How to Write Your first Request for Proposal

Developing an RFP takes patience. Responding to an RFP is an expensive and time-consuming piece of work, too. Only a comprehensive RFP will make it easy for potential vendors to draw up their proposals and save your own time in the long run.

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Crafting a Request for Proposal (RFP) takes a lot of time and effort. Gwen Hannah, President of Trillium Employee Services, says, “Writing an RFP can be a daunting task. Because of this, many people don’t devote enough time and energy in preparing an RFP. However, it’s very important to detail your requirements in this document so that vendors will know your needs and you will be able to quickly identify from their responses whether you want to schedule demos and continue discussions with them.”

It’s no secret that responding to an RFP is an expensive and time-consuming piece of work, too.

If you craft your RFP in too general a fashion, you’ll create a formidable challenge for unfortunate vendors who will have to go back and forth asking you to make the questions more specific and then answering these questions. However, analyzing your needs in detail and making sure all your requirements are included in the document isn’t enough, either. Only a really in-depth, comprehensive RFP will make it easy for potential vendors to draw up their proposals and save your own time in the long run. Below are the Top Ten things you should include in your RFP.

1. Information About Your Company

The description of your business should help a vendor see whether their service will fit your needs. Begin your RFP with the information about your business, including but not limited to:

  • the history of the company;
  • a brief description of the company and its position on the market;
  • the goals of the company, particularly those that made you search for a vendor;
  • the problem(s) that the new system/software is supposed to solve.

2. IT Standards

Knowing your current IT strategy and standards, including security requirements and restrictions, is critical to vendors. Remember to warn the potential vendors up front about any anticipated integration problems.
It’s possible that the new system/software will have to integrate into the existing one and interface with other components. This is why knowing your current IT strategy and standards, including security requirements and restrictions, is critical to vendors. Remember to warn the potential vendors up front about any anticipated integration problems.

3. Reasons for Requesting a Proposal

You are supposed to explain why you have decided to request proposals from the potential vendors. This will help them understand what you expect from the future agreement. If you already have or plan any projects related to the one that is the subject of the RFP, you’d better mention them, too.

4. Project Description

This is the crucial point for your RFP. Following are some tips that you might use while describing the project:

  • describe the goal of the project and the product you need;
  • provide a detailed list of the product’s key features and feature enhancements, if any, as well as the functional and non-functional requirements with appropriate examples. If you are at a loss trying to depict a certain element, you might compare it to something you have seen in other systems/programs.
  • And remember: the better vendors understand your requirements, the less additional questions you will have to answer;
  • if the project requires that a GUI be created, you should describe the visual concept in general, and the GUI in particular. Again, any examples and comparisons will be most useful;
  • if the system/software you need is similar to something that already exists, proper links and/or descriptions could help you explain what you will require from your vendor;
  • work out in detail the hardware/software configuration of the system/software to be created, as well as the platform, programming languages, tools, etc.;
  • state whether developers will be allowed to use open source software or their proprietary software that can be customized to your needs;
  • set forth a scheme of project management;
  • indicate the approximate budget of the project and give detailed requirements on how vendors should identify the estimated cost of implementation;
  • specify the conditions of deployment, integration, final testing, and support, as well as warranty, liability, disclaimers, and waivers.

5. Time Limit

Indicating the amount of time allotted for the project and the expected deadline, keep in mind that these factors may influence the concept that a vendor will propose. You may also include an approximate project schedule in your RFP.

6. Proposal Description

Vendors will need your instructions for preparing proposals, including such details as the number of copies, expiration date and time, contact person, etc. Draw up a structure for the proposal, create a special template, and attach it to the RFP.

You have to describe the format for the proposal in your RFP. Should it be just a regular estimation letter sent as an email message, or do you want it to be formatted as a Microsoft Word document? Vendors will need your instructions for labeling and preparing proposal materials, including such details as the number of copies, expiration date and time, contact person, etc. If you have drawn up an elaborated structure for the proposal, create a special template and attach it to the RFP.

7. Requested Information About a Vendor

You need to have adequate information about your potential vendors’ expertise. Request summaries of similar work performed for other businesses and resumes of staff involved. It’s also a good idea to find out which platform(s) and hardware vendors employ in their solutions. In case a vendor is going to use the service of any subcontractors and/or secondary suppliers, request the contact information for them. If you compile a questionnaire that will assist vendors in revealing their expertise and experience, it will also facilitate your own work when it comes to comparing proposals.

8. Perfect Vendor’s Image

Decide what is more important to you: a vendor’s qualifications, the ability to meet the needs of the project, the highest quality of work, the reasonableness of cost and time estimates, or maybe a combination of several factors.

Your RFP should contain the description of a vendor that best fits your requirements. This will let vendors understand your expectations of the company you will select for your project. Working out the image of a perfect vendor, decide what is more important to you: a vendor’s qualifications, the ability to meet the n

eeds of the project, the highest quality of work, the reasonableness of cost and time estimates, or maybe a combination of several factors.

9. Criteria for Proposal Evaluation

Vendors are supposed to know the criteria you are going to apply choosing the company to work with. If the main criterion is the estimated cost of implementation or, say, the risk level, don’t keep it back.

10. Confidentiality

If your RFP contains any confidential information, you might want to prepare a non-disclosure agreement and ask your potential vendors to sign it before you send them your RFP. Otherwise, they may attach it to the proposal.

Conclusion

Writing a good RFP means doing a lot of work that requires both time and skills. If you do it well, you won’t need much time to eliminate the proposals that don’t match your requirements and select the vendor that best fits your needs. Moreover, preparing a contract with that vendor will be nice and easy because both parties will have sufficient information about each other and the subject of the contract.

However, I recommend that you should weigh your expertise and the amount of time you have at your disposal before you begin working on an RFP. I knew a young CEO who didn’t have much experience, but who was wise for his age; after he considered his in-house capacity, he just hired a consultant who did a job that was worth every cent. Next time, the company used that RFP as a template, and it worked fine. I believe the CEO hit the nail right on the head. You may follow his example if preparing an RFP is going to cost you more than paying an outside specialist.

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