It happens to every organization: there comes a time when an old website becomes so out of date and disorganized that it actually starts to hurt your image. Navigation may be so counterintuitive that it prevents users from finding information. Content may become a confusing labyrinth of information, much of which is no longer true. Your team is all in agreement: it’s time for a new site!

But what kind of site will it be, and who should build it? You’ve decide to get organized and send out an RFP (request for proposal). After all, like many organizations, you are used to sending out RFPs for other things you need. Creating an RFP for a website is different, however, and the challenge lies in the fact that because every organization is different, therefore every website is unique. Simply sending out the same RFP you use for everything else won’t work.

Since 1999 I have read over a thousand RFPs. Very few have been what I would call an effective communication tool. Some have been monsters, dozens of pages long, that still left me wondering what the organization actually needed from their site. What follows is a guide to writing an effective RFP for highly custom work like web site creation.

Why Are You Hiring a Professional Web Design and Development Company?

You need to think about why you’re going with professional team, and outline your expectations clearly in the RFP. RFPs will be very different if you have your own designer and marketing team and just need reliable development, versus if you need a full package including recommendations on functionality, a top-level design, etc..

I’ll assume that if you’re reading this article, you want to hire a professional web design and development team, and your site needs to be a better quality site with more than just 2 or 3 pages of content on it. Hiring a team with professional experience and full spectrum of skills will cost you more than getting help from a web developer. A professional team will give you better value, not only because they handle design, project management and testing, but because of their experience with larger organizations and their marketing-friendly approach.

Let’s Talk

My biggest recommendation for a successful website provider selection process is an actual conversation – either phone or face to face – after the RFP has been issued. Many RFP processes include a chance to email in questions and get written answers, but interacting on a more spontaneous level gives us a fuller picture of what you want to accomplish. It allows us to clarify assumptions quickly, and propose high-level ideas. If you want to be fair to all the bidders, have a conference call that everyone can attend.

What to Include in Your RFP

Any professional web design and development studio will need to know a few simple things before they can propose an effective solution. Including the following in your RFP is essential:

1. Who You Are and What You Do

It’s not always easy to learn about your organization from an existing website if it’s not well organized. That’s why you need a new website, right? A quick introduction will help me learn what’s important to you.

2. The Problems You Need To Solve

Knowing how you want your new website to help your organization will really help me recommend solutions. Are you trying to increase membership in an association, or win new clients? Are you trying to make your hiring process more automated to save staff time? You never know, your new website may be able to make the pain go away.

3. What You Need the Site To Do

Sometimes you know what works in terms of functionality for your website. Do you need the ability to sell things online, have protected pages that can only be seen if the user logs in, the ability to do polls, or do you simply need a great looking updatable site with flexible pages? It’s totally fine if you’re not 100% sure what you need, but for anything you know you have to have, it should be in your RFP.

4. Seriously, the Budget

You’re not going to get a better price from me if you keep your budget a secret, you’re just going to make it harder to recommend the right solution. If your budget is lower than what you want for your website, there are sometimes clever solutions that can be worked out. If your available budget is too low, then we’re just not a good fit for each other. Why waste time reading a proposal I’ve delivered, only to learn at the last minute that we’re going to be too expensive, or that we’ve tried to penny-pinch too much and you’re not getting the full functionality you require? Save time and effort for both of us and just tell me what you want to spend, and I will make every nickel count.

At the very least, provide a range or a maximum amount you can afford to spend. But what’s a reasonable amount? How do you know if what you want is a $15,000 website or a $25,000 website? As with any serious purchase, you need to do some research. Talk to other organizations with sites you like, and find out what they have spent.

5. Creative Needs

Do you need us to just move the current content to a new site? Will you be writing all new content? Using a mixture of the old and the new? Do you want to hire someone to write the content so you can get back to your work? What about translation? What about images and video? These things will have a big impact on the project, especially if you decide you’re going to write the content. Writing, photography, branding/corporate identity, and video will need to be factored in as extra costs.

6. Timelines and Deadlines

If I am going to give you what you need on time, I need to know what your deadlines are for the quoting process: when you need me to send you any questions, when you need the proposal by, etc. It’s surprising how many RFPs don’t contain this information!

I’ll also need to know what your expectations are for the site itself. Do you have a big conference or product release the site must be ready for? We really need to know this in advance so we can plan for a smooth delivery. Good quality website development takes time and testing. Giving us 3 days notice about your big press conference with hundreds of reporters and bloggers in attendance is risky! We may be able to pull off the miracle, but maybe not.

7. Who Is Your Ideal Web Partner?

Transparency about your selection criteria helps us decide if we’re a good fit. Let us know about your ranking system for the size of organization, experience, location, services, and any other factors you are weighing in. Be clear also be clear on how the successful candidate will be chosen.

Other Tips

  1. Try out the CMS (content management system) for all finalist candidates. It’s important that your team is able to easily update the new site. Any professional company would be happy to give you a free demo.

  2. Don’t worry about budget breakdowns and process details. All professional companies have a process and a budget breakdown, and can share this information if you really need it. In the end, however, you don’t need it: it’s the bottom line that counts. Will you really be making your decision based on whether we allocate 20% of the budget to project management versus 35%? If you’ve been burned in the past by sloppy providers, it’s understandable that you may be concerned about this. But the ideal way to find out about our process is through a phone call, not by asking us to add extra pages to the proposal you probably won’t read anyways.

  3. Check references for all finalist candidates. Any professional company can provide great references for their work. The essential thing is to take the time and call the references for your 2 or 3 finalists before you make your ultimate decision.

Always remember, good communication is a two-way street. Starting things out with a clear understanding of what’s essential, what’s a nice to have and what is still unknown will set the stage for success. It can make the difference between getting a site that sort of works and a website that will wow your users and take your organization to the next level.

If you’d like a sample RFP you can use as a template, please contact us online and we’d be happy to provide you with and RFP Word Template.

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A Life Worth Celebrating

Ellie is a budding fashionista, an aspiring equestrian, and an avid dancer and gymnast. She also has a rare metabolic disorder, but she doesn’t let it define her.