An RFP, or Request for Proposal, is an official document that notifies potential suppliers of a new project and asks for a detailed response of their proposed fees, team members, and process. This method aims for fairness and clarity in competition for the work.
A clear and concise RFP will make searching for a supplier easier on both sides. If you are looking for a partner to help complete a project, a well-written RFP solicits better responses, allowing you to make a more informed decision on who to select. If you are the one responding, it provides important background information and instructions for your proposal to ensure that you include all necessary components. An incomplete RFP leads to uncertainty and a lot of back-and-forth questions, while one that is unfocused is often difficult to understand.
The following checklist of key considerations when writing an RFP helps to ensure more seamless communication between both parties.
How to Structure Your RFP
A well-structured RFP will be easier to read and understand. This quality is important so that readers do not become overwhelmed and confused – which is highly likely considering the amount of complex information that an RFP usually needs to communicate.
- Does your document have a table of contents to give readers a quick overview?
- Is your information divided into numbered sections to make it easier to read and reference?
- Do you use bolding, italics, bullet points, color, charts, or other techniques that break down information to avoid overwhelming readers?
Focusing Your RFP
Suppliers reading your RFP may not respond if the project seems unclear or tentative, since putting together a proposal takes a lot of time and effort. If it seems like a project may not actually happen or objectives seem uncertain, suppliers may pass on it, and an opportunity for a good partnership may be lost.
- Is your RFP written specifically for one project, or has it been reused from another one and still includes irrelevant information?
- Are you asking suppliers to provide information that is unnecessary to the project?
- Is the project clearly defined with a strong objective?
- Has the project and budget already been approved?
- Is the RFP written as concisely as possible?
- Would a RFI document (Request for Information) be a better fit for the type of response you are looking for currently? If you simply want more information on potential partners, and have not clearly defined the project yet, a RFI is more suitable.
Developing Your Project Objective
This section should be located near the beginning of the RFP document to help readers get an initial overview of the project before getting into the details.
- Are the goals and purpose of the project clearly explained?
- Why is this project needed and what will success look like?
- What metrics will be used to determine a successful outcome?
Background information is necessary to provide context on the project but should be focused, relevant, and concise.
- Does it give a brief description of project history and stakeholders?
- Does it describe who you are and your values?
- Does it frame the problem or challenge?
- Is there a maximum budget allocated for the project?
Scope of Work & Timelines
Scope of work and timelines are important information so that respondents can assess price quotes as well as their capacity for the work. This section will provide detailed descriptions of the project tasks. Details will vary according to the type of project. For example, an RFP for digital work will usually need to include more technical information.
- What will each task and phase of the project consist of?
- What will the deliverables be?
- How much time will be available to complete each phase?
- What will the major milestones be (i.e. internal presentations, presentations to management etc.), and at what dates will they occur?
Instructions on inclusions and how to structure the proposal document help those putting it together and ensure that you get the information that you need to make the best decision. Standardize the format of the document in order to make evaluation and comparisons between suppliers easier.
- What information and sections should be included? For example, information about the team, leadership, company, relevant past experience, fees, proposed work plan, processes, etc.?
- How would you like proposal sections to be structured and organized?
- What font, type size, and spacing should proposals use? How many pages maximum for each section?
- What are the requirements for format (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc.?)
Presentation of Proposed Fees
The information above will help RFP respondents to determine appropriate quotes, however they still may be unsure of how to present their fees.
- How would you like suppliers to break down their fees?
- Should they include columns for different services, such as project management, design, strategy, disbursements, etc.?
- Do you have a budget or rate sheet to fill out that would make it easier to quote services?
- Do you have price ranges in mind for each phase?
Contact Information for Questions
Assigning a contact person for questions about the RFP will help agencies gain a better understanding of the project while keeping the competition fair.
- Who can be contacted if there are questions about the RFP? What is the best method to reach them?
- Will you have a determined period of time for questions and communication to ensure fair treatment to all?
Clear submission instructions are also important to ensure fairness and proper delivery.
- When is the deadline that proposals will be accepted, including time of day (in a specified time zone)? What is the policy for late submissions?
- Where should proposals be delivered and to whom?
- How should proposal packages be put together? How many copies should it include? Do you require digital and printed versions? Should the document be sealed and labelled in a specific way?
- Do you require “intent to respond” communication prior to a formal submission?
Evaluation Criteria & Response Timeline
It is wise to include information regarding how your team plans to evaluate the proposals in order to guide your respondents in their submissions. Be sure to set expectations with regard to response timelines so everyone is informed and less uncertain about the decision making process.
- How will the proposal be evaluated? Is each section scored or rated? What is the weighting of each section’s score?
- Are there specific qualifications that are required?
- What does a successful proposal look like?
- What is the timeline for a supplier to be selected after the proposal deadline? Will those not selected be notified?
Legal Considerations & Contract Conditions
There may be legal and contract information that needs to be included in the RFP.
- Is there important information that that you would like to have in writing (i.e. no coverage of incurred cost, confidentiality, non-compete clauses, rights, liabilities, amendments, subcontracting, etc.)?
These questions can help you write a strong Request for Proposal document that is easy to understand and will serve as a guide for informative and thorough proposals. There is a fine line between providing too much and too little information, so relevancy needs to be carefully considered. With better communication, it is more likely that the right partner will be found and your project will be successful.