18 insider practices to help your small business submit a winning tender

Expand your business further by winning government tenders
Expand your small business further by winning government tenders

Prudent small business owners always find it necessary to constantly look for new business opportunities. As one of the smart ones, you may have managed to considerably expand your operations in this way.

How about upping the ante several notches higher? Have you considered doing business with government?

Yes, this is about submitting and winning tenders to supply the government and public utilities with required goods, services and public works. Landing a tender aka public procurement means that you have agreed to supply goods or work at a fixed price.

There are several motivations for doing business with government. Government:

  • is a large client in a small market
  • is a consistent client
  • can be a good repeat client
  • typically pays adequately and promptly
  • is clear about its requirements

It’s therefore quite obvious why there’s always stiff competition in a tendering process.

To win a tender, therefore, you must demonstrate that you are the best amongst all the other eligible competitors.

These tips will help you to do exactly that.


Always be on the lookout for upcoming opportunities
Constantly be on the lookout for upcoming opportunities

1. Always be hawk-eyed in order to promptly identify relevant tenders

You must first of all find a way to ensure that you’ll be among the first responders to relevant tenders. There are generally two main sources of this information:

  • Online government tender notices
  • Contract notices in newspapers and trade magazines

Most government websites tendering portals feature a forward procurement plans tool; this tool basically provides information about upcoming tenders long before they are due.

In some countries there are also websites that offer tender notification services. Find out if this is the case in your country. Here is a list of resources you can use in England. In the United States you can go here, here and here.

Knowing about relevant tenders well in advance is vital because this will give you ample time to put together a strong tender response. This especially applies for large tenders; some industry experts suggest that it’s best to give yourself a 6-12 months head start. This should be adequate to not only compile relevant information but also gather the required resources.


Your choices should be objective and strategic
Your choices should be objective and strategic

2. Objectively, select several tenders

Having learnt about all the upcoming tenders beforehand, you should then select a couple for which you’ll start creating responses. The idea here is to maximize your chances of success.

Nevertheless, you don’t want to select tenders that will all be due in the same month. Who knows? Perhaps you may win them all; will you be able to resource up and deliver on them as required?

Your choices must therefore be strategic. It is quite advisable to select 2-3 tenders that you feel obligated to win and then outdo yourself in putting together winning responses. Again, if you feel good enough about pursuing a single tender then by all means go for it.


3. Always go for relevant tender opportunities

In making your choice/s you want to target relevant opportunities that you feel confident about winning.

In terms of relevance, there’s really no point in applying for a tender in a field outside your business’ scope and capability. Don’t apply to construct a block of offices when your business deals with medical equipment supplies.

Putting together a good bid typically requires a solid commitment and expenditure of resources, time and money included. If you fail to land a tender it means that these resources will have gone down the drain. Your decision to bid or not should therefore be carefully weighed up; it’s best to apply for tenders that you consider worth bidding for.


Answer these questions to identify the most appropriate tender bid for you


4. Use the following criteria to help you select an appropriate tender/s to bid on

In order to select a tender which you stand a good chance of winning, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have the required skills, technical competence and experience required?
  • Do you know what preparing for the bid will cost? Can you meet these expenses?
  • Does the work that the tender requires fit in with your business’ positioning and strategy?
  • Will the money to be paid for fulfilling the contract justify the costs incurred?
  • How will working on the contract affect your normal business operations?
  • Will your business require additional resources to fulfill the contract e.g. staff
Using a sub-contractor will help to make your bid stronger
Using a sub-contractor will help to make your bid stronger

5. Consider using a subcontractor for bids where you lack in-house expertise

Bringing a subcontractor onboard is a good way to go round the question of relevance as posed in point no.3.

This option should work well for you in situations where your business is well positioned resource-wise but only lacks a specialist skill/s required for a certain component of the bid.

Identifying and using a qualified subcontractor will help your business to submit a satisfactory bid thereby enhancing your chances of winning.

Beware though; partnering with a subcontractor can spiral into an unpleasant complication. To prevent this, such an agreement should be in accordance with the law of contracts.


Comply with each tender's prerequisites
Comply with each tender’s prerequisites

6. Thoroughly understand each tender’s terms and requirements

Now that you have selected a tender/s to bid on, carefully go through each and every detail of information provided in the invitation to tender (ITT) documents. Basically, all the information you’ll need to create a good bid will be provided in the bid documentation.

This glossary should help you with tendering jargon you aren’t familiar with.

Now that you have selected a tender/s to bid on, carefully go through each and every detail of information provided in the invitation to tender (ITT) documents. Basically, all the information you’ll need to create a good bid will be provided in the bid documentation.

This glossary should help you with tendering jargon you aren’t familiar with.

Note the following prerequisites and fulfill them accordingly:

  • Required documentation
  • Qualification criteria
  • Deadline for questions
  • Deadline for submission
  • Award criteria

7. Remember these essentials when writing your bid

Generally, the best bids:

  • are very presentable
  • are easy to read
  • make it easy for the evaluating panel to understand how applicants intend to meet their needs
  • provide the required technical documentation and product/service descriptions
  • are well packaged

You should therefore provide the following:

  • Purpose and origin of the bid
  • A summary of your work as a contractor, past experience, and job credentials
  • A description of how the work will be done
  • A description of how and when the client’s aims will be achieved
  • An explanation of the expected benefits and how your bid will provide value for money
  • Details of when and how goods and/or services will be delivered (provide a timetable)
  • An elaboration of your team’s skills
  • A description of your experience in similar work
  • Your team’s responsibilities in the event that you are awarded the contract
  • Details of how you will manage the project
  • Details of your pricing and possible aftercare provisions within the price
  • Details of any potential problems you may face (don’t promise something that will be practically impossible for you to deliver)

Your cover letter should, in addition to responding to the bid invitation, provide a summary of your main message and explain how your documents are organized.

8. Adhere to the following tender presentation must-dos

Do this to make your bid document presentable:

  • Create a presentable front cover with details of the project title, name of the client organization, and the name of your business
  • Insert a contents page and number paragraphs appropriately to ensure that they can be easily located
  • Use brief, effective and businesslike sentences and paragraphs
  • Break up text using headings and bullet points
  • Find a suitable typeface, layout and type size – appropriately sized – and use them throughout
  • Standardize everything e.g. present the résumés in the same way, describe your team using the same criteria, etc.
  • Develop a logical argument and use it to tie everything in place such that there’s a smooth reading flow
  • Read everything several times and even ask someone else to do the same so that you can correct all typos, avoid omissions, and ensure that all details will be easily understood
  • Provide additional support information in appendices
  • Have the document professionally printed and bound (if required)
Once you get the concept start using templates to make your work easier
Once you get the concept right start using templates to make your work easier

9. Create templates in case you submit bids frequently

Once you become a regular submitter of tenders you may consider creating a set of templates that you can use every time you are preparing a bid. Such a set of templates will help to save you time and resources; as much as 70% of tender documentation can be prepared using standard templates.

Avoid these commonplace tender writing mistakes:

10. Noncompliance

It is very easy to make noncompliance errors despite all the requirements having been described in the documentation. Considering how critical a part of the selection criteria compliance is, you want to read and understand every detail.

Resist the urge to act on assumptions. If bids are to be submitted in hard copy form don’t assume that providing a USB stick will work out just as well.

Non-adherence to such minute details is normally used to disqualify applicants in the preliminary stage.

Stick to the rules to avoid being singled out for non-conformance
Stick to the rules to avoid being singled out for non-conformance

11. Non-conformance

This is another reason why many bids are dismissed outright. To avoid this happening to yours, simply obey the rules. If the panel has requested for spiral-bound bid documents, don’t submit yours hardbound simply because you consider this a superior form of presentation. Your document will be swiftly tossed away for not being “a conforming bid”.

You must convince the panel that you can actually do what you are proposing
You must convince the panel that you can actually do what you are proposing

12. Failing to demonstrate your capability

Your responses to tender questions which need you to demonstrate your capability to do something should prove that you can indeed do what is required.

Just saying “I can” won’t do; back this up with relevant examples of how you’ve done the required action in the past. Also explain how you plan to do it for this particular tender, what differentiates this tender from others you’ve undertaken, and how you intend to adopt your process to suit this tender’s requirements.

Provide a good description of how well you understand the project
Provide a good description of how well you understand the project

13. Failing to demonstrate your understanding of the project’s scope

Unlike proving your capability, demonstrating your understanding will require you to convince the evaluation panel that you are very suitably knowledgeable about the project. This is your opportunity to show the panel that your advanced understanding of the project has enabled you to factor everything in.

Impress the panel with your innovative ideas
Impress the panel with your innovative ideas

14. Failing to show innovation

You should be proactive enough and submit an innovative tender response. Impress the panel by demonstrating how much better your product/service is compared to your competitors’. Quite simply, demonstrate how innovative your approach to the problem is, and how innovative your choice of product/service is.

To demonstrate innovation you may have to bend the rules slightly; you’ll in most cases need to submit a nonconforming bid. However, to avoid your bid’s outright dismissal, prepare a conforming bid as well. You’ll then submit the conforming bid first and then say something like “We however believe that we can offer you a solution of superior value as detailed in this nonconforming bid”.

This way your panel will evaluate the conforming bid and then, on the basis of innovation, evaluate the nonconforming version too.


Impress the panel with your all-round understanding of the project
Impress the panel with your all-round understanding of the project

15. Failing to demonstrate an understanding of the scope of works

Your bid should show the panel that you are fully aware of everything that must be done during the project’s implementation i.e. scope of works.

If it’s a landscaping project, for example, you will want to give a description of what every stage will involve. In this case you can describe the site preparation, what type of sod will be used and where it will be obtained, what varieties of flowers and shrubs will be planted, what your theme will be, and perhaps insert a timeframe showing how long you expect each stage to take.

Your aim here is to show the panel that you fully understand the project’s breadth and depth.


Use a flowchart to explain how you'll implement the project from start to finish
Use a flowchart to explain how you’ll implement the project from start to finish

16. Failing to appropriately describe your approach and methodology

For most tender responses you’ll have key criteria that’ll require you to show your approach to methodology. Here you need to show the panel that you’ll employ a methodical approach to project delivery.

Open questions are used in this section so that the panel can evaluate each applicant’s take on the matter; many applicants find this one of the hardest sections to get right.

Your best bet in this case will be to find a way that’ll describe your proposed project delivery flow from start to finish. A workflow diagram or a process flow chart can help you do this effectively.

Walk the panel though your proposed approach step by step, remembering to show maintenance of project scope, and adherence to time and budgetary provisions.


What risks are likely to occur in the project?
What risks are likely to occur in the project?

17. Forgetting to demonstrate risk management capacity

Arguably the best way to do this is to provide the panel with a list of critical risks that could occur during project implementation and how you’ll undertake risk management. List as many of these as you can think of just as long as they meet the criteria. You can expect that certain members of the panel are aware of these risks; at least the project manager should be.

Providing a comprehensive list will no doubt help to convince the panel of your in-depth understanding of the project and the scope of work.

Go further and explain how you plan to mitigate and manage each of the risks. Here you should for each risk point out:

  • how likely it is to occur
  • expected impact, and
  • how you plan to manage the risk


Your bid must demonstrate how doing business with you will provide value for money

18. Failing to demonstrate how you’ll provide value-for-money

You must show the evaluating panel that your bid will offer substantial value-for-money.

What does this mean? Basically, you want to show the panel that your approach will provide the highest value for money. This is not about submitting the cheapest tender bid.

Prove your approach’s value-for-money by demonstrating that you are the least risky tenderer.

Basically, show the panel that your proposed response (which covers your approach and methodology, understanding of project scope, and risk management plans) should very strongly assure them of the certainty that you can deliver the project within the provided time and budget.

If you can successfully prove this then you are assured of making the shortlist.



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