agencies. It also includes hospitals and nursing homes, schools and semi-state companies such as CIÉ and the ESB.

How the system works

Small businesses anywhere in Ireland can find buyers nearby for almost anything from toys to tree surgeons!
If you want to sell to the public sector and win public contracts you must understand how the process works. There are regulations that public buyers should follow when they buy goods and services. The regulations ensure that buyers get the best value for the taxpayer and that they treat all suppliers fairly.

Large contracts

If a potential contract is valued above  €25,000 (€50,000 for construction works) there are specific processes that govern how this is advertised, what information is asked for, and how tenders are evaluated .These opportunities must be advertised on the website eTenders.gov.ie.

Anybody can search the list of requests for tenders on eTenders– you can filter your search for specific buyers (e.g. Laois County Council), or for specific keywords/products (e.g. plumbing). You can complete a company profile on the website and sign up for email alerts for future tenders in your chosen area.

Small contracts

If the contract is valued below the threshold, it is still important that a fair process is followed. However public bodies can change their approach to suit their individual circumstances. So if you want to work with a specific organisation, it is a really good idea to contact its procurement officer. Ask them for information on how they manage suppliers and what process potential new suppliers should follow.

For example, Laois County Council explains in the procurement section of its website how it buys goods and services, and it even publishes information on what it spends its money on. All other county and city councils also do this. So its a good idea to check out the website of your local council for more information.

How Buyers decide who will win local public contracts?

For any contract, public buyers must base their decision on which suppliers offer the best value at the lowest risk. Value does not necessarily mean the lowest cost – it is a combination of cost and quality.  To demonstrate quality, you need to demonstrate two things:

  • You will have to show that you have the skills to do the job and that you have experience doing similar jobs.
  • You will have to prove that there is a low risk of you being unavailable if you win the contract.  So you need to show that you won’t be too busy, or even worse have gone out of business!

Sometimes this results in suppliers being asked to supply a lot of information. Navigating your way through a tender for the first time can be daunting. But it does get easier with practice, and the rewards can be good for those that stick to it.

Update: We have added a list of the main tender portals in Ireland and the UK that public buyers use to advertise tender opportunities. Use it to make sure you know where to find the type of contracts you are interested in. As a business owner, it is up to you to ensure you know where the contracts you are interested in get advertised.

Where can you get help to win local public contracts?

You can get further information, help and training on public procurement from the following agencies:

  • The Office of Public Procurement oversees public procurement in Ireland and is a good source of information and news.
  • Your Local Enterprise Office can provide advice and mentoring. There’s one in each local authority area.
  • InterTradeIreland, the cross-border trade and develop body, run workshops for small businesses looking to tender successfully for public sector contracts.

Of course, Keystone Procurement can help you to win local public contracts too! We have lots of great advice on how to win more tenders. Just search for ‘Bid Management‘ articles on our blog and check out our Bid Management services to see how we can help with tender and bid management.

We can provide training especially for small businesses and SMEs too. Keystone Procurement is proud to be a part of the team that delivers InterTradeIreland’s award-winning Go-2-Tender training to SMEs across Ireland, find out more here.