So, you really want to work directly with small and medium sized enterprises?

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I am increasingly frustrated with the complicated procurement processes faced by smaller companies. Government clients are currently pushing the local Small and Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) requirement in bids. This is good news for the client and SME. The client removes fee-on-fee and demonstrates they are committed to sustainable construction. SMEs can work directly for the client and build their businesses, without relying on subcontracting to larger companies. Several thousand SMEs shout “Hurrah! We can take on the ‘Big Boys’!

And then the tender comes out in all its complicated glory – reams of documents and instructions on complicated portals, with little regard to the bidding capability of the intended audience.

It is at this point SMEs realise they have no idea how to respond to these contracts nor have the resource to put together a winning bid. Much of the time they don’t even understand the process, let alone individual questions. And the portal? How on earth do they work with that? Not to mention the hundreds of Technical Queries (TQs) that seem to land daily. Even the Bidders’ Days at the beginning can be confusing for many.

I’ll give you an example: a government framework. Starting with 80 live tender documents, 201 qualification questions, 15 technical questions and a price workbook followed by 469 TQs and two extensions of time – when will it end? And how does the average SME, who the government wants to attract, manage a bid like that? Many of these small, specialist companies typically have a Managing Director, one office administrator, another person that does ‘everything to do with Safety, Health, Environment and Quality’, and a handful of supervisors and operatives out on site. They don’t have any bidding capability, or even the budget to bid effectively.

One tender I was writing asked for KPI Data for the last five years across five different disciplines, company carbon data records, BIM Maturity Level 2 and a list of ISO system requirements that would make your eyes water. The company (the type of SME they were targeting) delivered one simple, specialist discipline with a small team. They had managed to achieve 9001, of which they were very proud; but KPIs? Carbon data? 27001? BIM? Not a chance. Many SMEs are non-compliant before they even start.


For my SME clients, the answer is me.

I patiently walk them through the process and create a simple, and compliant, bid. But it is stressful. There is no Bid Coordinator to field all the TQs and document updates. It takes time to explain what the question is asking for, pull the right information out of the right person and present it properly. Bid library? Nope. Case studies? Very often none. A common thread in my world is “We just get given the work and we do it. That’s about it.”, so I must just get on with it and work my magic to write a compliant, high scoring bid.

However, we need to look at the bigger picture. The real answer is for procurers to recognise the bidding capabilities of their preferred partners. If they want smaller companies, make the process simpler and more accessible for them. Perhaps by practising what they preach and working collaboratively with SMEs, they can create a procurement process which is less stressful and really focusses on delivering the best provider.

In the meantime, I shall spend my evenings wading through TQs…

This article was written by Pippa Birch.

Pippa has been a Bid Writer for over 15 years, working as an employee for major companies within the Highways and Civil Engineering Sector for the first ten. She started freelancing in 2012 which led her to write for companies across a variety of sectors (construction, facilities management, custody and forensics).

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