What is a request for proposal (RFP)?

A Request For Proposal (RFP) is a document that announces the business project of an organisation, describes its details and solicits bids from different qualified contractors.

Request for proposal

Many private and public organisations choose to launch their new projects using RFP, as it generates a lot of buzzes.

The entity that launches the RFP is the one that is responsible for evaluating every bid and its feasibility upon submission. The parent company also analyses the financial health of the company and the bidder’s ability to undertake the proposed project.

Understanding a Request For Proposal (RFP)

Generally, RFP is utilised for complex projects requiring a large number of sub-contractors. Request for a proposal provide the sub-contractors with everything they need to know about the project and the organisation, including a description of the organisation, the scope of the RFP, the scope of the project being undertaken, evaluation criteria and any organisational issues. Additionally, they also outline the details of the bidding process and the terms of the contract.


The document also contains a detailed description of the tasks the winning bidder needs to perform, along with an estimate of the timeline for the completion of the project.

RFP also advises the bidders on how the parent organisation prefers that they submit their proposal, along with specific guidance on how their documents should be formatted and presented. Therefore, RFP also includes general instructions on what information bidders must provide and the desired format.

RFPs are mostly issued by larger private sector organisations and government agencies that are required to open up competition among private companies so that any bias from the selection process can be removed. These agencies want to remain fair and award the bid to the lowest, most competitive and well-reputed bidder.

There are no criteria for the parent organisation, and any public or private sector organisation can submit an RFP to get multiple bids for their project. RFP also allows the parent organisation to collect a variety of perspectives for their project.

For example, suppose a business wishes to change its reporting process from the traditional paper-based system to a more tech-based system. In that case, it can request hardware, software and user training programmes. The proposals can help the parent organisation establish and integrate the new system into the business. The competitive bidding process can give them greater insights into today’s alternatives.

Requirements for an RFP

Government agencies and other entities are required to issue RFP to inculcate open competition for their projects and drive down the cost of solutions. Here, discretion is needed as a proposal most responsive to the specification does not imply that it will be the lowest-priced bid.

If a request for a proposal is carefully crafted, it can ensure that it will invite various responses. Moreover, the specifications in the proposal will also determine the type of bidders that apply to it.

For example, if the specified requirements are too vague, inexperienced bidders with limited industry-specific knowledge can apply and provide inadequate solutions for the problem. Similarly, suppose the requirements are too specific and too detailed. In that case, it makes the bidder’s creativity and innovation restrictive, and there will be limited responses, as most of the bidders may feel overwhelmed.

Requirements for an RFP

The RFP process begins with drafting the proposal by considering the project’s needs. Bidders review the details of the solicitation and submit their suggestions on improving the project. After implementing the best feedback and revising the proposal, the final request is submitted. It is at this point that serious bidders can submit their proposals.

The parent organisation defines the selection process and shortlists a small group of bidders. This small group of bidders then enters the negotiation phase, where the pricing and the technical details are up for discussion.

The parent organisation may ask the remaining bidders to submit a final offer or any rectification before the final contract is awarded. At the end of the process, the contract is presented to the company, which provides the best solution at the most cost-effective price to the parent company.

Benefits of an RFP

It would not be false to describe RFP as an advertisement. Essentially, an RFP’s purpose is to announce a project’s proceedings to the world and open the door to different qualified candidates.

Benefits of an RFP

When government entities announce RFPs, it is a method to ensure that cronyism is removed from the bidding process. Depending upon the project’s extensiveness and the search’s intensity, potential responses can be limited or large. However, RFP always opens the doors to new vendors and innovative answers that may not be so apparent to the parent organisation.

RFP versus RFQ versus RFI

Request For Proposal (RFP), Request For Quote (RFQ), and Request For Information (RFI) are three distinctly different types of documents that business organisations use to reach out to different suppliers or contractors.

• A Request For Proposal (RFP), as mentioned above, announces that a specific project is open and the parent organisation welcomes the response from capable solicits, vendors and contractors.
• A Request For Quote (RFQ) is a document that seeks solicitation from various suppliers, seeking their price for supplying specific products or services.
• A Request For Information (RFI) is a document written to seek further clarification between two participants of the same project. So, when talking about launching a new project, it may be utilised to gather further information from a database of contractors or suppliers that will be utilised for future reference.

Example of an RFP

Let us take the example of the Federal Railroad Administration to demonstrate how an RFP may work. Imagine that this organisation issues a request, asking contractors and suppliers to help improve their upcoming project of financing, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining a high-speed rail system.

When the interested parties come upon this proposal, they will submit their suggestions. Using these suggestions, the organisation will create a final proposal with more specific details. The details become more refined, lesser number of suppliers and contractors will submit their proposals as they may not have the internal resources to complete the project.

The ones that submit their proposals will highlight how they plan to meet the requirements and will show evidence of their past performance. Based on the review of the proposals, the company will hire the best bidder.

Example of an RFP

A proposal to invite the most appropriate bidders should provide an overview of the organisation, define the goals for the services it is pursuing and explain how all proposals will be evaluated against each other. The budget limitations, expected formats, deadline requirements and other restrictions should be mentioned in the proposal.

Here, it is important to mention that the RFP is not a single document but includes several supporting documents. The supporting documents provide further clarification to the bidder about what type of service and trust the parent organisation is looking for.

The supporting documents also help define the scope of services being pursued so that the interested firms can evaluate pricing, logistics and schedules.

How to write an RFP?

Helping to stick to the following structure makes your RFP systematic:
1. Define your project, scope and budget: Before issuing your RFP, dedicate some time to understanding the needs of your project and what you are looking for.

The information in the proposal should act like a framework, helping to create a healthy balance between being too general and too detailed. Define the scope, budget constraints and project details so that your bidders get a clear idea of whether they are a perfect fit for the project.
2. Provide background and introductory information: After detailing the budget and scope, start crafting your RFP. Although it may seem tempting to dive into the details immediately, it is always beneficial to begin by providing some background and introductory information about your company, as it helps to set the stage for your potential bidders.

How to write an RFP

This information allows potential bidders to understand your organisation, current challenges, aspirations, goals and even your working style.
3. Describe the services: After providing a good introduction and the necessary background to your proposal, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and describe the services that you are looking for. This description is what is going to help you achieve your goals. For example, if you aim to build a website, you may look for a company with both back-end and front-end development experience.

Similarly, if you aim to build a mobile app, you need a company specialising in responsive design across multiple mobile platforms. Take some time, focus on the details, and ensure a healthy balance between the specifications.
4. Detail your selection criteria and timelines: After providing a detailed description of the services you are looking for, write your project’s selection criteria and timeline. The more specific you are in this section, the better results you will get. Clearly describe your selection criteria by putting in pointers for the inclusion and exclusion criteria.

A detailed description will help you reduce the risk of sorting through multiple unnecessary and unsuitable proposals. Additionally, being upfront about your predetermined time schedule is always beneficial. Giving your potential bidders a start date and an end date for RFP submission, the date for final selection and a clear projected timeline for project start can help them fine-tune their bids and provide their estimated timeline.
5. Proofread and go live Irrespective of how good a writer you are, there will always be some errors. Hence, last but not least, proofread your proposal and once you are done, proofread it again. You should pay special attention to your budget details and your timeline. Any miscommunication about these areas could spoil the quality of any proposals you get.

Additionally, errors in these areas could force you to restart the proposal writing process, wasting your precious time. Once you are satisfied with everything you have written and are completely assured that your proposal is comprehensive, clear, complete and accurate, it’s time to go live. Post the links to your site and send out the necessary emails to find the most suitable bidder. To streamline this process, consider acquiring proposal software to manage your responses.
Now that you are familiar with the basics of writing an RFP, you can build your own template. Still, to clarify any remaining doubts, let us show you an example using a fictitious company. The company we will illustrate in this example is Marie’s website, which focuses on web-design services.

Utilising the information above, let us begin by:

1. Writing the background and introduction information:
In the introductory paragraph, it is helpful to include useful background information about the company, such as its products or services and its founding leaders. This is because such information is useful for serious vendors who wish to work with your company.


Marie’s website, Inc. is a web-design firm created in 2015 by Marie Foresay. Our approach is honest, solution-based, team-oriented and authentic.

We take pride in providing our clients with web design services that are innovative yet cost-effective. Our services range from coding, branding and development, and we have two offices in Massachusetts.


2. Define your project goals and the scope of services:
In this section, outlining the project that you need to complete along with the predetermined timeline would be helpful for bidders to sort their schedules. Using phrases such as “X firm that establishes such and such criteria will be awarded the contract” will help outline the selection criteria.

We seek services from a social media marketing firm to develop and execute our project that increases our SEO presence. We aim to gain more social media followers and funnel more clients into our organisation. The contract will be awarded to a firm with the most responsive and responsible offer and the best professional capability.

The selected firm will be responsible for creating and implementing a cost-effective marketing plan.

Tasks include, but may not be limited to:
• Paid media strategy.
• Lead generation campaign.
• Online marketing campaign.
• Production of creative material, including direct mail, content and collateral.
• Search engine optimisation.
• Website enhancement.
• Social media platform and account management.

3. Provide details of your anticipated selection schedule:
It is vital to include a detailed schedule so that the vendors know if they are meeting your deadlines. This will also give them a window to enquire or ask for further clarifications if they have doubts regarding your project.

The request for proposal timeline is as follows:
Request for RFP: December 15, 20, XX
Deadline for bidders to submit questions: January 20, 20, XX
(Company name) response to bidder questions: January 25, 20 XX
Selection of top bidders/notification to unsuccessful bidders: January 31, 20, XX
Start of negotiation: February 11, 20 XX
Contract award/notification to unsuccessful bidders: February 28, 20, XX

4. Describe the time and place for the submission of proposals:
Similar to the above paragraph, it is important to present information so that vendors can decide for themselves if they are suitable for consideration.

Request for proposal

The RFP will be posted on our website and can be downloaded here directly as of December 15, 20 XX. Respondents to this proposal must submit one original and three additional copies of the proposals no later than January 20, 20 XX.

5. Specify the key elements of the proposal:
It is essential to clearly outline what you expect the bidders to include in their proposals to prevent them from unnecessarily being rejected.
The submission must include the following elements:
• Description of your firm, including a general overview, names and credentials of the creative team.
• One-page description outlining your strengths and distinguishing skills and a narrative of how they relate to our project.
• An example of your social media ads, collateral, and direct response material from your current or past clients.

5. Make your evaluation criteria clear:
Evaluation criteria help you sort through vendors who do not meet your criteria.

A successful response should have the following:
• Competitive cost of price.
• The education, knowledge, experience and qualification to provide the services.
• In-house, full-service capabilities.

After writing all these criteria, it is also beneficial to write down any possible roadblocks, as it allows you to eliminate unsatisfactory bidders.

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