Creating a Request for Proposal (RFP)
You’re ready. You have the project funding, or at least enough to get you started. Or maybe you’re sure you’re going to get the funding but you need the official documentation to release it. Wherever you are in your process, you’re ready for qualified bids and it’s time to craft a Request for Proposals (RFP).
We know there are many types of RFPs. We’re going to dig into the ones we know best and see frequently: RFPs for marketing, creative, consulting, and programming services. The recommendations below apply to more than just that, as the basics hold true across industries. But if you’re writing one for a building remodel, be sure to include a few extra details than we detail below.
The best RFPs are specific. Knowing what you need to accomplish, what you already have, and what expectations are most important to you will help you get realistic estimates and pair you with the best agency for the job.
Ready to start? Let’s dig in:
1). Confirm the RFP’s purpose.
It’s good to know what you need from this process.
If the RFP is a tool for you to identify credible vendors and sort through proposals to determine fit (scope, cost, and culture), then the tips below are a great place to start or refine that process.
But if this document is a necessary evil in your life, and you already know a) who you want to hire and b) that you can hire them after you’ve gotten some other bids… then it’s a different process. In that case, get as much info in as you need, or follow a past example for your company, and get over the paperwork hurdles. You don’t need to identify fit because hopefully you’ve already done all that. (If not, I’d encourage you to keep reading!)
2). Introduce your project and your organization.
Think of this as the meet and greet portion of the RFP. Include a project overview with a brief description, as well as an intro about your organization. Then get into the fun stuff. What are we looking to accomplish? Who is the audience? Any high level background information is useful (with further data available when needed).
I really like to know how we’ll measure success as part of what we’re looking to accomplish, so if you know that, fabulous. Some projects are well suited to that (the interface is built!) where as others need more work (the campaign ran… was it successful?!). If you know some key performance indicators or any additional data points, I say include it. But if you don’t, that’s something your new vendor should help you do as part of their kickoff strategy.
3). Identify what you need.
Sounds easy, right? That’s the whole reason we’re doing this. But it’s often not as easy as it seems. Knowing the full scope of the project sets both parties up for success.
Say you need programming help for a new tool you’re creating. Questions to consider would be, do you have the design in hand? Is it set to work across platforms/devices? Do you have existing technical assets that need to be included (marketing automation tools, databases, etc.)? Will you run testing internally or would the vendor be responsible for testing (I’d assume the vendor would, but these are the cases when it’s best to state it and never assume).
Focusing on the specific deliverables and the expectations here saves everyone ample time later. If you’re not quite sure of the specifics yet, that’s okay. Request that the proposal include strategy or consulting time to help identify the project specifics. Then when that stage is done, be sure both parties know and agree to the newly identified deliverables.
4). Know what you have.
If this is a marketing or design project, do you already have an established brand? Do you have your design assets and a style guide, and you’re looking for a set piece? Or are you starting from scratch?
Being clear on what you already have to leverage helps solidify the scope. It might narrow it to your advantage, or expand it, but either way you’d rather have those conversations now. For instance, if you have a technology project and you’re really just looking for one specific add-on, that’s very contained and specific. Similarly, if you think we have a small design project, and it turns out that to be successful the project needs more information about audience, or messaging, or more, then we know that upfront and can either plan to include that or plan internal resources to accommodate. (You can see how this naturally ties back into identifying what we need, above.)
5). Know your limitations.
This includes monetary (budget) and other resources (time, etc.). You might be completely awesome at writing copy, or editing content, but do you have time? If so, great! If not, do you need to include that as part of the project? Or do you need to plan for internal resources now once the project is approved and on a roll? Planning that out now can save a lot of time later, when it’s suddenly mission critical and you’re faced with not enough time to do it, and something out of scope for your project.
6). Check for fit.
This is a hard one. You can’t outright ask a group what their culture is like and expect an answer that doesn’t feel rehearsed. But you can ask for other info that can help you decide if the group sounds like a good fit for how you and your organization operate. For instance, do you like to have regular calls/meetings? Do you prefer to discuss things together or would you rather get an email? Ask open-ended questions to get information like this as part of the proposal, and then gauge how well that fits with your team and preferred workflow.
Some organizations might not care about this. If you get the deliverable, you might not care about the process. Plus the level of collaboration required for projects varies. A large creative endeavor requires a great deal of communication and review, whereas a small technical project may require less. I find most individuals working on or managing a project do care about the process, as it has an impact on how easy (or not) things run on their side. At least consider it.
7). Anticipate problems.
Of course life would be easier if we could do this all the time, right?! But for the project, ask what happens if things go out of scope (because odds are something will change over the project lifetime, and we want to know what we’re getting into). Does the proposal say you’ll discuss changes, and, if needed, a change order (or something similar) will be sent to you? Or does it say there’s a percent included, say 10% over? Or that additional work is billed hourly? It’s great to know there’s a process in place for this before you get close to started, and to agree on what that looks like. I’d suggest that you look for statements about change orders or approved hours, to be sure additional hours aren’t just stacked on top of a growing sum without your knowledge. This avoids messy disagreements when invoicing time comes.
8). Set target dates.
It might be that these dates aren’t as workable as you’d like, and if so, you’ll learn this quickly. Want to brainstorm a campaign, create graphics, catchy content, audience strategy and deploy it in a week? Hmmm. Could see a problem there.
But if you have a set timeframe you need to work in, include it. This can be a detailed timeline, which is great, or a target completion date. Either helps frame the project and also establishes a time frame for anyone submitting a bid. If you need something in the next six months and a potential partner or agency can’t touch it until five months from now, you both know that’s not likely to work.
9). Talk about the budget.
Yep, it had to come. Now’s the time we talk money. Some people shy away from wanting to include a specific dollar amount, but think of it this way: you want to match what you have with the level you’re expecting. If you have a $150,000 project and someone reading this normally does work in the $5,000 range, it’s not a good fit. The opposite is equally true. If you have a vendor writing you a proposal for a $150,000 project and you only have $5,000 to spend, nothing good comes of that.
You don’t have to be completely specific… a range is fine. Often an “up to $X” is used here. And we all know those numbers aren’t always firm. So if you have $50,000 for that project and you want to say you have up to $40,000, we won’t tell. You know your organization and budgeting best, and if you need to build in a buffer for changes, it’s a great time to do so.
If applicable, include whether ongoing work (support, updates, etc.) will be considered as part of a separate proposal.
10). Establish next steps and contacts.
You’ve done all the hard work by this point, and now it’s time to wrap it up. So first, congratulate yourself a little on a job well done. Provide deadlines for the proposal and any information you have about timing on reviews. If you don’t have a deadline, set one! It’s one of the easiest ways to see who can follow directions and respond in a timely manner, and will keep your project moving.
Provide a point of contact for questions, or set time slots for questions. Each organization handles this differently. Follow your usual process here, or if you don’t have one, decide what works best for you. You can provide contact information for an individual, or you can ask to receive questions in writing by a set date. Be sure to include any specifications here, such as “questions regarding this RFP will be handled by Jo and can be sent by email through X date.” You’re not likely to hire a vendor who’s sending you last minute questions anyway, but this saves you the trouble.
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A bit of planning can help the RFP process run smoothly, putting you and your vendors on the right path for a collaborative relationship and successful projects.
Have an RFP for marketing, design, or technology services? Let’s connect and see if it’s a good fit for what we do.
Have a question? Leave us a comment and we’ll keep the discussion going.