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A beginner's guide on how to find a tender

Written by 
 at Stotles

A beginner's guide on how to find a tender

We know how overly complex and bureaucratic it can be for suppliers to find a tender.

This blog post details how the public sector advertises upcoming tenders, simplifies the different types of tender available and explains where you can find the most promising tenders for your business. First, let's cover the basics.

How does the public sector buy what it needs?

This part is simple. When the public sector needs to buy any goods, works, or services, it publishes a contract notice (also known as a tender notice).

It's how a public body formally announces an opportunity and is your first chance to understand what the buyer wants, as well as decide whether or not the award is a good fit for your business.

Essentially, a tender notice is similar to the public sector's version of a job advert, and it's where your journey to winning new business in the public sector begins.

The content of tenders typically includes:

  • The name and details of the buying organisation
  • Group/s entitled to use the contract (usually included when the contract is being placed on behalf of a combination of public bodies)
  • The type of contract on offer (supplier, works or services)
  • The main commodity being procured
  • The tendering procedure that will be followed
  • The criteria the supplier/s will have to meet
  • The scope of the contract (one-time or ongoing project)
  • The economic, financial and technical capacity that will be expected of successful bidders

What's the opportunity for your business?

Before we go into the nitty gritty of where to find these tenders, it's useful to understand the sheer size of potential opportunity that comes with working in the public sector.

Total government spending in 2020-2021 was nearly £570bn, an increase of over 25% from the previous year. This is largely due to an increase in spending by the Department of Health and Social Care to combat COVID-19.

Nearly £159bn of that was attributed directly to procurement or, the purchasing of goods, works and services via competition, all of which would've been won via tender notices.

The opportunity for SMEs to tap into this market and participate has never been so immense. But, how can you actually get involved? And where can you find a tender to start with?

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Where does the public sector advertise tenders?

Any public sector organisation publishing a contract opportunity over a certain value in the UK (also known as a threshold) must advertise it on Find-a-Tender.

The value of these thresholds depends on the public body that's buying, and the types of tender on offer. To view a breakdown of the different thresholds and values that Find-A-Tender relies on, see here.

Find-A-Tender is an online journal that hosts all public sector contracts in the UK. You can view the tenders listed on Find-A-Tender through a range of seperate sources, including Stotles.

There are multiple tender portals through which you can access tender notices. In the UK, the primary sources include:

Are you a tech supplier? Did you know that less than 12% of reported UK public sector technology contracting in particular happens via the UK Digital Marketplace. Suppliers should be aware that there are multiple blind-spots if you choose to only focus on this avenue to find tenders.

With thousands of central government, local government and third sector departments active in the UK alone, the list of potential contract sources is exhaustive, messy and impossible to grapple manually.

The best solution for finding a complete picture of public sector tenders relevant to your business is through a tender portal or tender website that aggregates all of the opportunities and publishes them to one central database for you to complete a tender search.

Stotles centralises hundreds of these fragmented websites into one feed, pulling in thousands of relevant opportunities based on keywords, buyers, suppliers and competitors that matter to you. Our platform is a live feed of the newest tenders on the market, making it the most complete and tailored solution available to you.

To begin curating your tender feed and exploring the possibilities of working with the public sector, get started with a free trial of Stotles today.

Where else can you find a tender and other pub-sec business opportunities?

Tenders released via tender services, tender portals and tender websites are the most straightforward way to find a tender you can bid on immediately, however, they're not the only source you should be aware of.

Contract Award Notices, Prior Information Notices (PINs) and Framework Agreements offer early insights into potential future opportunities to engage with the public sector.

Contract Award Notices

An award notice includes all of the details surrounding a public contract that has been awarded to a supplier already.

Award notices can be particularly useful for a supplier to understand who is winning government contracts in your field. From there, you can track your competitors, emulate their success and gain a more insightful picture of the overall landscape.

  • Are there gaps in your successful competitor's service that you can build upon?
  • Can your business offer a service your competitor's can't?
  • Are there things your competitor's are doing well that you can replicate and improve?

Another benefit of keeping track of award notices appears when they alert you on potential opportunities for your business at a later stage in the wider supply chain.  For example, if an award notice is published to build a new local school and your business can supply education equipment, you can use the information gathered from the award notice to contact the winning supplier and find out if there are any subcontracting opportunities you can jump on.

In many ways, awards notices allow for deeper visibility of the public sector tender supply chain. If contract notices open up the gap of finding tenders, awards notices close the gap in understanding current active opportunities to get involved with.

Where to find contract award notices

Most of the tender portals mentioned earlier will also provide insight into awarded contracts. Stotles takes away the burdensome admin of researching these various portals by pulling the data into a centralised view, tailored to your needs. You can track relevant contract expirations in your feed, dive deeper into the procurement history of key initiatives, and identify competitor contracts, even if they're implemented by a third party.

Prior Information Notice or Pre-tender

A Prior Information Notice (PIN) can take one of three shapes.

The first use for a PIN is to simply issue a forewarning notification to the market. This could be to highlight an upcoming opportunity or it could be an invitation to an open day to discuss the buyer's requirements. It's a chance to find an opportunity pre-tender.

The second use for a PIN is for a buyer to advise the market that it intends to reduce the tender timeline of an upcoming opportunity. In these instances, the PIN must be published at least 35 days before the OJEU notice is published, allowing you to see tenders before they hit the market.

A PIN can also be used as a 'Call for Competition' notice. Call for competition notices see the buyer request bidding proposals and competitive negotiations with suitable suppliers. In this instance, the buyer will not publish any further contract notice in the future to notify the market of the opportunity, so the supplier will need to read the full PIN and respond directly.

The benefit of PINs is they allow you to prepare to bid for the contract before the procurement process officially begins. The more prepared you are in advance of the contract being published, the stronger your chances are of eventually winning the opportunity.

Where to find PINs

You can usually find PINs in the same place as you find tenders online. Stotles' tender tracking tool includes all current and pre-tenders available on the market, including PINs, in one view.

Have confidence you'll never miss another pre-tender with our complete coverage and put tender tracking on auto-pilot forever.

Framework Agreements

A framework (or "umbrella") agreement between buyers and suppliers establishes the terms governing contracts for specific goods, works and services (typically price, sometimes estimated quantity) that can be awarded during a given period (up to 4 years).

Buyers use framework agreements to procure a specific item or service, from a pre-qualified list of suppliers, for which a separate contract would be established using a simplified 'call off'. These can either be awarded directly to a chosen supplier or through further competition - for which only suppliers on the framework can compete.

Whilst getting on to this list of pre-qualified suppliers is by no means a guarantee of work, it can open up new opportunities to work on larger national contracts or with high-profile buyers and increase your businesses brand awareness.

Where to find Framework Agreements

Framework agreements can be managed by independent buyers or by central purchasing bodies - like the Crown Commercial Service, local authority consortia such as the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO) or sector specific bodies like Crescent Purchasing Consortium (education) or NHS Shared Business Services (healthcare).

Stotles framework intelligence can help you to monitor / identify:

  • New frameworks open for application
  • Call-offs / awards published to active frameworks
  • Historic trends in buyer purchasing behaviours to understand which frameworks are most relevant to your business
  • Competitor engagement with active or historic frameworks
  • Partner ecosystem activity in frameworks

Finding public sector tenders can be tricky business if you don't know where to start. There are several avenues you can look to for your tender search that ensure you're not missing any relevant opportunities. Tender portals, tender websites, and tender services all exist to help you on your tender search quest.

Stotles is an all-in-one platform to find public sector opportunities and simplify your sales processes. We centralise millions of UK&I tenders into one tender portal, tailored to your needs.

Get started on your journey to public sector selling with our free tender tracker today.