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What is a request for proposal?

What is a request for proposal? A request for proposal or RFP is a business document that many people are likely to come across at some point in their working lives. The purpose of an RFP is simply to show other companies that you have a task that needs to be done and invites a service provider to apply to give a solution.

What generally happens as a result of an RFP being issued is that several companies will produce bids for the contract in competition with each other, based on the details of the RFP. This makes it very important for the initial RFP to be accurate and sufficiently detailed, otherwise, the bids will not properly reflect what is required.

This article will discuss some of the basics about RFPs and give some useful tips about how to write them in a way that will get you the results you’re looking for.

When might you need to send a request for proposal?

Any business that needs to outsource work in some way will probably have a use for an RFP. All types of organizations from small businesses to government agencies and multinationals will feasibly need to write one at some point as it’s very rare for an organization to be equipped to deal with every challenge they encounter completely alone.

An example of a situation where an RFP could be used would be for the design of a new company website. If a business is not large enough to have its own in-house design team, or they want to outsource for whatever reason, then the marketing team may produce an RFP describing the type of site and features that they want.

They would then send this to various agencies and web development companies to solicit as many good proposals as possible. The team could then go through the proposals, see which fits their vision and budget the best, and attempt to negotiate and hire.

RFPs are very useful in that they save time and put the hiring company in a position where they can simply review incoming proposals without individually negotiating with a large number of potential contractors.

How to write a request for proposal?

While RFPs can be a powerful tool for a business, it’s vital that they’re written properly and contain sufficient detail if you want to get some good quality proposals back. If an RFP is lacking in specifics, then the companies that are bidding are unlikely to grasp the project well enough to formulate a particularly useful plan.

On the other hand, an RFP that contains too much information and is not properly structured is probably also going to be ineffective. Companies either won’t take the time to or just won’t be able to understand the real thrust of the RFP.

Every RFP is different, but in general, addressing the following points will ensure that yours contains the information it needs to:

Introduction and summary

Give a little background information about your company, contact details like phone number and address, what you do, and why you’re good to work with.

It’s also advisable to give a quick summary of the entire project right here at the beginning of the RFP before you start the next steps, even if it’s only a few lines. This allows companies to see whether they are interested in or even able to take on the project and prevents anybody’s time being wasted.

Scope of the project

Here, you should include all the necessary details about the project and its goals. For example, if it’s for website design, you should explain what the website needs to do, the amount of traffic you expect, and so on.


Give estimated time frames for delivery of the different elements of the project. This helps bidding companies to see whether they are realistically able to meet your schedule and allows them to plan ahead.

Structure of proposals

Give a brief explanation of how you’d like any submitted proposals to be structured. Having a set structure really helps to simplify your review during the proposal process, will save you a lot of time and helps the bidders understand what’s needed.

How to submit proposals

The bidding companies obviously need to be able to submit their proposals, so here you should provide details of how they should do this, along with deadlines.

How to select a ‘winner’

You can include some points here about the evaluation criteria i.e. what main features you’ll look for in the winning proposal. This helps to prevent anyone from getting the wrong idea and focussing too much on irrelevant things.

Potential issues

Try to think of the possible issues that could be encountered with the project. For example, any laws and regulations that may need to be accounted for.

Your budget

Bidders need to know your price range for the project to tailor their approach accordingly. Try to make it realistic, as underbudgeting is likely to result in poor-quality proposals.

Tips for writing RFPs

Below are some universal tips that can help improve the effectiveness of any RFP:

  • Structure the RFP in a clear, logical way.
  • Target your approach by looking at the market to find companies that you need.
  • Include enough detail for bidders to produce a good proposal.
  • Use templates to help you design the structure.

Also, be realistic with your timeframes. Be organized and send your RFP well in advance of the project deadline to give sufficient time for the bidding process and for a good-quality project to be delivered.

Understand your RFPs before sending

For big projects, there can be a lot of money riding on getting good proposals, but without a thorough understanding of the RFP process, it can be hard to write one effectively. Use insights above to write RFPs in a way that will get you the results you’re looking for.