Last month I became the Government's new Crown Representative for small and medium sized businesses. My role will be to work with government to help it achieve its target of £1 in every £3 being spent with small business by 2020.
It's a massive ambition - but one that will see more money in the hands of small businesses. It will deliver new contracts from government, new relationships between businesses and new innovations in the public sector supply chain.
The main issue I hear from small businesses is that government contracts are difficult to apply for, or that the opportunities are only for big business. This actually isn't the case. It's a misconception and part of my role as Crown Rep is to make sure small business owners get that message and explore the opportunity.
The government currently spends £15bn on procurement. It's a big number and let's hope we see more of it going into the hands of Britain's SMEs over the coming months.
How to get going:
· First, decide 'how' you want to sell to government. There are two key routes; sell direct through sourcing contracts and pitching (more on that below), or opt to go via Tier One suppliers. Tier one suppliers are big firms like IBM that are running national contracts, and who often rely on smaller (Tier Two) suppliers to deliver. Which route you go may depend on the sector you're in. If you're in catering, you might decide selling to food giant Sodexo is the quickest route to results, and in construction becoming part of the supply chain of a big business is the norm.
· With route to market determined, get sourcing contracts. The single source of government contracts valued at above £10,000 is the online platform Contracts Finder https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk. Right now, government is looking for everything from toiletries to tax advice, marketing services to building contractors and interior design - all for SMEs to bid for from this one website. Register on the site and search for 'Open' opportunities. It will then direct you to other procurement portals from which you can build your proposal. If you sell digital services, G-Cloud is the platform for you. Over £1 billion in deals have been carried out via G-Cloud (the majority with SMEs) and it's the best route into government work if you're selling web services, software, coding or digital design. G-Cloud contains proposals from both government and Tier One suppliers.
· In completing proposals you'll come across requests for health and safety policies, equality statements, insurance levels and proof of accounts. It's wise to get ahead by having these documents in one place so you can upload and speed up the application process.
· Apply for the opportunities that you think your firm can take on board. If your tender isn't successful, ask for feedback. This will help you understand buyer expectations and be more prepared for the next opportunity. With the public sector, you may not win the first bid (which can come as a surprise to small businesses used to winning work in the private sector) but dedicating the time to pitching for more contracts, and getting to know buyers, will hopefully result in a first success - which sets you on course for more. If you have a bad experience in the procurement process, use the Mystery Shopper service to make your point.
Having the public sector on your target client list is a wise move. The government pays suppliers within 30 days (and all Tier One suppliers are legally required to do the same) and with £15bn in contracts up for grabs, this domestic work strengthens your business and delivers credentials to grow and trade overseas.
My job is to ensure you're aware of the opportunities to pitch, that the pitch process is as seamless as possible, and to connect government buyers with technologies, products and services that they didn't know existed.
This government is committed to spend a third of all procurement money with SMEs by 2020, so I hope you will consider selling to government in order to capitalise on this fantastic opportunity. Reaching this target will be in all our interests.