Tender process – significant resources with no guarantee of pay off

By Isabelle Walker

As a public affairs firm, we’re often asked to tender for certain pieces of work, especially on a contract basis with government departments.

This is often exciting and complex work, giving our business an opportunity to head up large public relations campaigns from inception and strategy, to implementation and eventually completion.

These types of projects provide the chance to showcase the range of skills our team offers, and are incredibly important for small business as it provides substantial work over a long period of time.

However, the difficulty with tendering is the process of proposal. As a small business, our resources (that’s staff) are organised to service a range of clients efficiently and without waste. A tender process often involves a thorough overview of our capability, potential methodology, and general analysis of the project – and this is before you’re certain you have the job.

Of course, tendering is vital to any business wanting to receive government or departmental contracts, but can be taxing on a small business with fewer resources to dedicate time to large tenders (often over 50 pages long), with no guarantee of payment at the end. The tender process is becoming far more complex.


Though the pay off if you do receive the job is overwhelmingly worth the resources dedicated to the tender process, when an organisation does decide to go elsewhere with its contract, it can be frustrating for the small business as they have already invested in the project.

Though I don’t have a solution, it has given me food for thought for how the industry – especially small business – approaches the issue.

It could extend to how a firm incorporates potential billing for pitches to private clients who – though perhaps not having a full tender process – still require money and effort to be spent on putting together a pitch with no guarantee of success.

Do we sell a short, cheap plan of action to the client who can then choose to bring on our services full time?

Do we have an understanding that in order to pitch, the client will pay for the man hours dedicated to putting the pitch together and presenting it? Will they pay for our travel to their cities to pitch?

Will this make firms who do this wholly uncompetitive? Should there be an industry approach?

Though there may be answers, or firms may have found ways around this issue, it is vital for small business to remain competitive against well-resourced firms in the tender process, but not to the detriment of its bottom line.