So, you’ve made up your mind: your business can no longer do without its very own, modern and stunningly looking website. A clever decision! Soon enough, if not already, no business will be considered credible if it cannot be found online. But in your intention to be represented and promoted flawlessly on the web, how can you be sure that you’ve communicated your idea, the very essence of the future website, to your web producer flawlessly?

If telepathy existed, we’d live in a totally different world. But alas, in order to communicate our idea or concept to other people, we need words and phrases, descriptions and definitions. And that is why, to make sure that the web producer has caught your tune, to eliminate every possible misapprehension and wrong-thinking, you have to spend some time and prepare a detailed and pinpoint web development RFP.

RF… What Now?

RFP stands for Request For Proposal. This is a proven and praised instrument in the present-day business communications, when one party (the Principal) needs some kind of work done by another party (the Contractor). In website development, the RFP is the initial communication stage between you as the future website owner, and the web production studio.
Being a web producer with more than 10 years in business, we are used to getting tons of RFPs. Some are decent, and some leave much to be desired. From our experience, a thoroughly prepared RFP drastically simplifies the initial communication between us and the client, and acts as great booster in all further development stages.

That is why we decided to formulate our idea of a universal RFP. We sincerely hope that it helps any client reach perfect synergy with their web developer in their combined effort to launch a digital rocket that would take the client’s business to the stratosphere.

Common Misconceptions

Big companies with dedicated marketing departments love drawing up RFPs. Smaller and medium-sized ones - well, not as much. Why? Because a good RFP requires investing time and effort. A small business owner, or a business development executive at a medium-sized company often have their hands full with tasks at hand, and thus aren’t overly thrilled about designing detailed contractor requests. After all, everything that’s needed from a web studio is timeframe, cost and scope of work. Why making a long list when you can just send out a quick email inquiry?

From the contractor’s point of view, RFPs should not be much of a necessity, either. Each web producer has a template brief that they prompt every potential client to fill out. That brief contains (or, at least, it should contain) all the info the studio needs to return a business proposal. So again, why would the studio need an RFP from the client?

Here are the three most widespread arguments against RFPs:

  1. They are overrated. A simple email inquiry is enough for most projects.
  2. They are not needed. A good web agency have their own brief for the client to fill out.
  3. They become obsolete fast. The project’s Technical Description will dub and substitute for the RFP anyway.

Although the above seems trustworthy and logical, in this article we will strongly advocate for sharp and detailed web development RFPs, and try to disprove these statements in order to show you that only a good RFP is able to result in an equally well-developed website.

Why YOU Need An RFP (When You Can Just Send Out A Quick Email Inquiry)

If you are a medium or small company executive, you often have only one person responsible for marketing, or may even not have any in-house marketing specialist at all. In this case, it is fair that you expect digital marketing insights from the web producer, whom you contract for website development.

However, for a web producer to develop a website with strategy means that they have to deeply understand the client’s business background. A lot of small-to-medium companies think of a modern and attractively looking website as some kind of business panacea, or a universal sales booster. In truth, it never is, unless developed with a clear business strategy in mind.

The web agency is tailoring a suit for your company. They know how to knit and sew, which fabric to use, and how to make stitches straight. But without knowing your stature, taking measurements and making multiple fittings, you’ll never get a suit that sits tight.
That is why we strongly encourage investing time and effort into writing a decent RFP, by which we’ll be able to perceive goals, objectives, and your personal vision of the website project just as well as yourself.

Why WE Need An RFP (When We Have A Brief Template Anyway)

Almost every great web development studio has their own project brief form, which they prompt their clients to fill out. We have our own, too. The brief is the set of minimum criteria that we have to consider before formulating the proposal for the client.

We have many clients who return filled out briefs, and are happy with it. But we still insist that the RFP works better. By the RFP, our client can evaluate our expertise not just based on our price proposal. By the RFP, he can judge the real level of our competence for the job he needs done. No brief is capable of giving that opportunity. Once again: with the brief, the web producer interviews you. With the RFP, you interview the web producer. Below are the major differences between the Brief and the RFP.

  • Prepared by client
  • Aimed at returning a proposal
  • Saves the client’s time in the long run
  • Puts all bidders in equal boundaries
  • Contains client’s vision of the website
  • Enables the client to evaluate the agency’s level of expertise
  • Prepared by agency
  • Aimed at formulating a proposal
  • Saves the agency’s time in the short term
  • Each bidder dictates their own set of boundaries
  • Does not contain a vision of a particular website
  • Enables the agency to estimate whether they possess the level of expertise necessary to complete the project y

The REAL Role Of The RFP In The Project’s Success

And now let us bust the final RFP myth - it’s short-living. The RFP is the earliest, procurement stage set of criteria of a future website. No argue with that. But since it is the earliest one, all later stages documentation is based on it.

Here is the timeline of the preliminary steps to website building:

See where the inbound set of instructions from the client is? Only at Stage 1, which is the RFP. All other stages deal with the studio’s apprehension of the client’s instructions.

Let’s say you’ve sent out a simple two-paragraph RFP, and received two web development proposals: one from Agency X, and one from Agency Y. Agency X was happy to provide a quote, and reassure you that everything would be taken care of. Agency Y replied with a long list of additional questions, and some of these questions required an extensive research from you.

Let’s say you’ve chosen the easy way, and went with the Agency X’s offer, discarding the Y’s list as being too tedious. After a while, Agency X sends you the project description for approval. What do you think such description would look like, given the RFP you’ve provided initially?

Chances are, you’d feel like it’s better to blow the dust off the Y’s long list and start it all over again. And our guess is that you wouldn’t be happy about having so much time wasted with X.

So, this is our final, and the most solid pro-RFP argument. A web development project is a lengthy and evolving process. Failure to aim it properly will most definitely make it miss its target in the end. The thoroughly prepared and detailed RFP is inevitable if you want your future website end up as a smart business investment.

An RFP We’d Kill To Work By

As a web studio with over ten years in business, and having produced over 400 websites, we must confess: we love and adore a good RFP. How do we define “good”, and what makes an RFP good enough? What to include in it, and what to leave out? How to make it as profound as possible, while still keeping it within the boundaries of a “request”, and not “restriction”?

To give all future clients - ours or not - the example of how a web studio likes the RFP served, we designed a template, which we encourage you to download and use for any website procurement inquiries. This is a fillable PDF form, which you can freely edit in any PDF viewer, like Adobe Reader or Foxit. Feel free to share this template, and rest assured that no web producer would ever resist taking your project if you draw up your RFP according to it.
The set of criteria and parameters in our RFP template will work greatly for small or family-owned businesses, start-ups and proprietorships. The questionnaire touches upon the following subjects:

  • Your sphere of business and business model (B2C or B2B);
  • The ultimate measurable goals you wish to achieve with the future website;
  • Presence or absence of previous (current) website;
  • If you do not have a website, then describe your typical offline consumer journey;
  • If you have the old website, collect its measurable data for the last year (visitors, average check, conversion, bounce rate), and describe a typical online consumer journey;
  • Your Business strategy (a plan of your business’ development for at least 1-2 years ahead);
  • Your Marketing strategy (a plan of your company’s short and mid-term activities aimed at achieving the desired business goals);
  • Your Market analysis (current market stand, main competitors’ study, competitive leverage). If you are operating, or aim to operate on multiple markets, include a separate analysis for each one;
  • Your Target Audience:
  • a) people whom you expect to make a search for your business online;
  • b) people whom you expect to make a decision about dealing with your business (if different from “a”);
  • Your personal vision of the website. This is not to dictate style and visual pattern to the agency, but to let them perceive your idea of taste and aesthetic preferences. Thoroughly selected references help a great deal here.

DOWNLOAD the Ultimate RFP Kit by Vintage

A Parting Word Of Wisdom

Times when contractors fought over web development bids are long gone. Today, the demand for accomplished web producers who are actually able to deliver a perfect website far outstrips supply. If you treat the RFP preparation process without the diligence it deserves, you are likely to end up attracting only the rookies for the job. If you haven't specified something, but expect it to be done - it won’t be. If something is clear to you, it is never as obvious to your contractor. And if you’re unsure if your contractor got your point right, they are likely to have gotten it wrong.

That is why our final advice is to revise your website design RFP once again, step by step, and polish it to the extent that the web producer is able to return an equally precise, detailed and well-formulated proposal.