Helpful tips to compare apples to apples when choosing the right partner
Writing a website design Request for Proposal (RFP) can seem like a daunting task. However, you can rest easy knowing that you don’t need to be a digital genius to compose an effective RFP.
A well-written request for proposal is important for your organization when it comes to forming an apples to apples comparison in determining the right web development firm to partner with. After all, your website is without question your most valuable marketing and communications tool.
Your website design RFP should include the following elements:
1. Project Overview
Introduce your organization and overarching project goals. Be brief, as this will serve as a snapshot. For example, what are the top strategic outcomes you hope to achieve with a new and improved web presence? What are your current pain points, etc.
2. Background & Mission
Share an encapsulation of who you are and what drives your organizational mission, vision and core values. This will provide helpful context to responders. It should also yield more thoughtfully written proposals from responding firms.
3. Deliverables & Scope of Work
Articulate your needs clearly and in great detail. It is important to delineate specific aspects of the overall project. This section can be broken down into two categories: must haves vs. nice-to-haves.
Here are a few sample questions to consider when composing this critical section:
Will you need photography and video to be included?
Do you have the internal resources to tackle copywriting?
What are the core functionalities that the new site must feature?
Will you need assistance with areas such as web hosting, management, establishing a more viable web governance strategy, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), ADA accessibility, and back-end training?
Are there any third-party applications or custom tools that should be factored in?
4. Tech Requirements
In today’s technology-driven world, it should go without saying that your new site must be mobile-optimized and able to integrate new functionalities as your own needs evolve over time. While you can include details of this nature in this section, it is more important to include tech requirements that are unique to your specific project. For example, have you already determined which CMS (Content Management System) is the best fit to meet your needs, or are you looking for a recommendation? What are the third party tools (CRM, calendaring systems, eCommerce, etc.) that will need to seamlessly integrate with the new site? Are there any other technical considerations that would be valuable in shaping the most accurate response possible?
Timelines are often predicated by budget and enrollment cycles, but sometimes are also arbitrarily defined. It is not uncommon for a large institutional website to take between 6-12 months to build, depending on technical complexities and defined scope. This section is important to allow responding firms the opportunity to assess the viability of delivering the new site on-time.
If you are truly seeking an apples to apples comparison of firms to engage, it is imperative to include a budget. At the very least, including a budget range can help save time — for both you and the responding firm.
If possible, it is also beneficial to include segmented budgets for related elements such as video, photography, and ongoing management. Explicitly stating what you are willing to invest will aid responding firms in identifying priorities. Further discussion around completing the new website in various phases can be led by this information.
7. Criteria for Selection
Each firm that responds to your request for proposal will inevitably possess their own unique set of strengths and points of differentiation. By spelling out your evaluation criteria, it can help avoid the inclusion of elements that you might not care about. Sample criteria for selection can include:
Relevant Work Samples (to assess strategic, creative and technical abilities)
Client References (to assess credibility)
Project Timeline with Major Milestones, Budget & Deliverables (to assess process)
In-person Interview (to assess interpersonal dynamics and overall fit of your top choice candidates)
8. Method for Fielding Questions & Primary Point of Contact
While this requires a bit more effort on the front-end, it will ultimately make your life much easier. This is typically conducted in one of two ways:
A shared document with all compiled questions (due by a specific date) and responses, or;
A live conference call where folks can ask questions in real-time – think ‘real estate open house’ format – it’s less common but can be equally as effective in making sure all questions are answered. This way, you are reviewing the most accurate and properly informed proposals.
It’s always a good idea to deputize one person as the primary point for orchestrating RFP-related questions. While there is almost always a larger team or committee behind selecting the right vendor, this helps to streamline all communication and creates a smoother process for everyone involved.
+ KISS (Keep It Seriously Simple)
Some of the most effective website design RFP’s we’ve received have also been the most straightforward. While it is critical to include certain project elements and details, it does not need to include minutia regarding technical specs and so forth;
+ Process, Process, Process
If you are looking to adhere to a specific workflow, be sure to spell that out in your request for proposal. This can help eliminate guesswork for you, your colleagues, and all who decide to participate in the bidding process;
+ Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
While portfolio and client roster can be important indicators when it comes to finding the right partner, it’s important to not place too much emphasis on this one variable. This can allow room for imagination and pushing boundaries of creative problem-solving;
+ Success Finds the Ready Mind
To this end, it is always in your best interest if you are able to establish consensus internally on important elements of the website including scope, desired features, design elements, and technical specs before the RFP gets sent out.
+ Keep it Loose, but Keep it Tight
While this may sound like a contradiction to #4, it is meant to serve as a reminder that the best outcomes rely on great communication, listening, back and forth, and being open to challenging discussions.
Raffi Der Simonian