It can seem, amid the uncertainty over the future of UK business as the shape of Brexit remains shrouded in mystery, that there is nothing but relentlessly dire news for SMEs.
Here’s a selection of snippets from the last week or so:
A major bank (Santander) announces that its loans to corporate clients during the first quarter of 2018 were down by 4% amid a slowing demand for business finance.
There is a dramatic fall of 48% in the numbers of new French, Dutch and Belgian businesses registering in the UK (Companies House).
UK GDP growth comes in at just 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in Q1, with factory order growth in April 2018 slowing to its weakest level in two years and yet more “big name” retail casualties and announcements of shop closures, this time M & S.
On top of this it has been estimated that there has been just a minuscule 10% opt-in rate to all those marketing emails attempting to comply with tomorrow’s GDPR deadline and issued by SMEs, sometimes when they did not actually need to, and potentially decimating their marketing plans.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that there is some anecdotal evidence that some SMEs are finding business life just too difficult and deciding to throw in the towel. The recent growth in self-employment and those setting up in business for themselves may be coming to an end.
Despite the changing marketplace there are always opportunities for SMEs, especially nimble ones.
SMEs should explore tendering opportunities
There is undoubtedly a great deal of work outstanding on unfinished projects around the UK as a result of the collapse of Carillion. Sooner or later there will have to be invitations to businesses to tender for them, and hopefully lessons will have been learned about breaking these down into smaller contracts that could encourage SMEs to bid for them.
There are public-sector tendering opportunities at local, regional and national level and while the process can be lengthy, detailed and sometimes costly, wise SMEs can start exploring the options and preparing the material they might need to submit. It gets easier the more you do.
Firstly, if, as I often advise, you regularly review monthly management accounts, have a solid business plan and control over cash flow and overheads, you should be able to identify the services your business can realistically offer, and this should help you to find the right projects for which to consider tendering.
Secondly, you can find regular updates on contracts worth over £10,000 coming up on the Government’s Contracts Finder website and search for more details. There are other opportunities and more guidance on tendering on this Government website – follow the links as appropriate. For more local projects you can also contact your local authority or LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).
The advantage of tendering for public sector partnerships is in the quality of the contract and the likelihood that payment terms and dates are more favourable.
Once you identify tendering opportunities that fit the capabilities of your business you will need to factor in the time it takes to gather the information needed and go through the process. It helps to have someone within the company who has responsibility for managing the bid, from doing the research to writing and checking drafts.
During the bidding process your application will first be “scored” by the government department or agency, to create a shortlist of those who will be invited for interview by a panel of experts.
While the tendency has been to look for the lowest price bids, with much less attention paid to other criteria such as SME preference, quality and service based on the applicants’ track record for delivery and their financial stability, it is to be hoped that lessons will have been learned from the Carillion failure and a more comprehensive and realistic appraisal of SME applicants will result.
Hopefully this will help to level the playing field for SME applicants.