6 tips for social enterprise tender success
The Social Deck’s CEO, Kate Bowmaker, has been on both sides of the supply chain. Procuring and advising on the procurement of social enterprises in government, AND learning to tender as a social business.
In this blog, Kate shares her tips for social enterprise tender success.
You can hear first more about these tips in our Webinar Series for the Social Procurement Capability Program for social enterprises in Queensland.
TIP #1: Sell your social enterprise and SME (small-medium enterprise) status.
Most levels of government and government agencies have targets for small business and weightings for their social procurement. Many large corporations also have targets or weightings to preference businesses who can demonstrate social benefits. So, making it clear you’re a social enterprise or small business might give you the extra edge (or points) you need to win the tender.
How: Put it up in lights, for example, a separate box on the front page. Don’t expect that those reading the tender will always look into the detail about your organisation, they might make assumptions, so you need to sell your status!
TIP #2: Offer a robust approach and rationale.
While flashy photos and well-designed proposals might attract a few wins, the level of scrutiny and procedural nature of tender processes means the most important thing to invest in is detail. Most organisations who procure want to know that you can interpret what they’ve asked for well and give them that little bit extra. This applies whether the organisation is asking for a shorter, one-off project, or a longer-term service provider or partner. They want someone who can give them robust advice and ideas. If you don’t have enough detail in your initial response, it’s likely you’ll be looked over, even if you have the experience on paper.
How: Do some extra research, look around for similar things that have been done before, and don’t be afraid to make assumptions about what might work best and include them. You can always caveat it with ‘we’d propose this approach which can be refined in consultation with the contractor’. It’s about putting your best, most strategic and knowledgeable ‘foot’ forward.
TIP #3: Partner and choose your partner with intent.
It’s likely there will be aspects of a tender that you aren’t as familiar with, or don’t have many examples in. While much of the time you know you could probably “work it out”, this is a great opportunity to partner with another like-minded organisation. Partners can be big or small as long as there is mutual benefit.
A partnership means you’re showing the procuring organisation that you can give them the best possible team. But partnerships can also be particularly valuable in tender assessment processes to meet other considerations and targets, such as the local benefits (having a local suppliers) or Indigenous procurement targets (engaging an Indigenous business).
How: Partner on smaller projects or components first to test out how you work together. Clearly promote and explain how you will work with your partner. Make sure you have a Head Agreement for sub-contracting in place to give the procuring organisation peace of mind that you have a good system in place for working together.
TIP #4: Look for new opportunities; it might be something you haven’t done before.
When starting out almost 10 years ago, we quickly learnt that it was often the tenders that didn’t seem as obvious where we had the most success! There are thousands of tenders released every week. The ones that seem obvious are generally the ones that the other thousand similar organisations are going for. It’s the more complex or unique that might help you to stand out.
How: Sign up for as many tender notification sites as you possibly can, and don’t be too specific with your key words (include as many as is relevant to your area of service). Make sure there’s a person responsible for looking at the tender notification EVERY DAY and that they read any that even seem a little bit relevant to you. If there are some that stand out, but you can’t do it all, consider a partner.
TIP #5: Tell them who you really are.
The people engaging you mostly want to know who you are and what makes you unique. You should always assume that others have the same number (or more) relevant examples to show and a similar or equally as good approach to present in their response.
So often it comes down to who the organisation ‘thinks’ it’s buying. What’s different about you? When we (The Social Deck) won our first $100k+ tender, we asked, as a small business, what put us over the edge? The feedback was our approach to how we’d collaborate and work with the project team. It wasn’t the experience or the methodology, but the way we showed that we’d be able to work differently, flexibly and with full commitment to the project.
How: Social enterprises, by nature, already have a passion and strong commitment for what they do. But the procuring organisation won’t always know that unless you really tell them who you are, what you’re all about and what you can offer that’s different to the rest.
TIP #6: Prioritise getting on panels.
I’ve left this to last, but it’s one of the most important. Your success rate for tenders will become significantly better when you respond via a panel. Panels are what governments, and some corporates, use to have a pre-selected, vetted group of suppliers. Generally, they’ll only go to between 3 and 10 of these suppliers for any specific project/service, so statistically your chances of success are immediately improved.
Some panels are open all the time for new businesses to join. You can also look around for panels in other states/territories where you do work that’s relevant to your specialist areas of delivery e.g. the NSW Government has a Performance and Management Services Scheme that’s always open for new applications. There are panels for Indigenous-owned businesses, and some social procurement lists, but this is an area that needs more advocacy to make sure social enterprises are considered first.
How: Search for panels that are relevant to your industry and services. Keep an eye on new panel announcements or ask departments or businesses when they will next open their panel. You might want to get some help the first couple of times you apply for a panel–from a mentor or someone who has been successful in getting on panels before.
Our Social Procurement Capability Program will offer workshops and 1:1 coaching that includes more advice on tendering including for panels, as well as many other areas covered in this blog. The program is funded through Social Enterprise Jobs Fund, an initiative of the Queensland Government.