There’s a lot to be said for strength in numbers - especially when small businesses face off against big when trying to win potentially life-changing Government contracts. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
When I first began throwing my hat in the Government business ring, I came across many tenders , contracts, and RFQ’s (Request for Quotes), highlighting Government problems that needed to be solved by us, the private sector. Unfortunately for me, much of the time my small business could only solve a tiny piece of the Government problem, and not all of it. I can only guess at how much potential Government business I ignored because I believed our small business couldn’t fulfil the brief. Instead I just let it fly right by and likely end up in the arms of a much larger company who probably had all the resources to solve the problem themselves.
Now to a certain extent my belief was correct. Unless I could, at the very least, fulfil the ‘mandatory requirements’ that a Government tender lays out, then I’d have zero chance of winning that contract. So why bother? So that’s exactly what I did. Or didn’t do. I didn’t bother. Big mistake.
To illustrate I’ll paint a picture of a fantastical and completely made up scenario: let’s say Government needs a flying car, and goes to market to find someone who could supply them such a fantastic car. Now, let’s say in this situation my small business makes the best tyres in the market. My tyres can do just about anything – they’re hard-wearing, eco-friendly, and also relatively affordable (a rare combination, indeed!).
Sadly, when I analyse the complete tender document, I pretty quickly conclude: “no way, not for me; we make great tyres, but they don’t need that. They want a lot more than tyres. They want a FLYING CAR!”. I then delete the tender file and go back to my workshop. Big, big mistake. It took me a few years but eventually I was educated as to the error of my ways, and as often happens, it was purely by chance.
One morning I was on a call with a Government contact I’d known for a while. We were discussing an upcoming requirement they had. Towards the end of the phone call I moaned about a Government contract document that I’d gone through the night before. My company would be perfect for about 30% of their need. She asked if I was going to submit a response. I said it would take me far too much time to submit an offer when I’d only be benched at the first round as I couldn’t fulfil all the mandatory requirements.
This person then gave me a really weird look. You know that face you sometimes see when someone does or says something seriously dumb? That sort-of screwed up face with raised eyebrows? That was the look I received.
For the next 10 minutes I was enlightened to the world of ‘Collaborative’ or ‘Consortium’ bids. I was enlightened to the fact that government doesn’t care if you can’t handle all the contract requirements yourself. Turns out Government are more than happy, even welcome, single bids that involve several different companies. Especially so if it's a collective of small businesses - companies who have aligned and partnered together, usually complementing each other nicely, and by doing so can solve the Governmental problem.
However, it’s extremely important that one company of the consortium takes the ‘lead’. This lead will manage the submission and be the main point of contact should the consortium win the contract. Government want to know who to contact when they need to, and they need to know that problems will be addressed and action points will be followed up. They don’t want to manage or even engage in the same communications for three, four or five different companies who together have won a piece of Government business. Fair enough, to.
I’d ask SMBs looking to increase their chances of winning government work to do this: Expand your network and look to partner. And by network I’m not referring to bumping up LinkedIn profile numbers. I’m saying maybe sit down for as long as it takes and make a list of companies that don’t exactly compete with you; however, they might compliment what you do. I’d vet any potential partners heavily, and if they were quality people doing quality work, I’d consider talking to them to see if they’re interested in being involved in future collaborative bids for Government contracts.
When a Government tender is released which I can’t service on my own, I’m now ready to pull the trigger with my consortium partners and I can offer a solid, tight response which compare favourably to the big businesses who can ‘do it all themselves’. Its these very same big companies that often win Government contracts almost by default because they’re often the only business to even submit a response.
Let’s not make it so easy for them. Grow your partners. Build your own collective. And start winning Government business.