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Uncomplicate RFPs

Several years ago, we received an email (or perhaps a phone call when people still did that kind of thing) from a new client who needed help with their website. The request came from an industry we’d never served before. However, after talking to their visionary Marketing Director, Chris Anderson, we understood they were looking for a team exactly like ours, precisely because we didn’t work in their industry. We took our fresh perspective and their refreshingly brief one-and-a-half page Request For Proposal (RFP) and got to work. One year after launching their website, it won multiple Diamond Awards—a gold standard for the credit union industry. 

An RFP can be an effective tool to help you identify and select the right vendor for your project. But it can also be the stumbling block that keeps you from finding a vendor that might knock your project out of the park. Why? Because a vendor that does a great job (and is busy executing for great clients) doesn’t need to pour over every detail of your 30-page RFP. It’s not worth their time. By streamlining your RFP, you make it more accessible and appealing to sought-after vendors. An accessible RFP not only simplifies your review process but also attracts higher quality responses. High-caliber agencies, valuing efficiency and effectiveness, are more likely to respond to concise, well-structured RFPs that respect their time and resources.

The question remains, how do you make sure you are communicating your needs effectively and the project scope accurately? After all, the project could be a very large spend for your company—doesn’t a comprehensive RFP weed out vendors for you? Yes, but often the wrong ones. Here are a few pointers that will help you craft an effective and efficient RFP, making the process smoother for both you and the right vendor.

Keep it Clear & Concise

To maximize the effectiveness of your RFP, you must make it intelligible and manageable. Many existing RFPs and templates are overly detailed and intimidating, presenting unnecessary obstacles for vendors. If your aim is to review and select a candidate based on clear, objective criteria outlined in your RFP, simplifying your document can greatly facilitate this process.

Evaluate Your Approach & Tone

The client-vendor relationship can sometimes start off on an adversarial footing, a situation best avoided by fostering a spirit of partnership, trust, and open communication from the outset. Instead of presenting your needs as a rigid list of demands, frame them as a list of desires. While it's necessary to outline your "requirements," adding a "wish list" can signal to the vendor that there's room for collaboration and flexibility on certain aspects. This approach encourages a more collaborative and productive relationship with far greater results.

How to Structure Your RFP

Here is our suggested structure for an effective RFP that will garner submission from viable vendors.

  • Brief Company Bio - Keep it concise and honest by limiting your company bio to no more than two paragraphs and avoiding overstating your company’s performance or market position.
  • Primary Contact - Designate a project lead. Clearly specify who will serve as the main point of contact for the project. 
  • Key Objectives - What 5 things do you want to achieve with a website redesign? For example, specify whether you want increased engagement, higher conversion rate, visitor education, industry authority, event participation, increased sales, drive signups, etc.
  • Website Requirements - What key features or functionality are looking for with your website? This list should include items that are both standard and unique to your project.
  • Hosting/Environment Requirements - What is the infrastructure stack for the project? The cloud platform, tools, repositories, and plugins all need to be identified. 
  • Security Requirements - Most security takes place at the host level, so ensuring the vendor utilizes an established host in good standing is vital. 
  • Third Party Integrations - Ensuring that third parties are accounted for and integrated correctly is important. Embedded resources or third party sites can generally be styled but with limited template options.
  • Cost Estimate - Costs can vary dramatically. If you receive estimates far lower than the average, it’s important to gain clarity on whether they are outsourcing or using an in-house team.
  • Timeline - Specify an anticipated deadline and the fundraising goals, shareholder meetings or other milestones that are vital to launching the project. It’s important to be flexible and within reason. External variables and technical hurdles always cause some delay.  

What to Know About Cost Estimates

If you receive estimates far higher than the average, it likely means the vendor is anticipating building custom features from the ground up. Rather than dismissing the quote, communicate your cost expectations and allow the vendor to either bow out of the process or provide a revised proposal. A higher estimate often means there is an in-house custom design and development team executing projects and that they may have misunderstood your development expectations.

If you have a specific budget identified and are comfortable sharing it, include this information. The following are general guidelines for how much you can expect to pay for a website and what level of service, features and customization you can expect within them.

  • Under $20k - Projects within this range are typically smaller in scope. They may involve customization of templates or use of out-of-the-box solutions with minimal bespoke development. Vendors in this range might indeed rely more on outsourcing or template customization to keep costs down.

  • $20k to $50k - This budget range often covers projects that incorporate custom front-end design with some level of back-end customization, possibly using a CMS like WordPress with custom themes or plugins. It can include a mix of in-house and outsourced development efforts. We suggest Craft CMS or Webflow.

  • $50k to $100k - Projects within this bracket are expected to be more custom, offering tailored solutions that can include unique design elements, custom functionality (such as dashboards, user management, and basic e-commerce features), but not fully fledged web-based applications. This range reflects a significant level of customization and professional project management, likely with most or all work done in-house.

  • Above $100k - At this level, you are moving into the territory of custom web-based applications with robust features, complex integrations, and possibly large datasets. These projects require a high degree of specialized development, extensive planning, and project management, justifying the higher cost. It indicates a comprehensive, from-scratch development effort often involving a team of in-house developers, designers, and specialists.

What estimate information to ask for:

  • Discipline/Category - Vendor should supply a breakdown of costs according to discipline.
  • Payment Schedule - When is each payment expected?
  • Change Orders - What is the process if the scope needs to change?
  • Overages - What happens if the process is going over budget?

Consider a Scoring Rubric

We suggest scoring proposals by using objective metrics to ensure fairness and transparency. This approach not only sets clear expectations for vendors but also provides a solid foundation for your review. Additionally, having scored metrics allows you to substantiate your decision. 

Here are some tips for scoring:

  • Focus on criteria that matter most to you. Examples include:some text
    • Relevant Experience - Evaluate the vendor's familiarity and expertise within your sector.
    • Portfolio Quality - Assess the excellence and relevance of the vendor's past projects.
    • Cost - Consider the proposal's affordability and value for money.
    • Location/Proximity - Geographical convenience for potential meetings or collaborations.
    • References - Check the vendor's reputation through client testimonials or case studies.
    • Communication - Evaluate how effectively and promptly the vendor communicates.
  • Implement a scoring rubric that is straightforward to avoid complicating the evaluation process. A simple 1-10 scale for each criterion is usually adequate.

Potential Requirements

When crafting your RFP, including additional requirements can provide better insights into potential vendors. However, it's essential to be judicious to avoid overly complicating the selection process. Here are several considerations to weigh when deciding what extra elements to include in your RFP:

  • Relevant Experience - Ask for executed projects with feature sets and results that align with your goals (they don’t necessarily have to be in your industry).
  • References - Ensure the references you are getting are viable and valuable and ask for only as many as you are willing and able to communicate with.
  • Accessibility - If requested, your vendor should be comfortable providing the level of accessibility they are capable of executing (A, AA or AAA).
  • Communication Cadence - Specify how often you would like to meet and whether you are okay meeting virtually or prefer in-person meetings.
  • SEO - Interactive vendors don’t always provide assistance with SEO content but they should provide a platform or tools necessary to implement a comprehensive SEO strategy and content platform.
  • Length - Your RFP should aim for brevity and clarity, ideally around 5 to 10 pages. Anything longer strains your selection process and deters high-quality vendors from participating

What to Leave Out

If you need to reduce the length of your RFP, what items can you leave out? Here’s a list of requests that are sometimes included in RFPs that frankly, aren’t all that necessary. If you have vetted the company, their projects and their track record, you shouldn't need to ask them to justify their entire process and personnel decisions when executing your project. Either they have done great work in the past, or they haven’t. If you aren’t impressed with the work they have done in the past, chances are you won’t be thrilled with their execution of your project, either. Conversely, if the vast majority of the projects they have done look great, function smoothly and meet accessibility compliance standards, likely, yours will too.

These items are also often business operations and process matters that can put you on the wrong foot with the vendor. It’s okay to get a general feel for how they do business by asking about their process on the phone or in person, but asking them to list out the following details can seem invasive.

  • Assigned Team - A list of team members who will be working on the project along with their CV. This is often included as a way to vet who will be working on the project and what their role and qualifications are. In reality, the team working on your project will be flexing throughout the project, and over time, the vendor may have to adjust the assigned team based on the ebbs and flows of agency life. 
  • Device / Mobile Strategy - It’s reasonable to expect that every vendor will both produce and QA for all screen sizes unless otherwise specified. It’s important to know what devices are going to be utilized most by your target demographic.
  • Detailed Descriptions of Their Process - Extensive explanations of a vendor's workflow or methodology can be unnecessary if their track record shows a history of delivering quality projects on time. Ask for a broad overview of their process that helps you understand when certain milestones and deliverables will happen. 
  • Physical Copies Delivered - This is just overkill. It’s 2024 and digital transmission of a proposal is perfectly reasonable.
  • Formatting Requirements - If vendors are unable to present their proposals in a clear and comprehensible manner, it raises valid concerns about their suitability for creating and managing one of your key communication platforms. ‍

Why It Matters

Your RFP shouldn’t be the stumbling block that prevents you and your company from working with the best vendors. Make your RFP smaller, more accessible and something you wouldn’t mind filling out yourself. You don’t have to strip out vital requirements, but you can trim a lot. If necessary, save some of the more strenuous elements until after you have narrowed your search. Create a good working relationship from the beginning by issuing a simple, easy to complete RFP. At the end of the day, the way that you are perceived in your industry and your community may come down to who you are working with.