How To Write Really Helpful Web Development RFPs

Request for proposals rarely fill me with joy. More often than not they’re a source of confusion, business-speak and unfinished thoughts, which we have to sort through and make sense of so we can send a reasonable bid to an organization that wants a website.

But last week I received an RFP from a non-profit that may have performed a Vulcan mind-meld on Talance. It was as if they had seen our new-client questionnaire and had preemptively answered all the questions I have at this early stage of a project. It filled me with delight (because I’m sad that way), and I know that it will make the project run smoothly, no matter who they choose to build the site.

What made it so great? Here are a few stand-outs that you can incorporate in your next RFP to help your project move smoothly from inception to completion:

1.Think it through.

The clearest RFPs benefit from discussion and planning beforehand. Make sure you talk with your team to form clear ideas of what you want your website to be, and then communicate your wishes through the RFP.

2.Write clearly.

Some people think "RFP" and pull out their cryptic businessese thesaurus so they can load it with fancy words nobody really gets. Pretend you’re explaining what you want to an idiot. Trust us, we Web developers get more out of it that way.

3.Plan your objectives.

You cannot hope for a site that reaches your goals unless you know what they are before you begin. If you want to be the go-to guide for volunteering opportunities, write it down and make sure that every decision you make from that point forward feeds back into that goal.

4.Order your objectives.

Some objectives are must-haves, others are nice-to-haves. Rank yours.

5.Go window shopping.

Everyone has seen sites they love, whether they be your competition or a mega-commercial site like Amazon. Start keeping track of sites you like, and make notes on what you like about them.

6.Know your branding.

Unless they’re new, most organizations have gone through some kind of branding exercise in the past, where colors, logos and other standards were developed. If you’re not aware of what these standards are, start asking around. We just had to redesign a website whose colors and logo were completely wrong in an earlier version, because no one checked. Translation: expensive.

7.Name your widgets.

If you want any special functionality, like slideshows, animations, photo galleries – anything – write it down.

8.Technical needs.

If you’re bound to maintain your website in a particular format, you like a CMS like Drupal or you don’t have the staff bandwidth to do updates, cite these constraints. Also note if you need Web hosting.

9.Name your budget.

I know, I know. You don’t want to come right out and say how much you want to spend, but your Web developer really needs at least a ballpark. We receive calls from clients who have $400 to spend, and those who have $40,000 to spend. We can’t help everyone, but it saves everybody a lot of time if I can tell them up front whether we can or not.

10.Make a schedule.

Decide when you’ll accept RFP questions, submissions and make decisions. Also note any ideal launch dates.

11.Contact information.

Sounds elementary, but make sure your prospects know how to reach you if they have questions. We received a bizarre system-generated RFP a couple weeks ago that had no personal contact information and was so hard to read we couldn’t even consider responding.

Laying this groundwork is incredibly useful for Web development companies like ours, but your staff will also thank you if you take the time to plan. Bonus: your funders will love you for eliminating money-wasting mistakes early on.

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