6 Insider Tips for a Great RFP

Working on a Request for Proposals but feel like it’s missing something? Not all RFPs are created equal—in fact, some of them are great, while others are so poorly written or complicated that vendors don’t take the time to read them all the way through, much less draft a proposal. If your latest RFP seems to need a little something extra, take a look at these six insider tips for writing a great request.

1. Apply the Programming Principle of GIGO

Computer programmers are familiar with the acronym GIGO, but it can be applied to many things. GIGO stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. In computer terms, this means writing a sloppy or incorrect program will result in a useless outcome. The same goes for an RFP. If you don’t write an RFP that defines your goals, requirements, needs, and budget, how can you expect to get proposals that contain all of this information? Take the time to very carefully define what you need and what restrictions vendors may have to work with. The better your request, the better the proposals you’ll get in return.

2. Write for the New Vendor

If you were a brand new vendor looking at your first RFP, would you understand it? While many industries have their own jargon and acronyms, remember that all vendors have to start somewhere. Some of the things you take for granted as a veteran of the industry won’t be clear to those without as much experience, so write for the new vendor. Define acronyms the first time you use them and keep things as simple as possible. You may be tempted to use the RFP as a test of sorts to eliminate those who are new to the field, but remember these new vendors may have new ideas or methods that could work better than the tried and true approach.

3. Be Clear

Make sure you make it clear what you want. For example, asking about partners is not the same as asking for letters of partnership letters. Someone reading an RFP asking about their partners may only send the organization name, contact information, and what they’re contributing when you wanted an actual letter from each partner. The same goes for references. This is why it’s important to have at least one other person read over your RFP or even come up with a short fake proposal so you can see what needs to be clarified.

4. Look at other RFPs

If you’re new to writing requests, go online and find some examples. Don’t copy them exactly, of course, because the need those RFPs are addressing will be different from yours. But you can get a lot of good ideas from these examples, especially if they are similar to what you need. Even if you’ve written RFPs before, looking at others can be helpful and help you streamline your own proposals.

5. Give Vendors Time to Respond

Sending out an RFP with a deadline of a week is not going to provide time for some vendors to respond. Remember that most have a good amount of work on their plates and will need a bit of time to put together a proposal, even if they have a generic one ready to go and just need to customize it a bit to fit your needs. If you want a proposal that addresses all of your needs, has a full budget to accompany it, and shows that the vendor is ready to implement it as soon as you say go, you’re going to have to provide them with at least ten business days, although three to four weeks is better. Give them less time and vendors will either ignore your request completely or will send in a rushed proposal that doesn’t cover everything.

6. Talk to Potential Vendors First

If you’re not sure about something in your RFP or your needs, talk to a few potential vendors first. This doesn’t have to be a formal interview or anything like that—if you know some of the vendors personally (and you may from working on previous projects), ask them for a bit of information. Bounce a few ideas off of them. In addition to helping you nail your RFP, you may get an idea of which vendors aren’t going to work for you. You can also issue a Request for Information, which is a more informal version of an RFP that simply asks for information.

These six tips will help you craft the best RFP possible and get great proposals from potential vendors.