The best analogy I can come up with about how most RFPs (request for proposals) feel to me are getting a bunch of people who had bad online dating experiences together and have THEM write a dating profile.

RFPs, which are meant to outline work and fairly compare bids, but end up being a list of grievances or a collection of incorrectly used jargon that certainly don’t get me excited for a job (and I bet I’m not alone).

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with talking to multiple companies about your needs before hiring one and while an RFP seems efficient, here are some reasons it isn’t.

1. It is a race to the bottom.
The first thing anyone does with an RFP is flips to the last page to see ‘how much is this thing going to cost’ and honestly, that takes the 30 hours I spent writing it and throws it away. Much like you wouldn’t make employees ‘audition’ for the job and hire the person who does it $2 an hour less, you get the exact kind of result doing this with skilled professionals. I’m not sure if I’m saying this exactly right but something about not giving a budget and seeing what you can get for cheap feels… a little gross.

2. Professionals talk to each other.
If you don’t think we’re emailing with each other about your RFP, you’re wrong. We are collaborating often, even if you want us to compete. Other web pros are my colleagues.

3. Jargon used incorrectly shows me you aren’t really looking for a collaborator or professional but a worker bee.
When you hire someone to build your house, do you tell them exactly what kind of materials to use, how to get ahold of their construction equipment, and other small parts of the task… or do you just let them do their job? Exactly. It’s moderately insulting and the only people who would want to do this REALLY need the money, and that’s a little gross to exploit.

4. Meetings take A LOT of time and if I’m gonna be there, you’re going to pay me.
Most organizations vastly downplay the amount of time meetings and communications take.

5. Interviews go both ways.
Anyone who is dismissive, combative, or otherwise difficult, that’s gonna be a no for me. Remember that you are evaluating web professionals but they also are evaluating if you are a good fit for them.

6. It is not at all efficient for small agencies to bid on RFPs.
It takes me on average 20-40 hours to respond to a detailed RFP. It doesn’t make sense for me to do this on a regular basis as I need guaranteed money to be coming into my company so I can pay my bills. If you don’t want to work with small agencies, I get it but if you want them to consider your project, RFPs make it hard.

So maybe you read this and realize this makes total sense but you might *have* to have an RFP because you are a government entity or for some other reason. If you’ve gotta do it, here are my tips:

Define objective, not process.
What do you want in a general way, who will it serve, and what does success look like? Keep it a narrative versus very specific minutia about how the work will be carried out. This gives the professional room to move and have good ideas as to HOW to execute your vision.

Tell us what you like about your current solution, not just what you don’t like.
Just like when you date someone and they tell you all their exes are ‘crazy’, when I work with an organization and they bad talk their old web person, it gives me the same vibes. I want to know what you like so I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater… and also so I see you’re a classy enough organization to not trash talk previous providers.

DO tell any integrations that need to happen. (Ex: project management software, CRM software, email marketing software, etc.) This can affect pricing/workload greatly… in addition to showing you have a complete picture of your business/organization. Good record keeping is sexy.

“We’re looking to run a series of virtual events aimed at small business professionals about X, Y, and Z. This is a primary ‘local event’ (targeting business owners within a 50 miles radius of CITY). We would want someone who could help us build event agendas, find presenters (and train them), as well as running the event registration leading up to running the event the day of…”

Have branding guidelines to work with.
This shows me you at least once got a group of people together and figured a project out… but also I can actually use them in my work. So litmus test and helpful end product!

Give a budget and time constraints up front (ranges are fine).

Get your staff on board first.
If the first time the staff member I am in closest contact with is hearing about this project is at my ‘interview’, that’s not good. If you don’t see your staff as knowledgeable collaborators, you won’t see me that way either.

Hire a professional look over your RFP and make suggestions.
This person should be in the industry but maybe someone who wouldn’t bid on the RFP. They can give you tips to make it better before you show it to the world (so you get the best people bidding and get quality proposals back).

In short, I have a bias against RFPs but hopefully watching this video makes you feel more sympathetic to the other side of the process as well as gives you a few tips to make your RFP better (if you’re gonna do it).

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