So you’ve been told you need to write an RFP for a new website, but you don’t even know where to start — don’t worry! RFPs don’t have to be a super complicated document (in fact, they shouldn’t be), and overcomplicating an RFP makes it confusing for both your organization and the companies who will be bidding for the work. Here’s what you need to know about website RFPs and how to write a good one.
RFP is an acronym for Request for Proposal. You might see acronyms for different types of requests, too, such as RFQ (Request for Quotation) or RFI (Request for Information). These requests are used during the procurement process to purchase goods and services. These can range from services such as web design or construction services to goods such as snow plows or bulk quantities of food.
Businesses and public entities use RFPs to promote fair competition. While public entities (like schools and government agencies) are required to use the procurement process, a private business might also opt to use the procurement process to learn about a wide range of interested vendors.
While all three are requests used during the procurement process, they each ask for different types of information from vendors.
An RFI is, as the name suggests, asking for general information from vendors. This is usually casting a broad net when searching for vendors to get a feel for who they are, what they do, and how they might be able to serve your needs. Typically, an RFI helps organizations narrow down vendors and helps the buyer write a more detailed request. This is useful if you don’t necessarily know what you want yet (perhaps you don’t have enough information to give that would warrant a comprehensive proposal), but you want to get a feel for your vendor options.
With an RFQ, buyers are specifically looking for a quote from the vendors. They have a good idea of what they want, such as a particular good, so they’re mainly focused on the financial aspect of how the vendor can meet their needs.
RFPs typically require the most comprehensive answer out of all the different requests. They combine the information aspect (who the vendor is and what they do) with the quotation (the budget range for the project) and add the strategic aspect (how they will uniquely meet the buyer’s needs). RFPs are mainly used for services and provide a complete proposal that allows buyers to easily compare the vendors.
The purpose of a website RFP is to inform potential bidders about your website needs and what you’re looking for in a vendor. If you want a comprehensive proposal, you must give enough details in your RFP. This doesn’t mean that you have to know anything about the technical side of a website, and don’t feel the need to add industry terms to “sound smart” — it’s much better to explain it in a way that already makes sense to you.
As mentioned above, you don’t need to know anything about how a website works, you just have to know what you want it to do. Before writing a website RFP, you and your fellow stakeholders should have a clear idea of your goals for the new website and what you’re looking for in a potential vendor. Outlined below are important sections that we recommend you discuss beforehand and include in your website RFP.
Make sure to include contact information for whoever is administrating the RFP, including information on how to contact your organization about any questions vendors may have.
RFPs usually come with their own timeline, including dates for when the RFP is sent to vendors, when questions are due, when the responses are due, when vendor interviews (if any) will take place, when the contract will be awarded, and when services are expected to start.
You should briefly describe your organization to give some context before diving into your website needs. This description could include an overview of your products or services, how big your organization is, your mission/vision, and how long you’ve been in business. If you already know who your target audiences are for your website, you can describe those here. If not, no worries — we have content coordinators who can help outline those for you.
The RFP process not only helps organizations find the right vendor but also helps vendors know if they’re a good fit for the organization. You should be sure to include any expectations you have for a website partner. For example, if you expect to meet in-person weekly with the vendor, if you want the vendor to have 5+ years of experience, or if you want the vendor to be located in Iowa, you should be upfront in your RFP.
Whether you already have an existing website or not, you should describe what led you to create this website RFP. Are your customers having trouble finding information? Does your current website look outdated? Are you a new business looking to establish yourself? Explaining the reasoning behind it or any current frustrations can help vendors propose solutions that you might not have thought of yourself.
Likely, your goals for the new website will correlate with why you want a new website, but it’s still important to outline what you’re hoping to achieve. Most everyone has the goal of creating a website with a fresh look — while this is still important to note, try to speak to your website specifically.
While it’s okay to not know the technical details for your website (we don’t expect you to know the industry jargon), try your best to explain the details that will help give vendors enough information to create a project scope and propose a quote for the website. Helpful specifications include:
Some organizations refrain from adding a budget because they fear that putting a number on it will prevent vendors from giving a competitive quote, but giving vendors some sort of an idea of how much you’re looking to invest will be a big factor when it comes to proposing ideas or solutions. No one wants to pitch a $30k website to an organization with a $15k budget, so if they understand your needs and how much you’re able to invest, they can propose ideas and solutions within your budget, resulting in higher quality proposal responses.
You should note in your RFP whether you have a specific date in mind for when you will start the project or if you need it launched in time for a particular event or to meet a deadline. Vendors need this information to know if they have the availability to meet your needs. If you don’t have a specific date in mind and are more flexible with the timeline, that’s important to note, too.
Putting a specific list of requirements for a vendor response will help both parties during the RFP process. As the one administering the RFP, it will help you compare companies and make sure you have all of the information you’re looking to gather from a vendor. From a vendor standpoint, it gives them an easy checklist of what to include. Listed below are some common proposal requirements for a website RFP:
Some organizations are more strict than others when it comes to vendor requirements. When administering an RFP, you might ask that these requirements be answered in a specific order or to only include information about the requirements listed, or you may be open to information overlapping or being answered in different orders and might encourage vendors to submit any other helpful information in addition to the requirements. This is up to you as the one administering the RFP and reviewing the proposals, and this will likely be dependent on the number of proposals you expect to receive.
Let vendors know how they should submit their proposals. Some organizations prefer to receive proposals in the mail with a printed-out version and/or on a USB drive, while some require it to be hand-delivered (though rare), but the most common and best way is to have vendors send in their proposals via email. Especially with potential shipping delays, this is the easiest way to receive proposals on time and allows you to easily disperse the responses to other stakeholders in your organization.
No matter how simple we try to make them, RFPs are a lot of work for an organization. Unless you’re required to go through the RFP process, it’s oftentimes easier to find an experienced web agency that you can partner with for your new website and any future projects.
If you’re searching for a new web design agency, contact us to discuss your needs and goals for a new website. With 20 years of experience, we’d love to be your partner for all of your creative web needs.