Review of free e-course ‘Winning the Contract’ (LearnDirect course)

Many of my clients despair of the tendering process, particularly the seemingly endless hoops to be jumped through when tendering for public sector contracts.

While researching what other resources are available ‘out there’ for my upcoming book (available in autumn 2012), I stumbled across a free e-course ‘Winning the Contract’ from LearnDirect.

The course blurb says it is ‘designed to address the small business knowledge gap on public procurement. By providing information and guidance, together with help in identifying business development training needs, it is aimed at equipping small businesses to respond to the opportunities offered by public sector purchasing organisations’, and has three key objectives:

  • To demystify and explain the way the public sector buys supplies and services
  • To help SMEs find opportunities and understand how to respond to them effectively
  • To facilitate high quality bids for public sector work from a broad range of small and medium sized suppliers

Before I recommend anything, I like to make sure it does what it says on the tin, so here is my review and a few comments:

No fee – no exam, no qualification

That’s not a bad thing. I’m just letting you know 🙂 It’s designed to give you information, ideas and increase your knowledge or dispel any myths, rather than test you on the subject. Phew.

How to sign up & get started

You can sign up here or follow the links from LearnDirect’s main page and click on ‘Buy Now’ (it is genuinely free, despite this unfortunate button label!). From there you’ll create an account and receive an email with your login details and link to the course itself. The course is available to you for 6 months.

Worth noting: the course uses ‘pop ups’, so make sure you have pop ups allowed for the site.

How long it takes

The course blurb states that it takes around three and half to four hours to complete. Each module is given an ‘average time to complete’ and these are pretty accurate for the modules themselves.

If you followed every link to an external resource and read through every bit of information, it would take you a lot longer than 4 hours. Having said that, many of the links lead to genuinely useful information (not all up to date; more on this later) so they are worth perusing, or bookmarking for later reading.

You can leave and return to the course as often as you want and depending on how much time you can devote to it each day. Use the link provided within the email to log back in, or go via the general site. Where you got up to last time will be shown on the course menu.

What it covers

Each module has an introduction and a summary, some also include an action plan you can complete if you wish.

Module 1 is an overall introduction to the course, its benefits, objectives and so on. Beyond that, these are the subjects each module covers:

Module 2: The Public Sector and Procurement Explained

  • Public sector defined
  • What the public sector buys
  • Tendering advantages and disadvantages
  • Procurement defined
  • eProcurement

Module 3: Types of contract

  • EU Procurement Directives
  • EU Thresholds
  • Stepped procurement
  • Requirement to advertise
  • Competitive tendering
  • Approved suppliers
  • Framework agreements

Module 4: Tender Process – Bidding for a Contract

  • Expression of interest
  • Pre-qualification questionnaire
  • Invitation to Tender
  • Preparing the tender
  • Evaluation
  • Contract award
  • Feedback

Module 5: Challenges and barriers

  • The procurement challenge
  • Your experience
  • Meeting challenges and barriers
  • Your approach

Module 6: Finding opportunities

  • Setting your goals
  • Direct selling
  • Considering alternatives
  • CPV and NUTS codes
  • Local searches
  • National searches
  • International searches

At the end, there is a section for resources – a comprehensive table of all the links used throughout the various modules, a glossary, some hints and tips and whatnot.

About the course

What’s good:

It’s clearly written, any jargon is generally well explained and there are various mini case studies which illustrate by example some of the concepts addressed. This makes it easy to relate to and understand the ‘whys’ behind some of the demands public sector tenders make and the ‘hows’ of responding to them.

It isn’t afraid of outlining potential disadvantages and barriers, as well as the advantages. I like this honest approach. It also suggests ways of getting past these barriers, where possible.

It’s logical. The navigation of the modules is sensible, allowing you to build up a good knowledge of the tendering process before sending you off to look for opportunities.

The sheer volume of extra information is impressive. It links out to relevant Business Link pages, which give more in-depth information and guidance on each subject, as well as numerous links to opportunity search resources. It’s well worth copying and pasting the entire ‘Resources’ section and saving it somewhere handy for future reference (although you do have access to the course for 6 months).

You don’t have to do it all at once. I know I mentioned this earlier but it is good to be able to leave it and return when you want. There’s a lot of information in this course and if you did it all at once, I’d be surprised if it all stuck. Also (and don’t tell anyone I said this) reading about the tendering process for hours on end might just get a bit tedious. Maybe 😉

At the end of some modules there’s a screen where you’ll be offered the chance to construct an action plan, based on the ideas covered in the module, which you can then use to plan your bidding strategy within your own company. Key learning points are also summarised at the end of each module.

What’s not so good:

It’s clear that this course was developed partly with bidding for opportunities related to the 2012 Olympics in mind, alongside a general overview of the tendering process. That means that some of the information, where it relates specifically to these opportunities, is out of date.

Similarly, the OGC (Office of Government Commerce) site is no longer active and you are directed to the main Cabinet Office site, rather than to a specific page of up to date information. That’s unfortunate, as it means you then need to search for that information yourself. It does however link to some archived information from the OGC site – I would advise making sure this archived information is currently relevant if you are going to rely on it for any reason.

And lastly, some of the data contained within the modules is out of date. For example, threshold data (contracts above or below a certain amount) is only valid to 31 Dec 2011.

I’m hoping that the course will be updated at some point in the near future and in the meantime, I’d just ignore those elements – it’s not enough to invalidate the entire course, as there’s plenty of sound guidance and accurate process information within it – but I would advise checking if you need to know a particular fact or figure in order to develop your own business plans or bidding strategies.

Would I recommend the course?

Yes. I’d say it’s a good overview of the public sector tendering process and gives access to an absolute mine of related information. This course will inevitably teach you something you didn’t already know or dispel a myth or two about how it works and how best to navigate it.

I’d recommend this course to SMEs who:

  • Have not yet tendered for public sector contracts
  • Have tendered for public sector contracts but been unsuccessful or put off by the process
  • Are thinking about collaborating with other SMEs to win contracts
  • Need to develop an understanding throughout their company of the tendering process
  • Need to further their knowledge on a specific element of public sector tendering

Also, it’s free.

What do you think?

If you decide to do the course, let me know how you get on here in the comments, or drop me an email: Did you enjoy or endure it? Was it of help to you? Would you recommend it to anyone yourself? I’d love to hear your views.

–        Lyndsey

 

PS: For transparency – I’ve not been asked to do this review by LearnDirect or received any payment from them or anyone else affiliated with them or this course. I just found it online, thought it might be useful and decided to do it and review it.

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