Tips for how to write a good web design RFP

shutterstock_285028094_shortAt Zipline, we receive a lot of RFP documents. Over the years we have responded to and won many RFPs and we have declined to respond to many others. We have witnessed and been part of great, effective RFP processes and we have also experienced terribly ineffective RFP processes. So I wanted to take a few minutes to share some tips from a potential vendor’s perspective on how to conduct a mutually beneficial website design RFP process.

Following these tips will increase the likelihood that you choose the right vendor for your company.

Convey your goals – don’t prescribe solutions.

The right digital agency will be able to help you reach your goals. You don’t need to provide them with a complete solution. If you are providing the solution, why even hire an agency in the first place. You are hiring an expert for a reason, let them bring their experience and expertise to the project. Convey in clear and honest terms your goals for the project. It is ok to have specific requests but leave room for the agency to showcase their ability to solve problems and be creative. Be open to new ideas and leave room in your RFP process for an agency to demonstrate their skills and abilities.

If you have technical requirements, share them with as much detail as possible.
If your website does need to integrate with a particular system or API, share that with as much detail as possible. While it is important to leave room for your agency to be creative, it is also important to share any specific requirements that are critical to the success of the project. Digital agencies are used to being creative within constraints but it is important to understand those constraints so they can be factored into the solution and the budget.

Don’t rely on RFP responses, talk to each agency in person.

Too often we are approached with RFPs that limit or mandate no communication between the potential vendors and the company in question. The goal here is often to level the playing field but it actually makes it much more difficult for your company to find the right vendor. Most smart agencies will decline to bid on these projects because they know the likelihood of finding a good match between their agency and the client are very slim. At the end of the day, not every digital agency is created equal and not every digital agency is going to be a good fit for your company. A personality and strategy match is critical to the success of a project. We highly suggest that you plan at least one in-person or telephone meeting into your RFP process as a requirement. You wouldn’t hire an employee without an interview, why would you hire an agency without meeting in person? Through this interview process, you will be surprised at what you learn about your website, company, and prospective vendors.

A personality and strategy match is critical to the success of a project. We highly suggest that you plan at least one in-person or telephone meeting into your RFP process as a requirement. You wouldn’t hire an employee without an interview, why would you hire an agency without meeting in person?

Resist the urge to invite too many agencies.

If you are inviting agencies to bid on your RFP, don’t waste your time (or their time) by inviting too many agencies to bid. Responding to an RFP takes a significant amount of time and resources and many agencies are incredibly selective about which they respond to. It also takes a great deal of time on your end to read and interview the respondents. Instead of using a shotgun approach, spend time carefully reviewing and selecting agencies you feel are a good fit. Once you have a short list of 3 or 4 agencies, send them the RFP and a personal note letting them know that they were carefully selected to respond and how many other agencies were invited. This will greatly increase the likelihood of getting a thoughtful response from a credible digital agency.

Website design is rarely apples to apples, don’t try evaluate proposals this way.
Web design and digital marketing are not a commodities. There are a lot of differences between each agency, even if that may not be evident from reviewing the agency websites. Selecting the right partner is about more than simply comparing the amount of hours certain tasks may take. Resist the urge to try to compare agencies in an apples to apples fashion. Remember you are making an investment in an agency partner- not buying a product. Comparing features may work for the tangible item but think critical about which agency is capable of helping you actually reach your business goals and objectives.

Share your true budget.

Be honest with your potential partners about your project budget. There is a significant difference between what $5,000, $50,000, and $500,000 can buy. Your potential agency partners will need to know what you are willing to spend on this project so they can suggest the best solution within your budget. If you have a budget of $100,000 but only want to spend $50,000 then share the $50,000 budget. As someone that responds to RFPs, it is very difficult to come up with a creative solution if I don’t know how much I have to work with. When guessing, agencies will often overshoot or undershoot the hidden budget providing you with solutions you love but can’t afford or solutions that don’t have everything you want, leaving you dissatisfied with the results. Providing a budget allows agencies to maximize their offerings within your particular context, increasing the likelihood the end project fulfills your goals.

Be realistic about timelines

Without knowing what solution your agency will provide, it is very difficult to know how long it takes. It is ok to share goal dates in the RFP especially if they are critical to meeting your business goals but understand that the best agencies are usually quite busy. If a RFP mandates an aggressive launch date, many of the best agencies will drop out of your process without even providing a response. Allow your agency partners to provide a timeline that allows them to fulfill your goals and objectives while also allowing them to manage their internal productions schedule.

Avoid templates

Writing an RFP may seem like a tedious task. It doesn’t have to be. Some of the best RFPs we get are short and sweet documents that outline the project goals, requirements, budget, and what is important to the company doing the hiring. We have seen this done in one or two pages very effectively. Don’t overthink the document or process. You don’t need to download a 20+ page RFP template full of odd requirements that don’t really fit your company or project. Keep it simple in order to spend valuable time getting to know potential partners.
At the end of the day, these tips will help you get a better RFP response from potential vendors. They will also ensure that the provider you pick is qualified and has a clear plan to help you meet your goals and objectives.

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