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Public sector procurement help for small businesses

Public procurement, that is selling your products and services to public bodies and government departments, can provide a profitable new route to market for small businesses, but many don't know where to start looking. Here we tell you about some of the support that is available to overcome barriers to procurement and help you explore new opportunities.

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Good news for small and medium-sized businesses; the value of government contracts secured by SMEs increased by £1.2bn in 2011/12, according to new figures published by the Cabinet Office. There's never been a better time to explore the opportunities for growing your business by selling to the public sector, read on to find out how. The rise in the number of value of government contracts being awarded to small and medium-sized businesses is part of the coalition government's target to give 25% of public sector business to SMEs. These latest figures see them hitting the 10% mark, which means there is still some way to go, but things are moving in the right direction (only 6.8% of SMEs were awarded public contracts in 2010/11). The Cabinet Office's figures also show a further 6% rise in indirect spend with SMEs in the supply chain. With a focus on making it easier for the smaller supplier to bid for contracts, including improved procurement procedures and reduced bureaucracy, there has never been a better time for your business to explore the opportunities that may be available for you to grow your business in this area. Find information on procurement contracts All public sector contracts over £10,000 are held on a website called Contracts Finder that makes it very easy for you to search for opportunities in your area. It's free to use and you can set up email alerts for the sort of business you are seeking and contracts suitable for SMEs are flagged, so you can find them easily. You can also find contracts and tender documentation, plus find out who contracts have been awarded too. Note: If your business is based in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, your government will have its own dedicated public sector procurement portal. These are Sell2Wales, Public Contracts Scotland and eSourcing NI. Top tips on getting 'tender fit' Start small. In 2011, the government abolished complicated Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) for contracts under £100,000, so it's worth taking advantage of this. Getting a successful tender under your belt for a smaller contract can be a great way in to bidding for larger ones in the future. Ensure your business is prepared for questioning. You will be asked about your standards and policies on issues ranging from HR and the environment to quality assurance and full financial disclosure. Producing all this information may be tedious, but once in place there should be a large number of contracts you can bid for. Avoid surprises. Find out as much as you can about each specific tender process and expectations. If you are given the opportunity to ask questions, do so. If there is a phone number or email address, use it. Try to build a relationship with the buyer. This can often be difficult, but it is the most powerful tool in winning contracts. Building a good track record with smaller contracts can help with this. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading the tender document. Keep it short, neat and relevant and include relevant images. Consider what will make you stand out from competitors and get you into the ‘yes' pile? Speak to other business people who have been through the tender process before. Do they have any useful guidance to share with you? You may be able to learn from their mistakes rather than making them yourself. Help the Cabinet Office improve the procurement process In the last two years, many reforms have been implemented to open up central Government procurement to get full value from SMEs. If you experience poor procurement practice, the Cabinet Office requests you to report it to the Mystery Shopper service. This often results in the procurement in question being changed and also allows wider learning and improvement. The service is free to use and you can remain anonymous if you wish. Hundreds of suppliers have already used it. The results are published here.

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