Use this time to prepare your business to supply government

We are living in unprecedented, uncertain times. It is a difficult period for many small businesses, as we face economic uncertainties and the ‘drying up’ of work. As employers, we also feel the weight of responsibility towards our staff.

Many small businesses have demonstrated inspiring agility in responding to the current constrained climate, re-envisioning business models, and finding new sales opportunities. Others are using this time to equip themselves with new tools in their arsenal, ready for when business gets back to normal.

One thing businesses can do during this time is to explore the prospect and lay the groundwork for becoming a government supplier.

While the private sector may have slowed down, the Victorian Government is doing all it can to continue operating and has a priority to protect its business supply chain.

Additionally, in the long term, there are many benefits of supplying goods and services to government. Government values innovation, pays on time, and often awards long-term contracts. Government work can also be varied and interesting, offering opportunities that a business wouldn’t experience with private sector clients, and making government an attractive reference client.

Doing business with government is, however, different from doing business with the private sector. To be successful, you need to learn how to navigate the government environment and understand a different set of priorities.

In this article, I’ll take you through four key steps to getting your business government-ready.

What makes you unique?

Understanding your brand, your customers, and your competitors is just as important when selling to government as it is for growth in the commercial sector.

Also, understanding how your unique selling point (USP) is relevant to government is critical for positioning your business. Here are some key points to consider:

  • What service or product are you offering?
  • What makes your service or product different from others in your industry/sector?
  • Why does the government need your product/service? Is there a gap or a problem you are addressing?
  • What is your value-add? Or why would the government value your offering?

Now is the key time to think about these questions.

Also, what else might you offer beyond your product or service? What do you do that is above and beyond your ‘call of duty’? Your unique selling point might also be that you offer a tailored or personalised customer service that many of your competitors don’t. Perhaps you monitor the service or product for an additional six months because you care about ensuring that your customer is happy and that the service/product is working as it should – thereby going above and beyond competitors.

Answering these questions is the first step towards being government-ready.

Do your homework: align yourself with government priorities

Understanding your unique offering and how it aligns with a policy direction or priority supports a more successful pitch to government. But, before you pitch anything, remember that it is your responsibility to prove that you understand your customer.

There are many ways to understand government. Most government departments publish strategic documents around their policy direction or priorities (often called corporate plans or annual plans). Another place you can look is in government departmental annual reports, which are published every financial year, and of course budget statements. All of these are available online.

For example, you might be a boutique ethical clothing manufacturing company, and the government has announced a shortage of personal protective equipment. You have determined that you could use your ethical manufacturing capabilities to supply face masks. Given the Victorian social procurement framework and its existing commitment around supporting ethical clothing suppliers, you can easily and successfully communicate why you should be chosen to supply face masks by aligning your offering with that priority. (Hot tip: spell it out.)

Are you policy-ready?

Governments want to engage with businesses and depend on the commercial sector to deliver their programs.

Recognising itself as a significant buyer of goods and services, the Victorian Government released a Social Procurement Framework to use its buying power to generate social value. This has resulted in a range of procurement objectives supporting environmentally sustainable business outcomes, and creating opportunities for Victorian Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, women’s equality and safety, disadvantaged Victorians, and regional Victoria.

As part of your government-ready planning, it would be timely to consider how your business can meet the objectives of Victoria’s social procurement framework. For example:

  • Your Supply Chain: Who do you buy from? Do they have good environmental practices? Do they support disadvantaged people? Is it possible to consider buying from a social enterprise instead?
  • Do you have an environmental policy? For example, we recently took the opportunity to update our environmental management policy that commits us as a business to consider more sustainable use of energy and water, and opportunities to better dispose of our waste.

You don’t necessarily need to have policies on everything and don’t think that you must radically change your supply chain. Pick one or two social outcomes that resonate with you and your business, and then plan how you might achieve these. You can then develop policies (if you need to) or update your business plan to incorporate these new objectives.

There are many policy templates available online that can help guide you. For example, it might be worth establishing an environmental management policy. Or your HR policy may reference the fact that your business acknowledges and allows for family violence leave provisions.

Whatever you focus on it is important that you consider the corporate social responsibility policies you can develop and even how to include one or two social enterprises in your supply chain. When tendering for government work it is likely that you will have to demonstrate how you comply with social procurement objectives. Starting to think of some of these things now will put you in good stead for the future.

Other policy priorities you can align with include work, health and safety, labour hire licensing requirements, code of conduct, and conflict of interest treatment.  Use this time to find the government’s position on these requirements and get yourself in a position to comply with them.

Apply for government panels (and tenders)

Governments buy in lots of different ways and across a broad range of industries – from technology, professional services (such as banking and financial services), and marketing to construction. To make the process of buying goods and services more efficient for government and suppliers, several different types of buying arrangements have been established. These include whole-of-government contracts, purchasing panels, and prequalification registers.

Some prequalification registers are mandatory, meaning Victorian government buyers must use them for the product or service they want. Others might not be mandatory. However, there’s still an expectation that government buyers use them.

So what does this all mean?

Unless your business is registered on the relevant government purchasing panels or prequalification schemes, you may not be eligible (or invited) to respond to a request for quotation or tender.

If you are interested in working with the government, you must apply to be accepted on the government register(s) that are relevant to your business.

In the Victorian Government there are currently five registers:

  • eServices Register: A register of suppliers providing IT related services. A full list of categories has been provided on the website.
  • Ethical Supplier Register: For the purchase of uniforms and personal protective equipment. You must be an SME with Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation or independently verified ethical local manufacturing.
  • IT Infrastructure Register: For buying servers, storage, and network equipment, including maintenance and support. Out of scope include cloud-related services and other goods and services covered by other government contracts.
  • Marketing Services Register: For marketing services, including advertising and communications. A full list of categories is listed on the website.
  • Construction Supplier Register: For construction, works (i.e. builders) and related services (i.e. engineers, architects). Lists of categories and subcategories are available on the website.

Also, keep an eye out for government tenders for products or services that you can provide. These are published in a number of ways, including the Victorian Government’s tender website and each local council’s website. Even if you don’t win the tender, it’s a good opportunity to make yourself known to government and refine your pitch (taking the first three steps above into account).

Get government-ready

Making your business government-ready will likely take a little bit of time and effort. But, if time is something you have in abundance right now, it will be time well spent.

If you can make it part of your organisation’s DNA to be aware of government’s priorities, how government buys, and be ready to respond when opportunities arise, you will be making significant steps to weather the current storm and grow your business in the future.

Deirdre Diamante

Founder | Mia Consulting

Deirdre Diamante is the founder and director of Mia Consulting Services. With 15 years of experience in government procurement and governance roles, Deirdre has intimate knowledge of public sector procurement environments, making her a sought-after advisor by commercial and public sector organisations alike.

Mia helps companies of all sizes grow government sales through effective engagement, and also works closely with government to implement industry and procurement programs. Deirdre also serves as Chair of the Victorian Council of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Chair and co-founder of the #TechDiversity Foundation, and convenor of the #TechDiversity Awards.