A company which stays on the alert for tender notices for any contracts which it can profitably fulfil can discover this to be a valuable addition, if not a complete replacement, to its other customer acquisition strategies. Some of the biggest and most lucrative contracts, the kind which can forever change the fortunes of a business and its owners, can only be obtained through tender bidding processes. It is then obvious that if you are a business owner (or run a supplier operation such as a farm) knowing the ABCs of applying for tenders can greatly improve your chances of success.

Smaller organisations make requests for tenders which can be applied for in the most basic of manners. In such cases a quotation for the job and/or a letter arguing why it should be given to you is usually enough—, if the business is small enough, a standard application may scare it off. More formal tender applications are needed for bigger jobs or for supply contracts which are spread over long periods. Public-sector work, in particular, has very specific tendering processes and requirements.

The requirements for public sector tenders

In Zimbabwe some of the general requirements for applying for public-sector tenders are as follows:

  • A company profile
  • Your company’s certificate of incorporation
  • Registration with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority
  • Certified financial statements
  • At least three copies of the tender documents with the original marked, bound and sealed.
  • Personnel and equipment capabilities
  • Registration with the SPB (State Procurement Board)
  • Have the relevant accreditations and qualifications which the tender you are interested in requires

While the requirements on the list above only apply to tenders put out by the government and any of its various entities, these rules should serve you well even when applying for private-sector jobs. Since the government is one of the strictest organisations which you can do business with (at least on paper), acquainting yourself with its tender processes and requirements is a great start to you knowing how to apply for tenders more professionally.

Discovering tenders

If you are interested in government tenders, you can look out for notices which are usually published on state-run newspapers (Herald, Chronicle, Sunday Mail etc.) Government tender information is also published through the government gazette.

Information about private sector tenders is also published through local and national newspapers—usually the actual paper versions, not the websites. Building contacts in companies which are potential clients or networking, as it is more popularly known, should also help you discover new tenders. A lot of announcements are also made through corporate and organisational websites which you can keep an eye on through regular internet searches using the right sets of keywords. Remember that despite all its usefulness, waiting to hear about contracts through the grapevine that is social media is rarely a good idea as this information will often reach you too late and you should avoid the practice of applying for tenders in the last-minute rush.

Look out for time wasters

Preparing for tenders can be time-consuming, costly and tie-up valuable company resources and manpower all of which are irrecoverable. I won’t go so far as to say that any of the contracts which you apply for and end up not getting would have been a waste of time—because the truth is the exact opposite—but you should still assess if some contracts are worth bidding on. First of all, assure yourself that the client is serious and that you are not there just to test the market or, even worse, just responding to a bid put out by a competitor who wants to know how everyone else is pricing. You can skip this with established and reputable organisations.

Always seek clarity when necessary

You must understand the requirements, terms and conditions of the tender before you start applying. If possible try to get a meeting or a telephone conversation with the potential client if you require any clarifications and elaborations about the tender—this is extremely important if you are trying to win mainly on pricing (which is not always a good idea) as any misunderstanding can cost you and take a big chunk out of your profit.

Thoroughly read the bid documents

Get hold of the bid documents and analyse them, making sure you can match the technical, skill and experience requirements. While the last one can be cautiously overlooked as every company has to start somewhere, the first two are very important requirements.

Don’t lean too much on pricing

Remember that price is important but it is not the only factor taken into account when deciding who to award the contract to. Stating abnormally lower prices than other bidders will just invite suspicion and more scrutiny.  When applying, you should instead demonstrate value for money and your competitive advantages. Address each of the tender criteria in turn and emphasize where you exceed the requirements.

Think about your usual clients

Not all companies depend on contracts alone. Getting awarded a contract shouldn’t affect your relationship with your current customers as you would most likely need them again in the future. Assessing how the contract would affect your other work, staffing and ability to take on other new business is therefore very important.

What to put in your tender application

Make sure that your company and the products or services it provides match the bid specifications. Don’t be an opportunist and try to shoehorn yourself into an unfamiliar line of business. Botched jobs can significantly cost you in the long run.

Focus on the client

In your bid, mainly focus on the client and not yourself. A bid that addresses the client’s needs shows that you understand their requirements. When you talk about yourself it should be just to show how your company is best suited for that particular job. State your experience, qualifications, accreditations, past clients etc.

Offer value for money

State how you differ from your competitors; list what you consider to be your competitive edges and whatever else you can offer which the client will find valuable e.g. reliability and lower lifetime costs of your products, structures or installations.

Contract management

It is also important that you show that you have the resources to do the required work in a cost-effective way to meet the client’s needs, the deadlines and respond flexibly to changing situations.

Provide details about your team

Emphasize the strengths of your core team members. State their qualifications and experience and also highlight their successes on past projects—particularly ones similar to that which you are currently bidding for.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes

One useful rule is that you should always try to place yourself in the shoes of your prospective client and then address as many of the questions and concerns which you would ask if you were them.