Doing business with government: a guide for SMEs

Help with bidding for government contracts and how to raise concerns about unfair procurements.

Tips for SMEs bidding for government contracts

Stephen Allott, Crown Representative for SMEs, gives his top tips on bidding for public sector business.

Watch video from Stephen Allott with top tips

Build below the threshold

The quickest way to build up a government customer base is to start with low value procurements. To start with, aim for opportunities under £100,000 where government has abolished Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs). Building up your base this way is a great foundation for competing for bigger sales in the future.

Be part of the conversation

If the first time you spot the opportunity, it’s already formally gone to the market, you are behind the game. Pre-market engagement is your opportunity to shape the formal tender:

Sally Collier gives tips and advice on how SMEs can win government contracts

Watch a video in which Sally Collier, Government Deputy Chief Procurement Officer, gives tips to suppliers.

Play to your strengths

Recent studies of public sector procurers show that they see SMEs as flexible, quicker to react and able to offer better prices. Use the pre-market engagement to show this by reacting quickly to questions, offering options and evidence of where you’ve responded to change in the past. Recognise that you are likely to be cheaper than bigger players and show evidence that you offer value for money.

Look good in the exam

Understand that no matter how good you are you will not win unless you make your strengths clear on paper too. Think of it as an exam - answer the question, don’t elaborate and think about getting advice if it’s your first time. The public sector is making the process simpler but remember that it will rightly be held accountable for the procurement decisions it makes, in a way the private sector is not. Take the exam seriously.

Evidence matters

Cite evidence in your bid. If you say your system will show or do something, prove it: include a screen shot of how it works or other tangible evidence.

Mark Bowers, CEO of Redfern Travel, shares his tips on winning government business

Mark Bowers, the CEO of Redfern Travel, shares his experience of winning a major government contract

Mystery Shopper Scheme

The Mystery Shopper Scheme has 2 roles:

  1. It provides a clear, structured and direct route for suppliers to raise concerns about public procurement practice even when attempts at resolving issues with a contracting authority or a first-tier supplier have failed and provides feedback to enquirers on their concerns.
  2. It also takes a pro-active approach through spot checks on procurement documents.

This enables us to:

  • identify areas of poor procurement practice so we can work with the contracting authority to put them right, and help ensure similar cases do not arise in future
  • take action to reduce the likelihood of similar issues arising in other authorities
  • identify examples of good practice that we can share with other authorities

You can provide feedback to us by sending an email to or by telephoning our Service Desk on 01603 704999.

What bodies are covered?

  • central government departments (eg Defra, MOD) - we will address feedback about the central departments or any of the bodies for which they are responsible (list of government departments
  • the wider public sector (eg local authorities, NHS trusts or education establishments) in England (we do not investigate procurement carried out by devolved bodies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales)
  • prime contractors working on government contracts - we will work with contract managers in departments and prime contractors to address feedback about unfair practices and other issues in the supply chain of government contracts

Before submitting feedback to the Cabinet Office

If you want to submit feedback to us read the terms set out in our scope and remit.

This explains what we may be able to achieve in relation to your concerns. By submitting feedback to the Mystery Shopper Scheme you are accepting the scope and remit of the service.


We publish the results of the investigations into the cases we examine. The documents on the Mystery Shopper results page set out the issues and the resolution of the cases investigated so far.

We also use social media to share the results of our investigations, only the contracting authority is named when we share and publish our results.

Taking a pro-active approach

Ministers have decided to extend the Mystery Shopper Scheme to carry out spot checks on procurement processes as well as continuing to deal with referrals raised by SMEs and other concerned suppliers. This extension of the Mystery Shopper scheme was announced in the report Small Business GREAT Ambition.

The Mystery Shopper team examines procurement documents, typically from online portals, and discusses their findings with the contracting authority responsible for the procurement. Cases are selected at random from a spread of organisations, either looking at general procurement issues or focusing on particular aspects of the procurement. Results of cases will be published in line with the government’s commitment to transparency.

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