1. Organizations often believe that an RFP is the only, or correct way to secure a vendor.
2. Executive level employees see the RFP as an easy way to dump the responsibility of one of their most important assets off onto a lower level employee.
3. Organizations believe that a bidding war will get them the best deal
All of the above statements start with a false belief about web projects and we are about to clear that up and create some action oriented points for starting your web project. If you want to skip the read, the answer to the question "how to create a website RFP" is: Don't.
Generally a website request for proposal begins with an organization such as a non-profit, government entity, or a large board-run business deciding that they need a new website. They then designate a committee or person to develop a list of demands, both feature sets for the site, and the items they believe to be important about the web company they are engaging. After this list is complete, the organization generally does an online search for web companies, and picks 10 or more companies to send the RFP to. In the mind of the organization, this effort is meant to cut back the amount of time they have to spend meeting with website design companies, and push that work off onto the web companies in the form of creating perfectly structured documentation of their qualifications. Before we move ahead, let’s analyze this process, starting with the feature list.
First, consider the individual composing the list. If you have a person in your organization who has significant, recent experience in multiple website design projects, then perhaps your person is qualified to put together a feature list and knows how to create a website RFP. If not, it is best to leave the feature list up to the experts, and you can let them know if something is missing. Let me throw an illustration out there. If your organization is a non-profit, I know that you need a general content based website that has a homepage outlining your benefits to specific markets, donations capabilities, a blog feed, recent or upcoming events calendar, testimonials, volunteer form, and standard contact form. 90% of the time this feature set will get you there, and if you need a couple other specific things, you may be surprised to find that they are encompassed by this list. In addition, 99% of web companies can provide those features. This discussion is meant to outline why it’s silly to have someone that probably does not even know the terms listed above to create a feature set for a website.
The second part of the website RFP process is creating a list of demands from the web company, usually references, bios on members, time in business, and previous work in their field.
First, references are irrelevant because no company is going to give you a reference that they expect to give them a bad shake. Second, the bios on members are almost worthless, because once again, you are using someone who wouldn’t know how to hire someone for the position of a web developer as the evaluator of the qualifications of a web company. Third, time in business has no bearing on the qualifications because often even new companies have members that are very experienced, and often companies that are very old in business are very new to the web development work. Lastly, previous work in your field is the most irrelevant of all, because as stated before, the feature sets needed for your organization are almost exactly the same as the feature sets for a thousand other types of organizations. There are many companies out there that “specialize” in x,y,z type of websites, and do a lousy job of it.
In order to create a feature set and evaluate companies on their fit for your organization you need to start with someone who knows web development. Wheeler Consulting Co can provide this assistance (we've managed hundreds of website builds) and save your organization time, money, and heartache. If you believe you have someone internally that can provide this help, then here is a checklist to help you engage and evaluate a web company:
Google “website developers” or “website design companies” in your market or nationwide, and begin to review their work. Do you like the sites they have designed? Does their site work well and show their skill? Keep in mind that many review sites are pay-to-play, and may not have your best candidates present. You can also identify companies that have great websites and ask them how they liked the company that built it.
After identifying a few website design companies (I would try to keep this to three), reach out to them, giving them very basic information about your organization and simply that you are looking to redevelop your site. The key with this step is setting an appointment to physically speak to someone in person, or via a web conference. This step is your most important because it provides a chance to evaluate if you trust the company –do they have a good vibe? I can’t emphasize how important this part is. Even if a company has done a thousand sites in your industry and you like the look of all of them, if you don’t feel good about how they are dealing with you, it’s not worth it.
Tell the web company about your organization, your operations, and how you engage your audience, and let them develop a feature set for your website. If you like the people in the web company, like their work, and feel like the feature set they will provide fulfills your needs, then you are 90% of the way there.
Evaluate the CMS or content management system they are using to develop. Wordpress is the most common CMS in the industry, although there are many others – some good, some not. Do your research if you aren’t familiar with the CMS. Often times picking an off-brand CMS can hurt your organization down the road.
If you expect to be procuring other web-marketing related services in the near future, you may wish to hear about the company’s recommendations for your growth. Just like web development, it can be very difficult for a company like yours to determine what is good or bad marketing just from listening to a pitch. Also remember though, that the best provider of marketing services for you is not always going to be the best website designer, even though many times you can find both in the same place. If you need a second set of eyes, we can help.
Do a bit of stalking. Look through the web company’s website, find some of their customers and cold call them, instead of allowing the company to hand pick references. Look at the company’s Google or Facebook reviews, but don’t rely totally on them. You are just looking for trends with reviews, like multiple people saying “they are impossible to get ahold of”.
Please note that this point is listed last! It is last, because it is least important (unless there is a massive discrepancy). Evaluate cost. If you have two companies that are in a dead tie with everything else (and don’t just say that they are so you can pick the cheaper one), then feel free to look at cost. Keep in mind though that the cost of a poorly implemented web project from the aspects of time wasted, and opportunity lost, are not worth any upfront savings.
The winner of an RFP bidding scenario generally ends up being the cheapest or close to it. This is a surefire way to get a low-quality product. While running a web development company, for the most part I would either completely ignore an RFP, or I would call the organization and request a meeting prior to spending hours trying to address the often strange requests. If the organization refused such a meeting, I would decline the project, and would check in 6 months or a year down the road to find that there was still no new website, or that the website that was created was poorly done. Companies that are willing to jump through hoops and offer free bonuses to win your project are likely going have shortcomings in other areas. You want to look for a company that is honest, responsive, and produces a quality product before anything else.
Reach out to me using the form below to have a short conversation about your project and how my years of expertise in the website design industry can be of help to your organization. For small charge that could save you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, you can have the peace of mind that you chose the right website design firm.