If you’re a small company or even a non profit organization and you’ve needed to get some work done, it can be a daunting task to find the right vendor or company to do the work for you. One means of doing this is to use a Request for Proposal (RFP). Some people might think that the RFP process is only appropriate for larger organizations such as the US government but I think it also has the potential to be a viable option for hiring someone to do the work for a small business or a non profit. One of the advantages of an RFP is that it puts companies to work responding to you rather then you spending all you’re time trying to convince companies to consider your request. Another advantage is that when you send out your RFP to more than one company it establishes an environment of competition which is a good way to ensure you’re getting the best from those whom you are seeking a proposal from. A further advantage is that you are starting everything off with a clear definition of the work that you want to be done, this can go a long way to ensuring the success.
So, it’s a good idea but what goes into an RFP? What is the process for an RFP? What if you’re a non profit, are there any special considerations? These are things that we’ll teach you about in this post so keep reading. The first thing to consider is what you should put in your RFP before sending it to your list of companies and vendors for their responses. The following is a short list of the most important items and a short description of each:
Project Description – Here you want to give an overview of the work that you are looking to have done. Think of this as like a research paper abstract or executive summary.
Organization Description – It’s important for your candidate responders to know what is important to you as a company. This will help them to tailor their response in a way that is best for your company and communicates the values that you hold to.
Project Goals – Every project should have a reason it’s being done. These are the goals. If you can’t articulate what you want to accomplish with the work you’re not ready to ask someone to do the work for you. This is usually tied to a problem that you are having that you’re trying to solve.
Project Scope – The scope defines the boundary for what work should be done vs. work that shouldn’t be included in the project. This is important for you to specify up front because it will shorten the negotiations between you and your responders. If you do not include this, they most certainly will and it may not be what you were expecting or what is best for you.
Project Requirements – This is really an extension of Project Scope except that it’s a further specification. There are two categories of requirements that should be considered; Functional and Non-Functional. Functional Requirements define what the solution should do and Non-Functional requirements constrain exactly how the solution should do it. This should be documented as a list that the responder will then reply to with an explanation of how they’ll satisfy that requirement if you select them.
Project Constraints – These can be your Non-Functional requirements but there might be things that are not requirements but are still a limitation of the flexibility that the responder would have if they were to do the work. If they have a list of these constraints they will be better able to give you an accurate picture of what they can offer. An example would be that the work has to be done at their office or by someone that has security clearance, etc…
Project Timeline – Here is where you specify when you want the work to be completed by and if there are any interim milestones that are time sensitive that the responder would be constrained by. Yes this is another kind of constraint but is significant enough that it deserves it’s own explanation.
Project Budget – Here is yet another important constraint. Here you tell your responders how much money you can spend on the work that you are looking to have done. This is important because it gives your responders the ability to tell you what they can do for the money that you have available for the work. If you don’t say that you can only afford $5,000 to build a website and they come back and say that they can do it for $10,000 then it’s done before it starts. Whereas, if they know you wont spent past $5,000 they may be able to explain what they can do for that price. It’s much more efficient and beneficial to both parties. I personally wouldn’t submit a Proposal into a response to an RFP unless the budgeted amount has been specified in the RFP.
RFP Process – This is pretty simple and standard but it’s helpful for clear communication with your responders. A summary of the process is that you write your RFP, you come up with a list of companies that you’d like to request proposals from to do the work and send the proposal to them. Some of them will respond with a proposal in which they will attempt to convince you they are the best company to choose to do the work through a proposed solution based on the RFP that you’ve issued. Then you will review the responses an submit a list of questions back to them. It is important to limit going back and forth here so it might make sense to say there is one or two rounds of questions and then you will make a selection based on pre-defined criteria that you’ve communicated to the client. Finally a contract is signed and the work is done.
Selection Criteria – This is essentially a weighted ranking system for each element of the RFP so that responders know what matters most to you. This should be documented clearly in the RFP so that there is an “even playing field” between the responders, it will help minimize conflict and other issues may encounter after the selection is made.
Contact Information – Here you specify who is the point of contact within you’re organization for the project and ask the responders whether or not they have a project manager that will be the primary point of contact for the company responding.
Responder Questions – Here you get to ask the companies that you have send the RFP to questions that are important to your project. This is the place to ask them for examples of similar work that they’ve done. You could ask industry specific questions. Ask questions about level of support. Details about the responding company, i.e. age, etc… Here is where you ask questions specific to non-profit work, i.e. would they be willing to accept alternate forms of compensation or willing to consider a discount.
This may seem like a lot of work or even overkill for a small business or non profit. In my experience it’s never overkill to be clear about what you want from a company and have good communication with them about what they can offer and what is acceptable to you. This is what the RFP process brings to the table and the higher quality your RFP the better the responses will be that come back to you and the more likely you’ll get a response that will be great for your organization.. It can be as complicated or simple as you make it. So make it simple and leverage it for your organization.