When larger organizations or businesses put a web design project (or other projects) out to bid, they often make an RFP (request for proposals) that they email to prospective candidates or post online somewhere. This includes basically a summary of what they are looking for. Then if someone is interested in bidding, they can write a proposal based on the criteria and submit it for consideration.
As someone who reads a lot of RFPs and occasionally consults people on how to write them, I thought now might be a good time for a blog post about them from a designer’s perspective (writing proposals/bids with them in mind). I use the example of website design but some of these can apply to any RFP.
When you are in an industry where you do subcontract work, you have to line up work months ahead of when you’ll actually do it. Because you have to build in time for the projects you already have going on, the stuff you’ve promised people you will do, and any sporatic stuff that may come up for inactive clients. It’s a balancing act.
Just to give you an idea, I’m bidding on work I’ll do in July. So think of approaching your RFP process before your busy season, for your sanity and your designer’s sake.
Creating an RFP will make sure you are comparing apples to apples.
I once lost a job for a restaurant website. I somehow got to see the winning bid afterward. It did not include putting their menu online, making a mobile friendly version of the site, and other (I thought) necessary items for the website that I had included in my more expensive proposal. Clearly the person making the decision had just went to the bottom of each bid sheet and looked at the final number.
Different web designers think different things are necessary. Different clients think different things are necessary. The only way to put everyone on the same page and fairly compare bids is to write an RFP including your requirements, your timeline, your budget, and anything else you want considered in your website design. Yes, it is worth taking the time to do because you will get what you want in the end. Because you’ll have asked for it.
Focus on what you want in terms of functionality.
As my friend and virtual coworker Matt Baya would say, we have to bake the cake (put the content and functionality into a website) before we ice it (design it).
Now content on websites had been made relatively easy by content management systems like Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal. I can probably show your board, staff, and you how to update content on your website in about an hour once it’s online. (But if you are doing a responsive site, your designer will need all the content going on the website up front.)
The ‘hard’ part of website development though is how the site will function. Do you need a bilingual website? A website that updates from a real estate data feed? A form that populates a spreadsheet? These functional things will take up a majority of your website designer’s time. If you want an interactive map, business directory, ad spaces with the ability for advertisers to log in and change those ads themselves… these are the things to put in your RFP to get a true quote.
Good, fast, or cheap, pick two.
Speaking of this, make sure to communicate priority of each item. If you want a $4000 website with a ton of functionality done in four weeks, it’s not going to happen. I mean I want to marry a millionaire sushi chef who does supermodeling on the side and loves cleaning my house. (Just kidding, Derrick.) But you get my point right?
If you have a tight timeline and a limited budget, you’ll need to give up some functional requirements. If you have a limited budget and want a website ‘like the New York Times’ (I have actually heard this before), you’ll need to work on a longer timeline with someone who’s probably very busy with other projects.
In your RFP, let people know what your main concern is…. and don’t feel bad that it’s your budget. Just say so up front.
Everyone wants a ‘nice clean’ design, instead ask about design process and example work.
I would be shocked (well actually really amused) if anyone told me they wanted an awful, cluttered design for their new website. Everyone wants a clean design that’s modern, like Apple’s website. (Three different clients have told me this exact example.)
But here’s a common thing I’ve seen. People will show me their brochures, business cards, sign, pictures of their store and then they’ll show me a website they like that looks *nothing* like their brand that they want me to make for them. This is where there has to be some meeting of the minds because your website should look like your brand. Maybe just in a more modern way then your 10 year old brochure can.
If it were me, I’d trust the firm you choose to come up with something for using any materials you have to give them, assuming you like other designs they did for people. Ask to see their portfolio and ask about their design process rather than specifying design in the RFP. If you like the firm’s past work and their process, you’ll end up with a design you like, trust me.
Asking for things like spec designs before you award the project is like trying to eek free work out of us, not cool.
If you seem high maintenance, we will stay away.
There are little clues in your proposal that will make spending the four hours I’ll take to write it not worth the effort, mainly if it seems like you will be a giant pain in our butt.
I may write another blog post on this sometime but let’s just say if you are asking me to jump through a lot of hoops to get to a project, it makes me think you don’t want a partner to create an amazing website but instead someone who will kiss your butt. If we are going to have an open honest dialogue together and I am going to work really hard for you, this is not a healthy dynamic to start with. I promise not to be a drama queen if you can promise the same!
So to summarize, writing an RFP is totally worth it if you want a website to look like and work like you want with your main criteria met. It also makes sure that as you are comparing different design firms that you have more of a fair even basis to do so.