When Responding to an RFP – Don’t Do This

I often help companies define their business needs for their website and develop a scope of work or RFP to present to potential vendors. I usually stick around through the procurement process to ensure that it runs smoothly. After years of reading RFP’s and writing proposals it’s really interesting to be on the receiving end. If I could whisper to my younger self (and the other proposal writers out there) I’d share these mistakes to avoid.

10 Proposal Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Don’t ask a dumb questions you could have Googled or known the answer to if you had read the entire RFP.
  2. Don’t title your proposal filename by only the client’s name. Clients can get a lot of proposals, and need to be able to find yours easily. A title like “My Company Proposal to Your Company MM-DD-YY.pdf” is much easier to find. Or even something that shows your personality like “The Most Amazing Proposal form My Company.pdf” would stand out.
  3. Don’t forget the email subject line! Include your company name so your client can find your email again fast if they need to contact you. Also be sure that your email address includes your company name for brand recognition and professionalism.
  4. Don’t be a boring stereotype. If you get a chance for 1:1 communication try to distinguish yourself, even if it’s personal. Do your research on the client and relate to some fact you found about the company or their work. It will help you to be remembered among the many vendors they may be communicating with.
  5. Don’t write a novel in Times New Roman. The best proposals I’ve read are short, elegantly designed, and quick to the point. They use great typography, pull quotes for easy skimming, meaningful infographics, and have the same look and feel as the firm’s website.
  6. Don’t hide fees or out of scope tasks. Be upfront about what you see as the necessary components of a minimum viable product for the client, then line item some upgrades, both those they mention and those you think they might like. Most non-tech companies don’t understand all the work that goes into making a mid-sized ($30-$60k) website. Use non-jargony language to explain the process and reason for each phase, the deliverables they will get, and how each phase builds upon the next to end in a shiny new website. Lastly, showing license and hosting costs over 3-5 years shows that you are thinking long term on their behalf.
  7. Don’t talk too much tech. Many firms don’t know a ton about web design (that’s why they need you) and don’t want to get robbed blind. Your proposal may be seen by the marketing director, the IT team, and the CEO; so write for the largest audience (or your dearest tech-illiterate friend). Use benefit and solution statements, concise explanations, visual examples, and links for further reading if relevant.
  8. Don’t forget to use your voice. Most website projects involve a large dose of branding and design. Show how good you are at consistent branding and voice by knowing your own brand well enough to write your proposal in your brand’s voice.
  9. Don’t be late, don’t ask for an extension. This is the first impression you’ll make on the client, it must be on time. A day early shows that you are prepared and might get your proposal read first and more completely since the client doesn’t yet have a stack to go through.
  10. Don’t retreat in despair. Gracefully ask for feedback if you get cut from the running. Although, you may not get a response (recalling your proposal and composing a tactful critique takes a fair amount of time for the client).

I’m sure there are more great tips out there but this is the running list I’ve been keeping. Please add to the comments if you have any tips you want to share.

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