Five tips to create an effective RFP

A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a process that many individuals and organizations can go through. Whether you're looking at suppliers for a construction project, or you want to open bids for a city's road infrastructure, chances are a RFP will be created. It usually happens near the beginning of the process, and guides the rest of it, determining what will be in the final contract between you and whoever you pick to accomplish the required job.

The process is generally simple, but it should follow a specific template so the ones who read it know exactly what is required from them, and what they are bidding on. Similar services can vary greatly based on the listed requirements. For example, a sink for a residential unit is usually not the same as those used in factories, so that's the type of detail you may not want to forget.

These are a few tips that can help you make sure your RFP is read by the right people, and you get the best proposals you can.

Use appropriate verbs.
It may seem trivial, but there's a world of difference between needs and wants. Verbs should always precisely describe what you mean. For example, things that the proposal has to cover should use words like "must", "will" and "shall". Instead, when something is optional, use "can", "may" or "at your discretion".

Have an idea of the market before writing your RFP.
What you ask for must be reasonable, and something that current technology allows. If you expect things that aren't possible, either you will get no bid, or only scammers will attempt to extort money from you. For example, if you need a thousand widgets for a specific type of machinery, but these are only produced over sea and require a 6-month advanced notice, then there's no point in making a RFP asking for these widgets to be delivered in 30 days.

Make sure you publish to the right audience.
Depending on the industry, your request may need to be published in specific places. Some companies only look for these kinds of things offline, in trade magazines or publications. In other domains, it's alright to post your RFP online, or in classified listings. You should do a search for similar requests first to find out where you need to publish yours.

Be transparent about the selection process. Often, especially in the public sector, there are strict rules as to how a contract may be awarded. The last thing you want is a company bidding and then claiming you were unjust when you selected someone else. The RFP should clearly say how the winner will be chosen. If it's a large project, it may be wise to do the entire exercise in public, or in front of an impartial arbiter.

Know your budget beforehand.
While you probably don't want to put your expected budget in the RFP, to not influence the ones who will submit their quotes, you should know how much money you're willing to spend, and what the typical cost of such a project is. If you receive proposals that are clearly outside the range you expect, then you know something may be wrong about them.

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