How to win contracts: a small business guide
Grow your small business by developing your ability to win contracts for the kinds of jobs that bring in the big bucks. Here’s our guide.
Running a small business means winning work. Traditionally, skilled tradesmen have relied on word of mouth and a solid reputation to find new customers. But if you’re looking for larger projects or ongoing work, you’ll probably need to learn how to win contracts.
Why winning big contracts isn’t always beyond small businesses
You might think that, as a small business, you should only pitch for small jobs. But big contracts are also up for grabs by smaller businesses, especially if they ‘partner up’ before bidding. The trick is not to see your size as a disadvantage.
Small businesses, right down to sole traders, can provide clients with the personal touch. They can also specialise in a way that larger firms can’t always compete with, and they can offer a similarly high level of flexibility. All of these advantages explain why some larger clients prefer to work with smaller contractors.
Don’t forget about the public sector either. Local authorities, for example, are often on the lookout for skilled, experienced tradesmen.
How to find clients
If you’re just beginning, you might wonder how to find larger clients for your trade. Well, the first step is to think about what you have the capacity to bid on. You don’t want to be in a position of turning down work having accepted it.
Secondly, be available. These days, potential customers rarely wait around. You can’t always be ready to pick up the phone, so the next best thing is to call people back as quickly as possible. Ensure your voicemail greeting sounds professional and provides important information, such as when customers can expect their call to be returned. You could even use a virtual receptionist service. Some of them provide a free trial period so you can see if this system works for you before parting with any cash.
Remember, as you’re a small business you can afford to be personable by getting to know your clients. Positive recommendations are still worth a great deal.
Giving the right signals: trustmarks & branding for small businesses
Reassure prospective clients by making sure your company has the relevant trustmarks for your industry or trade. Adhering to government standards is what distinguishes you as professional. Plus, it makes it a lot easier for a prospective client to make a decision about whether to go with your company.
Flag your trustmark up in all your marketing, from flyers to your website. Trustmarks show that your business is reliable – and that goes a long way.
Marketing and sales tips for small business owners
Dedicate time to marketing your business. Keeping your website up to date might seem like a chore, but out of date information can give out the wrong impression or even cost you clients.
Similarly, if you’re on social media or elsewhere online, do keep updating regularly or you can give the mistaken impression that your business is no longer trading. In some ways it’s better to delete an unused profile than to leave a neglected one online.
While you might be a specialist in your field, whether that’s construction, electrics or plumbing for instance, you might not have any sales experience.
Until you’ve reached a size that means you can employ a salesperson to help you, you’ll have to learn on the job. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you, from websites to books to training courses.
But you’ll find the job easier if you can come up with a unique selling point (USP) which explains why your business stands out. If you’re struggling to think of what that might be, ask some of your customers. They must have had a reason for choosing you over the competition.
How to win a tender contract
The public sector and large corporations offer trades the opportunity to compete for contracts by putting them out to tender. If you’re wondering how to win a tender contract, then you’ll first need to understand how the tender process works. This will change depending on the organisation whose work you’re bidding for.
How to prepare a tender
Before considering how to prepare a tender, you’ll first need to identify tender opportunities. Often, public sector departments are likely to have preferred supplier lists, but these aren’t fixed.
If a business is putting work out to tender, then often you will hear about it by first getting to know that client. In general, they’ll have a list of preferred suppliers, so your first aim might be to get onto this list through referral or by networking.
Trade companies and small businesses will submit a proposal to carry out a particular project with that organisation. It will begin with an estimate of the cost of the materials and work involved. The competing tenders are treated as an offers based on quantities/estimated quantities or other specifications, plus a statement of the work involved.
Finding out more about how to prepare a tender document, a tender proposal or tender for contract isn’t always straightforward. It’s worth approaching others in your industry who have already done it, since the process varies widely. You should also familiarise yourself with the business or organisation offering the work.
Be realistic about what your business can currently do. This applies whether you’re trying to win work through bidding, updating your website or pounding the streets with your leaflets in hand. Customers may not approach you to quote for work again if you withdraw from work that you've committed to because you haven't been able to manage your workload.
Don’t forget that few large companies, local authorities or government agencies would work with a contractor without the right insurance. Get public liability insurance today. It could make it easier for your prospective client to make a decision in your favour.