Each year the City of Mississauga tenders millions of dollars worth of contracts for construction, maintenance, landscaping, dress uniforms and many other goods and services.
In recent weeks, the city has put out bids looking for companies to build a new fire station, refurbish electronics on local buses and improve rapid transit.
While the opportunities for local small- and medium-sized businesses are enormous, the process can be complicated and difficult to understand.
Luckily, potential vendors looking to work on government projects have plenty of resources at the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre.
Heidi Brown, manager of small business for the city, said her office offers free information, advice and even detailed seminars to help companies navigate through the bidding process.
“We get a couple hundred people who come out to it,” Brown said of the popular biannual half-day seminars. “We actually bring representatives from all levels of government so they can speak to them, they get their presentations and ask any questions.”
Brown said the enterprise centre known as MBEC also offers information on Canadian electronic tendering service MERX and Biddingo, the company the City of Mississauga has partnered with for public project contracts.
While the next seminar isn’t until March 29, 2013, Brown said there are still plenty of ways businesses can get help on potential bids.
Contracts usually go to the lowest bidder, but not always. In some cases, a company’s expertise and track record on complex projects can win the day over price.
Brown said the process of tendering is cumbersome and can be difficult at first. “But once you understand the process it does get easier,” she said. Brown also has some simple advice for first-timers. “Being careful with your paperwork, following all the regulations, following the deadlines.”
She encouraged businesses interested in learning more to definitely contact her or business information officer John Fisher. “We’d love to help cut the learning curve down,” she said. “There’s such a broad spectrum of projects from cheese, to army uniforms to consultations and the governments are all continually putting bids.”
In addition to doing research about possible projects, Brown recommends businesses act quickly on their applications. “The sooner the better,” she said, “Because you never know when one you want will come up.”
A self-described “40-something,” Brown knows what it’s like to be a small business owner. The former entrepreneur started her trade-only wholesale gift packaging business What A Basket Inc. soon after finishing college at the age of 19. “We sold to a lot of floral and gift shops, chains, Eatons and the Bay,” she said.
Brown ran it for 13 years, ultimately selling it and focusing on working with the city. “I know what it’s like to be on the other side,” she said with a laugh. “I like to try and bring that knowledge forward and understand the challenges and the great virtues of running a business.”
In addition to working for the city of Mississauga since 1995, Brown also was involved with government programs early on in her business career. She started the local chapter of the national organization for young entrepreneurs, eventually rising to the role of national president while running her own business. She calls herself a “natural supporter of services for small businesses.”