Top tips when using online tender portals for tender submissions
Most tenders are now submitted via an online portal rather than by email or post. However, buying organisations don’t all use the same one and inevitably, there are now a myriad of procurement portals, all of which are navigated slightly (or even very) differently. Consequently, this blog isn’t a user guide to online portals; rather it is some top tips to be aware of when using an online portal to submit online tenders.
Our Top Tips for tender submissions are:
- You’re going to need to register on the portal. To do this you will generally need some company information and an email address for notifications, and you’ll have to set a password. Make sure you set up the notification emails so that they go to multiple email addresses or a group email address accessed by more than one staff member. You don’t want to miss important updates when a member of staff is on holiday, off sick or otherwise unavailable.
- Some portals may appear to be different but actually are under the same umbrella so only one login is required. For example, many are powered by Proactis, such as ProContract Due North, The Chest, London Tenders Portal, YORtender. You only need to register once to access all these.
- Keep a central log of all your portal usernames and passwords; once you start tendering you may find the list growing rapidly. Its also a good idea to print this out every so often so you have a hard copy back up. Your security doesn’t need to be too tight as this access is only to an online tender portal, rather than your bank account…
- That said, make sure your portal passwords are not the same as those for your bank account, i.e. don’t choose your cats name!
- Once you have accessed the portal, you will usually have a dashboard, where you can click through to view the particular tender opportunity you are exploring, and likely there are other areas, like ‘other tenders,’ ‘messages’ and ‘user/company profile.’ As portals manage multiple tenders, you may also be able to search for other tender opportunities.
- In order to download all the documents associated with a tender and/or ask a question you may need to ‘register your interest’ or ‘opt in.’ Don’t worry, this doesn’t commit you to anything, but will thenceforth engage you in the notifications related to that tender exercise.
- Familiarise yourself with the portal after registering and downloading the documents. How do you navigate the various sections? What do the various sections contain? This helps you to become familiar with the site, so that you can make tendering an efficient process. Its also important to know where to upload your tender submission when the deadline is looming.
- Clarification questions will need to be asked using the communications or messaging function in the portal. Familiarise yourself with how the messaging works before you need to use it and check emails regularly as you will be provided with answers to other potential suppliers’ questions in addition to your own.
- If the buyer makes changes to a document or a date, they will use the portal to inform anyone who has registered an interest about the change. Don’t ignore emails from the portal – login and check what has changed as this may have important implications e.g. the deadline date has been put back.
- In order to submit online tenders, some portals require you to upload a set of completed documents, whereas others require you to enter text directly into fields in the portal. Some require both, some require you to click a button to confirm you understand and agree with the terms and conditions. Make sure you understand how the submission works well in advance of the deadline.
- Check if the portal has any specific limitations on file size. Some smaller portals may limit the files you can upload, which may have significant consequences if you’ve just spent 3 weeks preparing a beautifully designed and formatted proposal, only to be faced with ‘file size too large for destination server.’
- There is often a limit to the number of words or characters that you are allowed to enter into a text field on a portal. Bear in mind that the word/character count in MS Word can be slightly different to that in the portal (particularly character count as portals include carriage returns) so an answer that is within character count in your document may be over the limit in the portal. Don’t leave it to the last minute to find this out and needing to make edits with 5 minutes to go!
- With some portals, you can save a partial submission to go back to later if needed. This is handy if you’re uploading many responses/supporting documents and some are ready before others. It’s also good practice to press save regularly when uploading everything at once, just in case you have an IT issue. Only when you’ve uploaded everything do you need to press submit.
- Lastly, and this may sound obvious (and sometimes seem unavoidable!) but don’t leave the tender submission to the last minute. Allow yourself plenty of time. Large files can take time to upload. Portals can have problems of their own. Your business could have network connectivity issues. And so on. You don’t want to spend weeks working on your submission, only to fail to submit it because you left it too late. Deadline extensions are not usually possible.