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Primer on writing a Request for Proposal with samples

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are a tool for companies to find their products and services at better prices and also an evaluation method for finding their best fit for partnering. Too often the RFP process is undergone for the first time, either from the issuer or vendor side, and they know not what to say or what to ask. What we hope to do here is give you some basics for the creation your own RFP and process without too many learning experiences. For our example we will be simulating a website design project and we hope you will be able to apply some of these oconcept to your own project.

Research and define your needs

Do not leap into RFP process without doing your own research. After your RFP is releases, interested parties will bombard you with questions; that is not the time to be conducting exhaustive research which then may derail your timeline. Defining your project early and you are able to pass that information to potential vendors. You will then get responses better aligned towards your needs (pricing and project plans) because the respondants better understand your project.

For example: you need a website design. Is there branding to be used in the design or does that need to be created as part of the project? Is there content for your site already written, or is that the vendor's responsibility or will it be done as a collaborative process? Is your vision for a website of just a few pages or thousands of pages? Who is responsible for the upkeep of the site, how should it be hosted, etc.? Is there a need for a Content Management System to maintain site content or do you think it's going to stay fairly static? Are there interactive areas of the site or specific functionalities required? Will there be a need to interact with any database or 3rd party software?

This is by not a complete listing of the sort of questions vendors will ask. The better versed you are in your own project the better quality answers may be provided to the vendors, therefore guiding them to better proposals. You will be asked questions you have not yet considered and will have to do additional work to find answers.

Distribution strategy and RFP publication

You should decide where and how to distribute your RFP. Also your means for collecting information from potential vendors, and where will you be providing possible updates.

For anything but the smallest projects we recommend a project page or site for a project overview, contact information, possible timeline, PDF of the RFP and any other documentation that you feel vendors would find helpful. Make sure to note the URL of this page in the RFP and direct people to it for updates.

Our second recommendation is to think long and hard on whom you'd like to be bidding on this project. For example, are you only going to entertain proposals from companies local to you, or does location not matter so much? Do you only want to receive proposals from a specific number of vendors that you invite to participate, or do you want to open the process up to receive qualified proposals from anywhere? Regardless of your decision, be upfront about this decision so that vendors aren't wasting their time by creating a proposal when you're not interested in them because of location.

Provide necessary information to prospective vendors

While obvious, worth stating: provide the vital information to potential vendors in the RFP. Use document space to give them information about the organization, culture, current marketing or branding efforts, existing technologies, timeframes... All information enabling the vendors to provide the best possible proposals. Information empowers them, in turn you receive better work. List out specific requirements, if omitted, vendors may not know what to address in their proposals.

Realistic timeline

There are milestone dates you may wish to include in any RFP timeline. For example:

June 2, 2013 - Release of RFP
June 12, 2013 - Deadline for vendors to submit written questions (or intent notices)
June 18, 2013 - Questions with written answers provided to vendors
June 24, 2013, 5:00 pm EST - deadline for submitting proposals
July 07, 2013 - Finalists notified

Your schedule should provide ample time for elements of the process to be performed: reviewing RFPS, interviewing vendors, answering questions. Your schedule will vary based on your needs. If your project naturally results in complex questions, you're likely to need more time between question deadline and answer release.

Require and list the information you need from the vendor, including proposal format

If you do not require specific enumerated information from the vendor you may get very different responses. They may not contain all information necessary for judgement, and will be hard to compare. For our website design example, you may require:

  • Proposals must include the information outlined in this section.
  • Describe how you will implement the requirements outlined in this RFP
  • Provide a sample timeline for the completion of this proposal.
  • What is the fee structure for your organization. How is billing handled? If applicable require a budget: costs can be categorized separately. Also include a plan for maintenance, support and upgrades after site release.
  • Provide firm history and profile, experience providing services and indicate number of employees. Provide a listing of firm's clients we may contact: include contact individual, phone number, website url, services provided and service duration.
  • Describe proposed project process. Enumerate samples of the firm's experience performing each of the project requirements.
  • List the project team and including biographies of each team member. Indicate use of external resources; we reserve the right to disapprove external resources.
  • Please provide an example of your service contract with any additional stipulations of which we should be aware.

This is far from a complete list.

Understand your evaluation criteria

Decide if price is your main criteria. Are you seeking just lowest price or best firm for your budget? Should all respondants have the same price point, what would you then use to distinguish them?

Other evaluation criteria you may want to use:

  • Is the company an effective communicator. Use this process to inform your decision.
  • Is location important
  • Can we see portions of our project in their examples?
  • Is the price and timeline understandable?
  • Is there a clear understanding of the project process, their team, and project deliverables?
  • Is their contract agreeable?
  • Ds the payment process clear?

These are just a few examples of questions beyond price that may be assistive in firm evaluation.

If you're having trouble writing your RFP, or would like feedback on it, please feel free to contact us at or (413) 303-9612


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