Doing business with government: guide for SMEs

This page provides support for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on bidding for government contracts.

The government wants to buy from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) every time they are the best value for money. We have changed the way we buy goods and services to help more SMEs to bid for our contracts.

The government has made changes to help SMEs bid for public sector contracts. These include:

  • requiring the entire public sector supply chain to be paid within 30 days
  • buying in a simpler and quicker way eg abolishing pre-qualification questionnaires for low value public sector contracts
  • requiring the public sector to publish its contracts on Contracts Finder

Read more about government buying from SMEs.

Contact the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) for any specific questions on doing business with government. Telephone the servicedesk on 0345 010 3503 or email

Tips for SMEs bidding for government contracts

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.

Find out more about how to become a Crown Commercial Service supplier and look for contract opportunities on Contracts Finder.

Mystery Shopper service

The Mystery Shopper service allows government suppliers and potential government suppliers to raise concerns anonymously about unfair public sector procurement practice. The government can then investigate and resolve these concerns. It also conducts spot checks on government buyers.

To use the Mystery Shopper service, read the terms and email or telephone 0345 010 3503.

By February 2015, the Mystery Shopper service had investigated 818 cases: 4 out of 5 of these resulted in a positive outcome where changes are made to existing procurements or recommendations are accepted for future contracts. These outcomes included government changing current or planned procurements, or the supplier gaining a better understanding of the procurement process. Mystery Shopper also made 511 spot checks of procurement opportunities advertised on Contracts Finder.

We publish the results of Mystery Shopper investigations: follow @govmysteryshop to stay up to date or see Mystery Shopper results for details.

Published 18 February 2013
Last updated 25 February 2015 + show all updates
  1. Updated with information on recent reforms.
  2. New Mystery Shopper contact details
  3. Added information on proactive spot-checks on procurement.
  4. New section added - taking a pro-active approach. Includes details of Mystery Shopper scheme extension.
  5. Added video: Stephen Allott's top tips for SMEs.
  6. First published.