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Doing business with government

With the down-turn in the resources sector and other parts of the economy, many businesses are looking to pick up work in the famously steady government sector. However, signing contracts with Government is often not as easy as it sounds. Cannings Purple Associate Director Astrid Serventy shares some top tips for doing business with government.

1. Know who is who in the zoo
A lot of focus is put on which Minister holds a particular portfolio, and businesses spend significant resources building and maintaining relationships with Ministers and staff in their offices. Such relationships can be useful, especially if you are interested in a particular broad policy position or need to alert the key decision makers of a looming crisis. However, for those companies that wish to do business with government, it is just as important, if not more so, to know who the key senior public servants responsible for a particular program are. A lot of the significant decisions about how and when a government will do business with the private sector are made by or initiated by senior bureaucrats.

2. Build relationships
Once you know who the key influencers or decision makers are, put the time in to build relationships. Generally senior public servants are open to meeting with the private sector, especially when business leaders bring them innovative ideas to improve the efficiency or programs for which they are responsible.  So take all opportunities to build the relationships you need – request meetings, give demonstrations, attend events where you know you will get the chance to talk to people who can help, send engaging information packs on your services, foster opportunities to showcase your work, etc.

3. Understand the procedures
Governments in Australia have very strict rules for purchasing services or goods.  Purchases of any size will generally require a competitive process. Business which wish to sell to government need to invest time into understanding the procedures which apply to each government, applying to be placed on common user agreements (CUAs), purchasing panels and tender notification systems. CUAs generally allow any agency or department in that jurisdiction to do business with the pre-approved suppliers. Panels are generally used by individual agencies or departments, to pre-approve suppliers.

4. Patience is king
Anyone who has ever worked with government knows that mostly things don’t move very fast. Businesses need to be persistent, patient and know that it may take many months, even years for government engagement to pay off. If work in the government sector is a core business area for your firm, building and nurturing these relationships should be an ongoing focus.

Astrid Serventy leads Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team, which has expertise across WA, federal and local government, energy, resources, agriculture, education, health, construction and property development. She has advised ministers at both state and federal levels. Contact Astrid