Tips for Creating Better Website RFPs

If you must use a Request For Proposal process, follow these steps

The road of RFPs is one you must travel deliberately for it to be a success.

RFPs, or Request for Proposal documents, are one of the worst ways you can shop for a new website. Unfortunately, many organizations do not have a choice in this matter, but are actually required to use this process and to receive multiple bids on a website redesign or any other major project they solicit (this is often the case for both federal and local government agencies as well as many non-profit organizations).

If this is the scenario that your company is working under, don't throw your hands in the air just yet, you can take steps to improve that RFP process and avoid the pitfalls common to it. Here's how:

Be Open Minded

One of the biggest problems with RFPs is that, oftentimes, companies already know whom they want to work with for a project. This means that the RFP process is essentially a charade that they are going through only for procedural reasons. This isn’t fair to the companies you are asking to reply to that RFP and it is why many organizations refuse to respond to RFPs in the first place, thereby thinning the field of potential companies whom you will be able to work with.

If you are going to use an RFP to shop for a website, you must do so with an open mind and be willing to really evaluate the proposals and to choose the one that actually best fits your needs.Make this open mindedness a part of the proposal and clearly state what criteria you will use to evaluate proposals and ultimately select which company you will choose to award that project to.


Work With a Web Professional to Create the RFP

One of the biggest challenges with web design RFPs is that they are often created by people who do not actually posses the skills or knowledge essential to web design. This causes important and necessary items to often be missing from those RFPs and it is why you should work with a web professional to create your document from the start.

Now, working with a company to create an RFP can be seen as a conflict of interest if that company plans to submit a proposal of their own. This is why, ideally, the web professional whom you work with to create the RFP should be one who will not reply to that request for proposal. This is so they can help you create the best document to meet your needs and they can do so from an unbiased perspective, as opposed to helping to develop an RFP that they and they alone are uniquely qualified to win.

Include Your Budget

Most web design RFPs are missing a key element – the budget that the company has allocated for that project. This is done intentionally, either because companies say they do not know what a web design should cost or because they want respondents to“put their best foot forward” and give an honest price – or at least that is the thought process behind leaving this critical information out. In reality, omitting the project’s budget only forces those companies who choose to answer the document to fly blind when doing so.

Web design is about solving problems and meeting goals within a certain set of constraints. One of those constraints is your budget, so if you choose to keep this detail a secret, you greatly minimize anyone's ability to honestly reply to that RFP with solution suggestions that may suit your company.

Think about it this way, you would never shop for a home or a car without having a budget in mind and telling your real estate agent or car dealer what your price range is. Doing so would mean you have to look at properties and vehicles which would not match your actual needs (including that budget). It would be a waste of time and a frustrating experience for everyone involved - yourself included.  Well, buying a website without a stated budget is the same thing. If you keep the budget a secret, you create a frustrating environment for all involved.

Allow for Open Communication

RFPs are notorious for making it difficult to have open conversations about the project. There is usually a set time period in which questions can be asked and then answers to all questions are sent to all respondents.

If any additional questions come up after that pre-set time period - too bad. This is a horrible way to collaborate on a new website.

If you will use an RFP, do your part to keep the lines of communication open at all times (or at least up until the submission deadline). Even if you need to share all answers with all respondents to keep things fair, make sure that anyone who has a question can get the answers they need during all stages of this process.

Make It Easy to Reply

The final piece of advice I will give for how to improve the RFP process is to make it easy for companies to respond to that document. Too often RFPs include requirements that force responding companies to jump through hoops just to submit a response.

For instance, many RFPs require both digital copies of the RFP as well as multiple printed copies, even though I have had multiple companies admit to me that they never use the printed versions. That requirement is included “just in case” and because it is a common part of RFPs and has been for so many years. This requirement places a burden on respondents, but provides no real value to the company for whom the RFP is for. In the end, if your requirements are too heavy handed, they may actually cause some companies to refrain from replying altogether.

When creating your RFP, do everything you can to make it as easy as can be for interested companies to respond to you. This will not only give you a better chance at getting more submissions, but it will also show anyone who chooses to reply that you will not waste their time as you seek to find a provider for what you hope will be a great new website for your company.