Think small, save big

4 October 2011
I’ve seen countless examples of successful SMEs, well established in the private sector and saving their clients millions, that do not hold a single public sector contract. One common perception is that small businesses are missing out on out-of-reach government contracts. However, the government’s Innovation Launch Pad, (run by the Cabinet Office to identify great ideas from SME suppliers), convinced me all over again that it’s the public sector that’s missing out. The nine finalists were using technology in a really clever way and had cost bases that are a fraction of the big businesses servicing government contracts. Between them their proposals could save government an estimated £2 billion. Every one of these had hard evidence of selling similar solutions to their UK plc private customers. They were small businesses, most had under 50 members of staff and time is precious. They put it simply: why spend hours selling our product to public purchasers, with a very small chance of success, when we could be in and out of a private sector pitch in an hour? Thankfully, the Cabinet Office recognises that there is a problem. A range of policies that are aimed at making life easier have been introduced. It is early days at the moment, but the commitment is clear to see. Yet it takes two to tango. The mentoring process showed that it is not all up to government. We sifted through more than 300 proposals. Those that were showcased highlighted case studies of the astronomical savings made by their current clients in their sales pitch. Those that made claims, but did not have hard evidence that we could verify simply fell by the wayside. Opportunities for SMEs are growing, but they will not be (and should not be) won without hard evidence. Departments now have ‘product surgeries’ coming up that are akin to an X-Factor type talent show for the SME world. My advice is bring verifiable evidence of savings. Not doing so is like turning up for an audition without a song prepared. Equally, purchasers need to give SMEs a chance. If hard evidence is lacking, ask for it. We did.   ☛ For more on product surgeries, visit www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/crown-representative-smes-stephen-allott
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