There is no doubt, that council tenders are a BIG deal for small businesses. If you are able to win one, you have a secure source of work for the next year or two and set your company up to be able to rapidly expand, get more equipment and go for even bigger tenders.
To get more information on how to win tree maintenance tenders, I sat down with Jason Cooney from The Tender Team and talked in a little more detail about what it takes to win a council tender.
Ben: Jason thanks again for taking the time to do this, do you want to start off by giving me a little bit of background on yourself and your experience writing tenders?
Jason: Sure, I started off in a job as a tender writer, and for the last 7 years I’ve been running a consultancy called the tender team and the team helps companies in Australia and some in the UK in the United States as well, write tenders and I also run a company called tax consulting, which is the same thing, just a UK brand name and we help people write tenders in the construction industry as well as other professionals.
Ben: Okay. And you’ve had a bit of experience writing for the tree maintenance?
Jason: Sure, yeah, a fair bit. For example, Brisbane City Council, which is one of the largest councils in Australia, we completed the tree maintenance tempo for one of their biggest suppliers that was a current supplier and they didn’t want to lose it.
Another one was for other local councils, government, and also private construction companies. And the tree maintenance people and property maintenance as well, basically. So property managers, and that’s where the three maintenance guys would be wanting to be in the contract in five-year periods of designated tree maintenance professionals here.
Ben: Tell me what the competition like applying for these tenders is. Is it stiff? Are a lot of people going for it? Or are there only a few of the larger companies that are applying to these tenders?
Jason: The competition is substantial; it’s not only the larger companies, especially for the council or government level. Sometimes for the larger contracts, you need to join up with another company, or where you don’t have the expertise for a specific area. But in general, the small companies do get a chance to win and that’s because some larger companies sometimes can lose out on quality, and get pretty structured in what they do.
So you know, if you win the contract, if you haven’t performed in the contract in two years’ time and you call us to say hey, help us win this tender and you’ve got negative feedback KPI that been missed, service levels, things like that then difficult to sort of be reappointed. So that’s a reasonable competition. But you still got a shot at winning it and for some small businesses to win a contract like that is substantial. And for the large companies that take the cash flow up.
Ben: Tell me what would you say are the top three things that councils or government would look for when assessing attender? Do you think it’s a plant and equipment, the safety standards, experience? What are they looking at?
Jason: I think your safety, environmental and quality standards that were given. So they have to be right to get a chance to win the tender. Once you’re past that stage and you’ve got a compliant tender response that comes generally comes down to three things. The first is the methodology, so how you’re going to approach the contract and how you’re going to complete it. So it’s convincing them that you have the know-how and the capability and the long term plan to be able to do it.
The second one is the experience of course, but also relating that experience to what the tender is asking. That’s key. So there’s no point in talking about how you serve as a whole lot of residential clients when you’re trying to win the council tender or a large construction and property tender. You want to be the right experience. You really need to talk about, okay guys; we haven’t won any having completed any counsel tendered by the way we manage our residential tenders where we’re servicing 3000 homes a week. So there’s no problem. So it’s about new things.
The third point is your personnel and equipment. Generally speaking, they don’t mind who is actually doing the work, but you’ve got to put on a solid and comprehensive CV for your key personnel. So yes, your project managers or supervisors and CEOs, they want to know that you know how to manage the contract over the longer term and that you’re going to deliver. And they also, with the equipment, it’s important, but you’ve just got to put forward the fact that if you are going to buy any equipment because you don’t have certain equipment for that tender, then you’ve just got to state that and prove that you’re going to buy it to demonstrate that you’ve had funds and so forth. Really go the extra mile in showing that you’ve done your homework and you’re ready to complete the contract. But what the councils or government one and what the larger companies want is they want you to put their mind at ease at once they award the contract. I don’t have to worry. And you will get done the job of the underwriters to sort of doing that.
Ben: You mentioned about methodology, a safety. What sort of things would a company like, just I’m a small business or have been doing is residential at the moment? What sort of things would I need to come to you with the details going to get you to write me a tender or help apply for a tender from the council? What sort of paperwork? What do I need? There’d be a lot of small businesses out there, sort of scratching their head down, get them at the door. What do you mean by what way would they stop?
Jason: That’s pretty with the safety and the quality of it because we’ve got templates and at some point most of the time they can be creative. Then they can fly under the radar of the council so it’ll get passed. It won’t be ISO certified, but that’s not the deal-breaker on council tenders and some large companies may be from very large government tenders for a different story. So templates are the answer that you know, we can sort of develop the safe work method statements, safety plan, site safety plans, and so forth. But with the methodology, what they need to come with, if they need to read the tender document in full and we read it in full, understand what they want done.
So whether it’s a rain delay, whether it’s weekend work, whether there are issues around tree maintenance work being undertaken and disrupting other parties or other stakeholders or whatever it may be, other contractors. And they need to be able to plan out what they’re going to do. And then the biggest issue we have is they’ve probably got that plan in their head about how they’re going to do it. They’ve gone out and inspected the site. They have inspected the works that are required, but then it comes back to them. They say, relaying what they know to us in writing, which we usually do face to face or over the phone, we can write it all out for them. That’s the hard part because they’ve got to share all that information. So the methodology is doable. It just takes work basically. So come with a good 10 hours spare to do a good job of it. And then we can definitely be different.
Ben: How important is a price to the council? Do they go for the cheapest tender you could charge triple the price of anyone else and you’d still get it, you know, will lead [cross talk]?
Jason: Generally they have rating criteria. So what our rating criteria are that they’ll come out and say, listen, regardless of how good your experience, it’s 40 percent of our decision, so 40 percent of the waiting, we’re going to select you. You’ve put on price right now if you undercut everybody, but you can’t. Deliberate Council still will not award a tendency generally speaking, if they do or the counsel managers or even government or a private organization, I got to know they’ve got the cheapest price and I’m going to be a big hassle for them to manage this with. I don’t know what they’re doing and they haven’t got the experience.
So price does matter and they generally do provide a rating criterion. Our advice for all our clients is, look, we look good if we renew the tender, but there’s no point in you winning the tender and looking to make money on it. Yeah. Then you could come up with a big hassle, little profit, and a bad experience in nine months’ time. And when we called you in a year to say how’s it going? You’re not, you’re not going to be happy. So it’s, I think the price is important and it’s important to be competitive, but it’s a balance.
Yeah, it’s a balance and you know, you’ve got to be competitive and then win the tender based on your experience, your personal, and a good competitive price yet. But if you’ve been with the council for extended periods, I’m not sure. I’m just focused on councils, it could be a private, could be a big state, whatever it may be if you’ve been with them for an extended period of time and they know you and trust you and you have the right relationships in place. If you do a really good job of attendance and demonstrate that you’re adding value in different ways, then you can sometimes justify a bit of a higher price.
Ben: What’s the difference between say someone writing up their own tender or going through a company like you? I’m sure there are companies that have applied for tenders themselves. And obviously, going through, you know, what are some of the benefits of going through a tender writer?
Jason: I generally believed anyone who puts their minds to it, with a decent resource allocation should add and you know, if they’ve got a system that’s working in the office that has all the documentation and all of that, they will generally at least do a 70 to 80 percent job if they have a good charter were there to lift it up to the 100 percent for the nine out of 10 levels. But I mean that’s only because we specialize in it because we know like different strategies, we understand the wording for government, and we demand more of the client. So the advantages that they get us being the bad guys and saying, okay, but I need more. That’s not convincing enough. Do you have any supporting documentation? Here’s your indigenous policy where the certificate from your Labor hire company is to prove that, so we can keep it up, and that’s where they get the benefit from us as a tender writer. But there still isn’t anything wrong with people completely writing their own tenders and they still can win them. So, they just got to put the work in, we are there to sort of get it over the line, so to speak. Yeah, to really increase their chances. That’s the most benefit for us possible. Take the time off their hand. But, yeah, that’s a real benefit.
Ben: Okay and what’s the cost of, you know, what would you charge? Say there’s a tree maintenance tender coming in for my local council. It’s for two years. I’m just trimming street trees I want to apply for it I’ve got the equipment. What would you charge me? You know, if you’ve got to use some templates as well. I’ve got no safety; pretend I’m starting from scratch. What would it cost me for you to help me apply for this tender?
Jason: Probably about six and a half thousand Australian (AUD 6500) or if it is the US person, then it’s going to be probably six and a half thousand (USD 6500). However, if you’ve got some documentation, you’ve got a website; you’ve completed a couple of tenders before, and even though they’re not great, they exist. Then it starts at about 3000 for somewhere between $3000 and $6500.
Ben: Okay. So I’ve put a bit of stuff together myself, it will save me some money, but $6500 from scratch.
Jason: Yeah, we taught people, even if you’ve got a sort of like a staff member or you’re talking about a husband and wife team and the wife’s at home managing the business, just a little annoying stuff getting done with ABN, business numbers, insurance documents, those sort of items. If you’re willing to sort of help out with that sort of work. Then, it takes a minimum of $1,500 of the price.
Ben: Okay, one last question. What’s the hit rate? Imagine I went for say three or four tenders in a year. What would I get? Obviously, there’s no guarantee, but what do you think the chances of me getting one of those tenders are?
Jason: A great question. The most important point is to qualify the tenders you go for, I mean this is what we tell people a lot because A. You’re going to pay us or B. If you’re going to do it on your own, it’s going to take you a lot of time. There’s an opportunity, but a cost to that time, so if we’ve got two-hit rates, we can tell you one-hit rate is on the ones that we’ve told people to go for, so we’ve said, yep, it’s worth a shot. It’s your local area, you’ve got the contacts, and you’ve got a few previous, you know, you might even be an existing supplier. So on those ones where it’s worth a shot this year, we’re running at 71 percent, but on the ones that we include any and every vendor that we’re going for, even if we sold the client, listen, it’s not worth dying for. You go for it anyway, so you do this kind of approach that’s like you’ve got a type of attitude, which we generally don’t agree with. Then our hit rate taken to attack everything was 32 percent.
Ben: Right, Right [cross talk]
Jason: So you can see what I can see that it’s not really worth a shot. We advise everyone to pick their battles. You’re definitely best to pick your battles. There are the tenders aren’t like a silver bullet. If you register pretenders and people start sending me attendance, it doesn’t mean you go from the first one, you see, you fit the ones where you’ve either got contacts, so you know, you might not be servicing them, but it might be the supervisor. There is also a supervisor from the previous tender you wrote, you know like a contract. Be in your area or see your experience, equipment, and so forth align to the requirements of that tender, got it.
Ben: Okay, fantastic. That’s been some amazing information. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, how do they find you?
Jason: Sure. It’s www.thetenderteam.com.au. Or they can always give me a call. My number is +61410448770. That’s Australian. Your colleagues’ fantastic from a simple email is always best. email@example.com