A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is a type of procurement document used to request proposals from prospective sellers of products or services—not to be confused with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that is oftentimes used in the pre-qualification stage of the procurement process, whereby only those proponents who successfully respond to the RFQ and meet the qualification criteria will be included in the subsequent RFP solicitation process. Alternatively, an RFP should not be confused with yet another RFQ, Request for Quote, that is intended to seek competitive pricing when you know exactly what product or service is needed. An RFP is used to ask for various approaches to solving a business need and allows the vendor to respond with a unique solution that could set them apart from their competitors. RFPs can be laborious, but if you’re clear about what it is you’re looking for early in the process, you’ll receive quality responses from contractors and agencies and this document can serve as the basis of your contract. Below are essential components to include in an RFP and what should be included when asking for Design or Construction Services.
Planning what to put into an RFP will save a great deal of time in selecting the right vendor(s) for your project. Develop this as if you are writing your personal resume with the intent to get a favorable response. A clear and professional RFP will help recipients understand your requirements and whether they can meet them. Focus on three major areas when planning the framework of your RFP – the overall goal or business need, your communication strategy, and how the RFP will be evaluated once you receive responses.
Organization Introduction and Project Background/ Executive Summary
Supply a brief history of your company to include what your company does, your values and culture, and what makes it unique. Recipients may be unfamiliar with your company, so this section gives them the information needed to evaluate your business and will help them make an informed decision about whether they would like to collaborate with you. This is also where you will want to include your project background so they understand what you want and how they can deliver. Consider providing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) related to your project.
Project Requirements and Performance Standards
This section should outline the project deliverables. If you’re looking for responses that provide innovative approaches to your project like design services, it’s important to write the project requirements in a way that is not prescriptive. Focus on the job itself to encourage recipients to be original in their response so they can apply their expertise and insights to help you. Requirements for construction services are more likely to be rigid, so outline the distinct parts of the deliverables. Layout the preferred experience desired from the candidate, what will be monitored, and how errors might be made, managed. Include any documents that will help your vendor develop their proposal.
Include any specific software requirements (design/tracking/reporting) that should be used for storage/analysis/documentation, etc. If you require a specific version to be used, this is the place to notate it.
Define Your Need. Goals / Scope of Work
The most key component of an RFP is clearly defining your need. This part of your document should grab the attention of the recipient so that it makes it worth their time and commitment to engage in the RFP process. This will also help them tailor their proposal to the specific needs of the request and will help you decide which proposals won’t meet the requirements to execute your project. This will take some time, but it will also save time when reviewing proposals to analyze against the project criteria and will help you outline the project deliverables. The more detailed and tighter your description, the better. Taking out any ambiguity will ensure you get better responses.
Think about what service you need—consulting, design, development, quality, technical?
Outline the framework you expect your recipients to follow when responding to your RFP. When recipients follow the same format, responses are easier to evaluate and give each vendor the same advantage. Provide them with a template of how you would prefer them to respond.
Explain how you will select the winning candidate from your respondents. You should note what your company’s priorities are, including essential criteria and preferred credentials. This section will help recipients formulate a response that shows how they would be a good match for your business' requirements. What elements are most important to you? Is it pricing? Schedule? Your list could include samples of past work, a proven success record with companies in similar industries, the ability, and technical skills to meet your demands, and a cost of services within your price range.
Project Timeline and Schedule
Summarizing key deadlines will help recipients organize their schedules to decide whether they have the time and resources to collaborate with you. This should include things like:
When is the project expected to begin?
Is the commencement or completion associated with an event?
What are any dependencies on the commencement or completion dates?
How long is the project expected to take?
Is there a schedule for required meetings, site visits, etc.?
Supply a due date for proposals to be returned, and an ensuing timeline including evaluation of proposals, shortlisted presentations (if needed), and selection of the winning bidder.
Supplying a budget is essential for receiving accurate responses from recipients and setting exact expectations for the project. Including a budget in your RFP allows recipients to understand exactly what services they’re able to offer to meet your business goals.
Who are the project decision-makers and key leaders? Specifically, who will be leading the project daily? What level of involvement do other stakeholders have in the project?
Depending on your project needs, not all categories will apply. Be sure to proofread and revise your RFP and use subheadings and numbered bullet points to make your document scannable and easy to review. Recipients will be more likely to respond when they can easily understand what the job requires. Being as transparent as possible serves to benefit and even protect both parties in the long run.