Seven Steps to Requesting Web Development Proposals

Over the years, we’ve ‘bid’ for Website Design work in a whole variety of different ways. One of the most common is that organisations approach us with their ‘Development Brief’ or ‘Request for Proposal’. These arrive in all manner of different formats, from a bullet pointed email, through to a full-blown multi-page document that breaks down every element of their requirement. Often, these types of request aren’t particularly well thought out, and so we’ve come up with the following guide: – Seven Steps to Requesting Proposals for Web Development.

Step 1 – The format

A website design tender really needs to be organised with several different headings.

  1. Summary or Introduction. This is an outline of what your project is and an overview of what your organisation is about. It needn’t be longer than a paragraph.
  2. Specification. Explain what your key goals are, what outcomes are essential and which ones are desirable. Explain which elements are expected to be provided by the chosen partner. If you have an existing website, explain which parts of it work well and which ones don’t. If you don’t have an existing website, find one in your field and explain which elements you like and which you don’t.
  3. Contact Information. Provide information as to who the decision maker is, as well as the other people involved in the project. In particular, provide information regarding who to contact in the event that the bidder has questions. Make sure that the contact information is as comprehensive as possible and explain when and when not to contact that person and via which methods.
  4. Case Studies. Ask the bidder to provide evidence of work they have completed on similar projects from the past ask for links to the live projects so that you can see them for yourself. This helps with Step Three – see below.
  5. Budget. Whilst you might think it’s a case of ‘how long is a piece of string’, providing some idea of the amount of money you have to spend, will definitely help the bidders to tailor their proposal to your needs. It will also make them think whether they can really deliver the project on budget.
  6. Criteria. Explain how you will make your decision. Perhaps it’s based purely on cost, but in our experience, this isn’t the only driving factor. Explain how much weight will be given to each element of the proposals. Cost, Service Levels, Geographic location might all be considered. Also, explain to the bidders what the timescales are; when does your project need to launch? When will you decide who wins?
  7. Other information. Perhaps you have other documentation that you want to attach to your request for proposals. Maybe you wish to provide more background information about you or the project.

Step 2 – The Budget

We touched on this in step one, but it really is a major part of any request for proposal document. Writing and submitting tender documents is a very time-consuming process. If bidders have no idea of your budget, they might not be willing to put the effort into responding.

Providing your budget puts the decision into the hands of the bidder. Should they put forward a tender or not? In our experience, budgets are hidden very often, but this doesn’t help either party. For example, many of our clients are Charities and Not-for-profit organisations (although we deal a lot with Private Sector organisations too). A bidder might well be willing to put forward a tender submission even though the budget is less than what they would normally complete the project for, simply because it’s a charity.

Providing the budget also creates an element of trust from the outset. In effect, from the bidder’s point of view, by hiding the budget, you are assuming that bidders are going to inflate their prices if you don’t hide it. If you aren’t happy with providing an exact amount, at least provide a ballpark figure or a low and high watermark.

If you haven’t yet identified your budget, perhaps you are not quite ready to request quotations?

Step 3 – Please don’t ask for designs

Occasionally we receive requests that ask us to provide designs at the proposal stage. This might seem like a good idea but you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

At this point in time, the bidder has only your Request for Proposal as a tool to create a design. It’s unlikely that they have visited your premises, met your staff or even know enough about what’s important to your business to create a Web Design.

Website design is very individual and personal to an organisation. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Web design is a two-way street, the design can only be created when the designer knows exactly what your tastes and priorities are. The most effective outcomes are seen when the designer gets feedback from the customer at regular intervals and is able to shape the design to better fit both parties.

If you want a design that is really going to reflect the quality of the final product then it is going to take several days work. Asking for this now, free of charge, will penalise your organisation; A busy web development team that are perfectly capable (and maybe even best placed) to design and build your website, won’t have enough time and manpower to commit to this type of speculative work.

Of course, the look of your site is hugely important so what should you do to help you make the right choice? We recommend that you look closely at the portfolios of potential providers. Do they demonstrate a range of different styles? Are they modern and stylish? Do you like them? You may not like all of them, but remember they will reflect the individual client’s tastes at least as much as the designer’s, but as long as you like some of them you know they are capable of designing something that fits your taste.

Step 4 – What level of support?

Most trustworthy web agencies will not be willing to design and build a website without some sort of support package. Within your Request for Proposal, you need to consider this carefully. The costs here can range massively. You need to identify what you would like from the partner AFTER the launch of your website. 24-hour support isn’t usually required unless you have a particularly large and demanding eCommerce site that relies purely on incoming money. If that’s not the case, perhaps you only need monthly changes to content or regular reports on visitors to the site etc.

Typically, web agencies will offer support packages in two varieties; a monthly/annual retainer whereby you get a certain number of hours per month to use as you see fit, along with various pro-active reports OR a block of hours to use at your leisure (they will usually have a time period, by which they must be used). In either case, it’s normal for web agencies to open during standard office hours – Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm or thereabouts. Some agencies will also offer out of hours support on evenings and weekends, but in most cases, this isn’t necessary.

Consider support carefully within your Request for Proposals and set out what you expect from the successful bidder.

Step 5 – Be contactable

Request for Proposal documents are difficult to write – otherwise, we wouldn’t have created this article! It’s therefore imperative that you are contactable, there are bound to be things that you’ve missed out or contradicted within your RFP. You must provide a clear point of contact along with a deadline to contact you by with questions.

The more questions that can be asked, the better quality of proposals you will receive as the bidders will know more about what you are trying to achieve. It’s also worth noting that often, the questions AND their answers are often circulated at the point of the deadline of question requests.

Step 6 – Let the bidders decide

We often see Requests for Proposals that set out which technical platform must be used, without having thought out exactly why that is the case. Put your trust in the bidders, they will put forward what they think is the best platform that fits your needs. As long as you have specified where there are particular systems that might need to integrate into the website, it’s up to the bidder to complete the research and work out what platform they can best use to fit your requirements.

You’ll be surprised that very often, a web agency will explain that your chosen platform actually can’t technically do what you expected. If you limit the choices, you will have to live with the consequences! If you give the bidders the rope to hang themselves with, it will be their responsibility to make sure it works!

Step 7 – Feedback

Web agencies or bidders submit tenders on a very frequent basis, it takes time and effort to write them. It’s therefore very frustrating when you don’t even get the courtesy of an email to say that you haven’t won the contract. Please take the time out to make sure that you let everyone know, successful or not, the result. If you do have a little bit of spare time, try to give feedback, both positive and negative as this will help the bidders to feel that it wasn’t a complete waste of their time if they didn’t win. Hopefully, they’ll learn something which will help them in their next bid!

ESP Projects has been designing and building websites for nearly 15 years. Our web design team in Sheffield have lots of experience in delivering modern, stylish and responsive websites which are easy to use. Take a look at our portfolio page or Contact Us if you are interested in our services.