PROS and CONS of Submitting RFP’s for Contracting Design Work

PROS and CONS of Submitting RFP’s for Contracting Design Work

As an independent web and graphic design consultant, I am frequently provided with RFP’s (Requests for Proposals) to provide design and visual branding services. These often are accompanied by requests for printing or web design, development and programming. For the most part, I decline to provide a proposal back to the one who sent the RFP, as seen in some of the cons listed below. However, I do feel the RFP process is important in organizing a web or print project budget, initial project scope, and any deliverables up front in order to get a ballpark estimate.

PROS:

1) Compiling an RFP helps you to establish an initial project scope. Before you get a quote for a web site, an RFP can help you plan ahead and know what you will be asking for. An RFP can list certain determining factors and deliverables for a project such as  allocated budget, expected outcomes and results required by the issuing party.

2) You can narrow down replies if you have defined certain variables which can weed out under-qualified bidders. When getting responses, you can quickly narrow down qualified leads by how bidders propose their services and likewise the quality of their proposals.

3) Equal playing field. The Request for Proposal process can provide a basis among seeming equals. By sending it out to the masses and judging the responses you receive, you can compare and contrast a wide range of skill sets and experience.

4) RFP templates and comfort with the system. Many large companies or government agencies have a set system for RFP’s. Once the template is established, it’s easy to fill in the blanks with variables of your project. And there is a certain comfort level for many bosses and executives who have been using RFP’s for as long as they can remember. Furthermore, and this may actually be a Con, some companies require RFP’s so it may be beyond your control.

CONS:

1) You’re not realizing the entire project scope. It’s a good thing to get the opinion of a design professional before you determine the final project scope. An experienced web designer may be able to advise you on the latest functionality or CMS platforms, for example. And likewise, an experienced print designer may be able to give you several different options with regard to color, paper selection, printing techniques, etc you may not have even considered.

2) You’re not establishing a relationship with a potential partner. If you send out a blind request, chances are you have not talked to anyone outside your organization about your project. Sure, the bidders have a chance to ask questions about the project, but it’s very impersonal. I like to work with clients I can meet or have a phone conversation with before a project begins, and even before the scope is outlined, to gauge specific goals.

3) Proposal responses rarely have strategy or opinions. They are simply cost numbers assigned to line items. Wouldn’t it be better to have some real input from a few experienced consultants who offer unique approaches to your specified challenge?

4) What your company wants might not necessarily be what it really needs. In ASCE’s article “To RFP or Not to RFP,” the author states, “The key to any successful consulting project is to clearly and accurately define the problem to be solved. Through discussions with association personnel, the consultant helps to identify the boundaries and objectives of the project while determining the roles and responsibilities of the various parties, the deliverables, timelines, and costs. The dialogue between client and consultant is crucial to a successful engagement.” So in essence, a consultant is there not just to complete all the parameters of the project, but also to “consult” the client before and along every step of the way.

5) You’re simply not going to get responses from the most qualified vendors. A proposal (meaning, a response to your RFP) takes a lot of time to produce. And with little chance of winning a bid among a sea of applicants, why would most designers and consultants even reply, much less take the time to create a detailed proposal? A well-qualified lead for proposal from my perspective is someone I have talked with and discussed a few project details—not a blind RFP.

What’s my advice on sending an RFP for design projects?

Do the work to create the RFP: gather your budget, come up with a project scope, talk to others. Then instead of sending out a bcc email to 20 or more “qualified” bidders, do some research on advertising agencies and independent consultants. Do some leg work yourself to whittle down a list to 3-5 contacts you feel are right for the job judging from their online portfolio, profile or design process. Ask around for referrals. Then contact those 3-5 service providers for sit-down meetings, or at least a phone call to discuss the project. Once they have a feel for the project, these contacts can tell you how they would approach the project in layman’s terms, not through a bunch of legal jargon and terms designed to keep them protected.

This article is merely the opinion of the author, but I hope it helps your decision on whether or not to send out an RFP for contracting design work.

Helpful links and RFP How-To’s

For those of you who need help constructing a Request for Proposal, or want to use an RFP as a guide for your next project, here are some helpful links…

How to Write a Request for Proposal by Webgoddess.net

How to Write a Web Design Request For Proposal by Sage Media Design

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