Whether you’re working for a small agency or a major marketing firm, you’re probably eventually going to need to fill out a Request for Proposal, or RFP.
Your company can’t do everything internally, and when your business needs to purchase a product or service from elsewhere, you might need to shop around. An RFP allows you to collect offers from various vendors and select the vendor that best meets your criteria, both in regards to skill and budget.
Any time you outsource work to a supplier, there's a potential for issues such as miscommunication around the scope of the work and the compensation. What a good RFP does is eliminate gray areas so that both parties understand what needs to be delivered, when, and for how much.
Here, we’ve provided an RFP template you can follow for initial structure, as well as a sample RFP for further inspiration. But it isn’t one-size-fits-all — you’ll need to tailor your RFP to best articulate your company’s needs.
Not that you’ve seen the template, how do you actually write an RFP? We’ve got you covered.
How to Write an RFP
- Define your project, scope, and budget.
- Provide background and introductory information.
- Describe the services you’re looking for.
- Detail your selection criteria and timelines.
- Proofread your RFP and go live.
1. Define your project, scope, and budget.
Before issuing your RFP, take the time to define the project you’re looking to complete, its scope, and how much you can afford to spend. This information provides the framework for your RFP and helps ensure that it strikes a balance between too general and overly detailed.
2. Provide background and introductory information.
With budget and scope in hand, you can start crafting your RFP. While it’s tempting to dive right into the details, it’s a good idea to provide some background and introductory data about your company. This helps set the stage for potential partners by giving them a sense of your current market, business goals, and current challenges.
3. Describe the services you’re looking for.
Now it’s time to get specific about the services you’re looking for to help achieve your goals. For example, if you’re building a website, you might look for a company with both front-end and back-end development experience. If you’re creating a mobile app, highlight the need for specific skills in that area, such as expertise in responsive design and building applications for multiple mobile platforms.
4. Detail your selection criteria and timelines.
Next up are the selection criteria and the timelines for your project. Here, you can highlight what skills, services, and market expertise are required for consideration. This is the time to get specific: Clear descriptions of selection criteria will help reduce the risk of sorting through multiple RFPs that don’t meet your needs.
It’s also important to be up-front about your timelines. Give potential partners an end date for RFP submission, a date for final selection, and a clear start-to-finish project timeline so companies making a proposal can fine-tune their bid.
5. Proofread your RFP and go live.
Last but never least? Proofread your RFP — then proofread it again. Why? Because even small mistakes could derail project timelines. Consider a zero missing in your budget details, or a miscommunication about the dates that proposals are due and selections are made; both could force a restart of the entire RFP process and waste precious time.
Free RFP Templates
Fill out this form to access the templates.
Once you’re satisfied that everything on your RFP is accurate and complete, it’s time to go live. Send out emails and post links on your site to start the process of finding your best-fit provider. To streamline this process, consider proposal software to publish and manage responses to your RFP.
Now that you understand the basics of writing an RFP, you can build your own template and then fill it out so that you can start accepting bids. We'll use a fictitious company, Caroline's Websites, Inc., to illustrate exactly how each section should be executed.
Company Name: Caroline’s Websites, Inc.
Address: 302 Inbound Ave.
City, State, Zip Code: Boston, MA 29814
Procurement Contact Person: Caroline Forsey
Telephone Number of PCP: 227-124-2481
Email Address of PCP: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax Number: N/A
Next, we'll go into each of the elements of the RFP with information using the same fictitious company.
1. Write your background and introduction.
In your introductory paragraph, you’ll want to include useful background information about your company — who founded it, what product or service your company offers, what sets you apart from competitors, and where you’re located. If any vendor is serious about working with you, they’ll want this information before moving forward.
Caroline’s Websites, Inc. is a web design firm created by Caroline Forsey in 2010. Caroline’s Websites, Inc. prides itself on a team-oriented, solutions-based approach to web design. We provide our clients with web design services including coding, development, and branding. Our staff is located in two offices in Massachusetts.
2. Define your project goals and scope of services.
Next, you’ll want to outline the project you need completed, and the goals you expect to accomplish from the project. It’s important you get as specific as possible — even outlining individual tasks and criteria involved. You’ll want to include phrases such as “The award will be given to X firm,” with the “X” establishing how you’ll determine the best candidate.
Caroline’s Websites, Inc. is seeking the services of a full-service communications and marketing firm to develop and execute a comprehensive integrated marketing plan that increases our SEO presence; attracts more social media followers; and effectively completes a lead generation campaign. The award will be made to a responsive and responsible firm based on the best value and professional capability.
The selected firm will be responsible for the development and implementation of a comprehensive and cost-effective marketing plan.
Tasks include but may not be limited to the following criteria:
- Lead generation campaign
- Paid media strategy
- Production of creative material including collateral and direct mail
- Online marketing campaign
- Website enhancement
- Search engine optimization
- General account management
- Other communications and/or marketing-related assistance as required
3. Detail your anticipated selection schedule.
It’s crucial you include a detailed schedule so vendors know if they can meet your deadlines. You’ll also need to give vendors a window for when they can ask questions regarding your project.
The Request for Proposal timeline is as follows:
Request for RFP: June 1, 20XX
Deadline for Bidders to Submit Questions: July 5, 20XX
[Company Name] Responds to Bidder Questions: July 20, 20XX
Selection of Top Bidders / Notification to Unsuccessful Bidders: July 31, 20XX
Start of Negotiation: August 5, 20XX
Contract Award / Notification to Unsuccessful Bidders: August 31, 20XX
4. Describe the time and place for the submission of proposals.
Similar to paragraph #3, this is important information you’ll want to clearly present, so vendors know how and where to submit themselves for consideration.
The RFP will be posted on our website, Carolinewebsites.com, and can be downloaded from there directly as of 10 a.m. on June 1, 20XX.
Respondents to this RFP must submit one original and five copies of their proposal. Responses must be received no later than July 25, 20XX. Responses should be clearly marked “RFP-MarketingServices” and mailed or delivered to the contact person listed above.
5. Clearly define your timeline.
By including a time frame in your RFP, you’re able to eliminate any vendor who can’t work within your time constraints. If you’re flexible on your time, you can write something like, “Our company hopes to finish the project within six months, but we’re open to negotiation for the right candidate.”
Caroline’s Websites, Inc. needs the project completed within 8 months.
6. Specify the key elements of a proposal.
If you don’t outline clearly and specifically what you expect bidders to include in their proposal, you can’t necessarily fault them if they don’t include it. It’s critical you outline a checklist so vendors know which elements you’re expecting to receive. It’s also a good test for who’s capable of handling your demands — if a vendor can’t complete all elements of your proposal, you probably can’t trust them to finish your project, either.
A submission must, at a minimum, include the following elements:
- Description of the firm that includes a general overview, names and credentials of creative team, number of full-time employees.
- A one-page narrative outlining the firm’s strengths and distinguishing skills or capabilities as they might relate to Caroline’s Websites, Inc.
- A representative selection of social media ads, direct response material, collateral, and website development created for current and past clients.
7. Make your evaluation criteria clear.
Outlining your expectations will help eliminate vendors who don’t meet them. For this section, you’ll want to do some brainstorming with your team to come up with a mandatory list of items you feel are the best indicators of impressive candidates. Your list could include samples of past work, a proven success record with companies in similar industries, the expertise and technical skills to meet your demands, and a cost of services within your price range.
The successful respondent will have:
- Experience working as a marketing agency for a minimum of 24 months and possess full-service, in-house capabilities for marketing, creative services, production, media planning and placement, direct response, and research.
- The education, experience, knowledge, skills, and qualifications of the firm and the individuals who will be available to provide these services.
- The competitive cost of services.
- The expertise of the firm in working with similar customers.
8. Describe any possible roadblocks.
Here, you’ll want to outline any roadblocks, such as limited resources or a custom website, that might prevent certain vendors from successfully completing the project. This allows you to eliminate unsatisfactory bidders, and it will also help you determine which vendors have the skills and expertise to tackle those challenges.
At this time, Caroline’s Websites, Inc. currently has custom coding on our website, of which bidders should be aware.
9. State your budget for the project.
Any vendor needs to know how much you’re able to pay them for their services before they’ll move forward with their bid.
Caroline’s Websites, Inc.’s budget for the project is $8,750.00.
These elements were written in a way to clarify the scope of the project that Caroline's Websites, Inc. wants completed so that suppliers know whether or not to make a bid. Defining the project allows the bidder to determine if they're a good fit and how much they'd likely charge. Being as transparent as possible serves to benefit (and even protect) both parties in the long run.
RFP vs RFI
A request for information (RFI) is typically precedes an RFP. Whereas RFIs are used to pinpoint potential vendors, RFPs help companies make final decisions.
As the name makes clear, RFIs are about collecting information. They’re used by companies to get a sense of what solutions are on the market and how the companies that offer these solutions could help solve a key problem or complete a key task. RFIs ask companies to submit data about what they do, what they offer, and how they can help achieve specific goals.
RFPs, meanwhile, follow RFIs. Using the information obtained from RFIs, companies build RFPs that detail exactly what they’re looking for, how much they’re planning to spend, and how vendors will be selected. In effect, RFIs help narrow the scope of RFPs to help streamline the selection process.
Worth noting? There’s also another option if you know exactly what product or service you’re looking for: Request for quote (RFQ). Unlike an RFP, which asks potential partners to submit a proposal based on their expertise and experience, an RFQ is about cost: You’re asking a specific vendor what it would cost to deliver “X” service or solution in “Y” timeframe under “Z” conditions.
Realizing Best Results for Your RPF
Your RPF sets the stage for companies to bid on projects that are outside the scope of your internal expertise — but are still critical for your business to succeed.
As a result, it’s worth making sure your RFP is clear, concise, and captures the key details about your needs to help find the best-fit partner for your project. Not sure where to start? Grab a copy of HubSpot’s free RFP template, follow the steps above, and get your projects underway.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.