Selling to the City: How your small business can bid better to win contracts

Small business can sell to the City of Thunder Bay
Small business can sell to the City of Thunder Bay
Small business can sell to the City of Thunder Bay
Small business can sell to the City of Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY – When you picture your ideal customer, you, like many small business owners, will not often think of the City of Thunder Bay, but our city’s departments present a sizeable demand for many products and services. Every week, new tenders and bidding opportunities are posted to the City’s website. These opportunities are open to all qualified proponents.

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC)/Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre (EC) work with small businesses to help them find new and better ways of marketing their products and services and getting their message heard by the right people. Our Digital Resources and Outreach service offers information, counseling, and assistance with increasing sales and boosting your bottom line through improved marketing.

Allan Hensel and Tina Caputo from the City of Thunder Bay’s Supply Management department know what it takes to submit a winning bid. Here’s the insider scoop on how your business can compete to win those city contracts:

  • Address the requirements – City Requests for Proposals (RFPs) will specifically list the requirements of the project, and businesses must directly address each item and demonstrate that they can satisfy the criteria. Tina advises, “Opinions do not matter when we’re evaluating a submission. Even if we are familiar with a company and their services, we can only consider the information they have provided in their submission.”
  • Consider the Evaluation Criteria – Criteria are weighted differently by a points system, so bidders must match the information they provide to how heavily each factor is weighted. Criteria that are most heavily weighted will warrant a greater detailed explanation.

Tip: Allow yourself enough time to submit a proper bid. Allan finds that, “The biggest mistake businesses make is not having a full understanding of the document. They often do not follow the rules closely or pay attention to the weight system. Bidders need to look at the request thoroughly and learn exactly what it’s asking for.” Check weekly for new tenders and RFPs to get an early start and allocate an appropriate amount of time to writing a detailed, top-scoring proposal.

  • Meet the prerequisites – All City contractors must provide their WSIB clearance and be prepared to meet all required safety legislation. Businesses should be prepared to bid by having these things already in place so that they are ready when the right tender or RFP is posted.
  • Build relationships – For projects that cost under $5,000, City departments do not have to conduct a competitive bid process, but rather choose the most beneficial and economical option. As Allan says, “It’s true that some departments will have loyalties and preferences to certain vendors, but things do change, and new businesses can introduce themselves and set the foundation for future opportunities.” Allan and Tina advise companies to research departments and their supply needs and make cold calls to decision makers. Be persistent, but do not overwhelm them.

Tip: Always respond when a department directly sends you a request for a quote, even if you are unable to provide the product or service for that specific project. Thank them for their request and let them know that you hope to be considered for future projects.

  • Create value through partnerships. Can’t take on a project alone? Partner with another business to combine services and maximize value. Tina says, “Some of the time, there is no one supplier in town who can meet the needs of a project, so if two businesses can work together to submit a joint proposal, it puts them at a huge advantage to other bidders.” Small businesses can also partner with larger companies as a sub-contractor.

Tip: New or inexperienced businesses can start with smaller projects and grow into larger proposals. Supply Management advises contractors to only take on as much work as they can handle.

  • Be competitive –Price is important, however, the City will consider other factors in evaluating a submission. The City of Thunder Bay is committed to promoting sustainable and ethical procurement, and will favour companies that prove to exhibit environmental leadership and corporate social responsibility. Suppliers that provide value added perks such as free delivery and pickup, as well as other added bonuses will often be awarded additional points. Proving your business’s sustainable and ethical practices and offering to provide complementary services can boost your submission’s score by 5-10%.

Tip: If you’ve never worked for the City before, go above and beyond what is expected when you land your first contract. This creates a lasting impression and can help you to be awarded other jobs in the future that are procured outside of the RFP and tendering process.

  • Be timely – A department would rather not wait to have items ordered, so when a city department makes a request to your business, you will be more likely to make the sale if you have the needed items in stock and respond quickly to their inquiries. Seal the deal by offering to deliver the items promptly.

The Supply Management Division is responsible for providing centralized purchasing for all civic departments. Visit their website to learn more and to view current tenders and requests for proposals.

The Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre offers FREE and confidential services to help businesses start up, expand, and succeed. Whether you’re looking for funding, training and education, or new and better ways of marketing your products and services, the Entrepreneur Centre is here to get you on the right track to success. Call (807)625-3960 or visit to book an appointment.

CEDC Community Economic Development (CEDC) Entrepreneur Centre
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