WHITE PAPER DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL WEBSITE RFP. Find the Right Web Development Partner through an Engaging and Informative RFP.

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1 WHITE PAPER DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL WEBSITE RFP Find the Right Web Development Partner through an Engaging and Informative RFP By Devin Gauthier

2 INTRODUCTION So you ve decided to undertake a new website development project. Congratulations! A new website is an investment which should bring value to your clients, your partners and your company. After all, your website is often the first experience the public will have with your organization. If you re considering partnering with a vendor to assist you in reaching your web development goals, and your website budget is in excess of $10,000.00, you may wish to put your project out to RFP (Request for Proposals) or tender. It sounds simple enough. However, if you re interested in receiving accurate proposals which reflect your needs from well-qualified and experienced vendors, your Request for Proposals must be written to engage those vendors. Most importantly, you want to ensure they have what they need to provide you with realistic, and ideally fixed, pricing and timelines for your project. Writing an effective RFP will also reduce the number of questions you will need to respond to, and make evaluating proposals quick and easy. In this white paper, you will learn how to write an effective Website Development RFP that will support any web developer in their activities of developing a proposal. Page 2 If your website budget is in excess of $10,000.00, you may wish to put your project out to RFP or Tender.

3 VENDORS WILL EVALUATE YOUR RFP It is not uncommon for organizations to publish an RFP only to republish it again shortly after the initial due date for proposals. More often than not, this is because of a lack of responses or responses primarily from unqualified vendors. In my experience, we respond to about 10% of RFPs which we receive. Ask yourself why this may be the case. Responding to a Request for Proposals is a significant undertaking for a web development firm. It requires a thorough review of your requirements and contractual obligations, establishing a relevant set of questions to help the firm better understand your needs, and documenting a solution which reflects your vision in a structure and format that you specify. It requires the involvement of many stakeholders from leadership, sales and the development team. It is not uncommon for RFP responses to exceed 40 pages of custom written content. That s in addition to completing required forms and providing example works, references and team biographies or resumes. Will your RFP engage qualified and experienced vendors? Page 3 As a result, many firms will evaluate a Request for Proposals to establish whether or not their firm has interest in responding. When writing your RFP, it is important for you to provide information which will help the firm in qualifying your project. To assist you in doing so, here are some of the questions a web development firm may ask themselves about your project: Is the project of interest? (Will our team find it exciting and challenging?) Can we commit the resources to complete the project as planned? Do we believe the client has an adequate budget for their project? Do we have relevant work of comparable size and complexity to showcase in the industry or market segment?

4 Do we have references that are suitable to satisfy the needs of the client? Can we meet all of the mandatory requirements? Do our technology offerings align with the technology expectations for this project? Does the RFP provide us with enough information to provide a response? Do we believe the organization is committed to this project? By taking the time and care to write an effective, engaging and informative RFP, you increase the likelihood of highly qualified firms responding to your request. Page 4 Responding to a Request for Proposals is a significant undertaking for a web development firm.

5 THE COMPONENTS OF YOUR REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS The remainder of this white paper focuses on those components in an RFP which are of most interest to web development firms. When receiving a Request for Proposals, web developers anticipate 30 to 50 pages of legalese. Likely these are standard procurement inclusions for all RFPs issued from your organization. These terms and conditions often lay the ground work for the relationship between an organization and their chosen external vendor. As such, firms will read this section thoroughly to ensure they can work within the contractual obligations set forth in these pages. Most vendors will simply abide by the terms should they be reasonable and not too restrictive. Often they are also negotiable. However, it is the pages beyond the legalese that vendors will spend the most time reading, as they outline the scope of the project and the expectations of the organization. Too often, these sections are made up of a page or two of requirements and do not provide ample information to vendors. They may also leave vendors contemplating the commitment of the organization to the project by revealing that not enough thought or pre-planning has gone into the initiative. In what follows, we addresse sections which you should consider including in your RFP to entice web developers to respond, and to attract the most qualified partners for the job. Page 5 It is the pages that are beyond the legalese that vendors will spend the most time reading as they outline the scope of the project and the expectations of the organization.

6 Page 6 Organization Overview Many RFPs contain a page or two describing the organization and its history when a paragraph or two would suffice. Resourceful firms will research your organization while working on a response. Similar to an online job posting, you would anticipate employees to do some homework and find out more about your company before submitting their application. Stellar candidates will prove they have done that homework by including a bit of information (not included in the posting) into their cover letter and/or resume to show their keen interest. The same goes for RFPs. If a vendor is truly interested, they will take the initiative to find out as much as they can about your organization. Write a brief organization overview which speaks to the history of your organization but more importantly, focus on your organization s culture and what the organization is like to work with. Sell the vendor on your company by explaining why your organization/team is a great to group with which to work. Project Overview Providing an effective and high-level description of your website project is of great value to vendors. It provides an opportunity for vendors to get a quick understanding of whether or not they have interest in the project and the skills and knowledge to meet the project requirements. Think of this as an Executive Summary of your project. Describe, at a very high-level, the primary objectives of the initiative, the core features and functions you hope to see, the stakeholders involved, the technologies you hope to use (if applicable) and the timeline expectations for launch. Sell the vendor on your company by explaining why your organization/team is a great to group with which to work.

7 Page 7 Sell the project to entice qualified agencies to read further. Keep in mind most development firms chase after projects which will challenge their developers with new technologies and features. The more cutting edge, the more interest most firms will have in the project. Not only is it in your project s best interest to make use of the latest technologies, but it will also make your project stand out from other the other RFPs web development firms are considering. Website Goals Sadly, a number of RFPs do not outline the actual goals associated with their website project or how the project s success will be evaluated. This makes responding to an RFP challenging. It may also convince the vendor that the organization has not given enough thought to their project. List the project s goals in bullet points and be clear and concise in describing your objectives. If you can, also include how your organization will measure the success of the project after launch. Keep in mind that goals for your new website project will likely change after receiving proposals and hearing from web vendors who may leave you thinking about new possibilities. A responsible web partner will also work with you early on to refine your goals and how to achieve them. Indicate how your organization will measure the success of the website project after launch. Services Required (Scope of Work) One of the most important sections of your Request for Proposals defines the services you require, or the Scope of Work for the vendor. The services you require will depend heavily upon the internal resources you have available to assist in website development.

8 Services associated with website design often include a sub-set or all of the following activities: Page 8 Strategic consulting including auditing of the existing website and existing site s website traffic Strategic consulting with key informants and stake holders Site mapping and wire framing Content rationalization Content development Project management Creative design and responsive design Website implementation o Setup and configuration of a Content Management System o Cropping and optimizing the creative concept o Coding the HTML/CSS (and page templates) o Third-party software integration o Custom web application and/or database development o E-commerce Search engine optimization (SEO) Social media strategy Analytics installation Quality assurance activities o Broken link checking o Content auditing o Usability testing o Accessibility auditing and conformance o Cross-browser compatibility o Cross-device compatibility (responsive) Deployment For most website projects today, the setup and configuration of a content management system is essential.

9 Page 9 Training o Development of a User Guide o Delivery of Content Management System Training Program Website hosting Ongoing site maintenance and support Beyond the services you require from a website development partner, it s important for you to outline the requirements that the website must meet. These may include, but are not limited to: Creative expectations Who the site must speak to (targeted audiences) Needs associated with content management Who will manage the content at the site once it s launched, and how frequently it will be updated The approximate number of pages to be created Who will write the content for the site and provide supporting resources such as images, documents and videos Features and functions of the website (video, news, calendar, team bios, etc.) Whether or not the site needs to be Responsive (to mobile devices), crossbrowser compatible and/or Accessible to those with disabilities Whether the site will be English only or multilingual Whether or not you ll require an extranet or portal (secure area of the site) How the site will interact with your social media sites/accounts How the website will be promoted after launch The reports you will require from the website Outlining website requirements is necessary to help a website developer accurately estimate functionality elements. If your organization has gone as far as to develop a site map or creative concept, be sure to include them in your RFP as a reference.

10 Page 10 If your website will have an e-commerce component, you ll need to outline expectations related to the number of product categories and products, shipping requirements, tax requirements and which payment adjudicator you will use. Project Timeline If your project has a fixed deadline, it is important for you to specify what your timeline expectations are. At the same time, being practical and flexible in your project timeline will help to attract more vendors. Many organizations wait until too close to their deadline (or fiscal year end in some cases) to publish their RFP. As a result, they demand delivery of the completed website in 1 or 2 months. Unfortunately, this is not adequate time to develop a quality website. Your team will play a crucial role in content development, providing required information, and reviewing work done and providing appropriate sign-offs.

11 Page 11 Developing a website is a process which, when done properly, involves many milestones including strategic consultations, creative design, site mapping and wire framing, content rationalization, implementation and programming, quality assurance and testing, deployment and training. What s more, your team will also play a crucial role in content development, providing required information, and reviewing work done and providing appropriate sign-offs. Depending on the size of your website, you should expect your project timeline to range from 2 to 6 months. Being practical in your project s timeline expectations will result in more accurate proposals, and avoid you running the risk of missing deadlines during implementation. Supplier Profiles Be specific in the information you would like to know about the respondent. Are you interested in the company history, example works, references, staff biographies? Ask only for what you need, or be prepared to receive Appendix after Appendix full of company information. Given the length of RFP responses, you may also wish to consider limiting the number of staff bios, references or portfolio pieces you request. You can also limit the number of profile pages expected in submissions. Depending on the size of your website, you should expect your project timeline to range from 2 to 6 months. Pricing Considerations To help you compare quotes on a level playing field, it is important to specify exactly how you d like pricing to be provided. There are many ways to request pricing, whether it is submitted on a provided form or broken out by milestone, activities, services, deliverables or resources (hours and hourly rates). Regardless of how you request pricing, it is important to ask for standard hourly rates for any additional work or future quote purposes.

12 If your budget is tight, you may wish to specify that certain deliverables should be listed as optional line items for consideration. Page 12 Question and Answer Period The majority of RFPs specify that vendors have a period in which they can ask questions of the RFP issuer. Many organizations underestimate the number of questions they ll be required to respond to, and often push back their deadlines to give them ample time to respond to questions after receiving them. Keep in mind, the more detail (and the less ambiguity) you provide in your RFP, the fewer question submissions requiring a response. You will also avoid having the same question asked by multiple vendors. Ensure you provide adequate time in your RFP lifecycle to accommodate for responding to all the questions submitted. Response Format RFP responses can become extremely long and detailed documents based on the quantity of information you request from vendors. It is extremely common for organizations to receive RFPs and then push back their decision-making dates to accommodate for the time to read such long documents thoroughly. Make life easier for your evaluation team and specify the document formatting criteria which will simplify reading and evaluation of all proposals. Specify minimum font sizes and margins sizes to allow your team to write on the documents. Provide the structure of the document (sections) so you can find equivalent information quickly across all responses.

13 Page 13 To assist in reading and evaluating RFP responses, some organizations go so far as to provide a series of forms on which all responses must be provided. Response Evaluation Criteria Respondents to your RFP will use the evaluation criteria as a guide to develop their responses. It is important to outline clearly and concisely how you will evaluate each response by specifying the criteria you will use in reviewing proposals. It is also important to provide the weight you will give to each criteria. By providing this breakdown, potential partners will be in a position to tailor their proposals and focus their efforts on the information you find most valuable in your decision-making process. Common grading criteria you may wish to include in your evaluation criteria include: Understanding of the requirements/needs associated with the project Description of the proposed solution and how accurately it meets the requirements The technologies proposed The creativity, practicality, and innovation associated with the proposed solution Thoroughness of proposed project schedule and the vendor s ability to meet the required deadlines Experience with clients in a similar industry and projects of a similar size or scope References and testimonials from previous clients Company profile, experience and relevance Team member experience and skill set The company s ability to manage timelines, budgets and risks Readability and clarity of the proposal Budget Respondents to your RFP will use the evaluation criteria as a guide to develop their responses.

14 LIMITING REQUIREMENTS Over the years, we have come across a number of requirements within RFPs which limit vendors from responding. Some of these limiting requirements can act as a means of weeding out underqualified or inexperienced firms, though some may also prevent qualified/targeted firms from responding. 1. Insurance Requirements Many RFPs will require companies have at minimum one million dollars in General Liability Insurance. If there is a software component to the project or you are storing sensitive data at the website, you may also wish to include a requirement related to Errors and Omissions insurance. Responsible and well-established web development companies will have one or both of these policies in place. This can be a good mechanism for limiting respondents to reputable firms. Page Providing Creative Concepts Spec Work Requesting development firms provide creative concepts as part of their bid is time consuming and, for many firms and agencies, considered unethical. In addition, without a thorough understanding that comes out of proper strategy sessions with the client, it is very difficult to design a concept that really meets the needs of the project. 3. Onsite Meetings If your ideal partner would be a local firm, you can include requirements in your RFP which mandate partners to present their proposal at your location and carry out meetings at your site at no additional costs. That said, this may limit the best firms for the job, many of whom have successfully completed projects using remote meeting technologies, from participating. Consider this carefully.

15 Page Technical Requirements versus Technical Ideals Be specific on your technical requirements and work with your in-house tech team in determining your requirements. Often the hosting environment will limit the technologies available for your project. If you have a desire to use a specific content management system, be specific. Furthermore, your organization may have policies in place which prevent the use of open source solutions, or the inverse, prevent the use of proprietary solutions. Be sure to review these specifications with your IT team. However, if you are open to hearing about the best technical solutions for the job from the vendors perspective, leave your technical requirements open for discussion. Clarify between technical requirements and technical ideals. Web development firms use a variety of technologies. Most aren t versed in every content management system, operating system, or database platform. Specifying the technologies will limit the responses to those who are comfortable with the technologies specified. It may also limit the most appropriate solution for the job from a firm that s been disqualified based on the technical requirements.

16 CONCLUSION Your website is an investment - an investment which should bring value to your organization, its clients and its partners. You ll not only be investing money, but staff time. As such, it s important to find a reliable and experienced web development firm as your partner in bringing your vision to reality - a firm that will help you avoid the common pitfalls of web development projects such as missed deadlines, poor technology selections and significant cost overruns. Page 16 In your search for the ideal partner, it is important that you take the time to properly develop your Website Development Request for Proposals. The more thorough and direct your RFP, the more likely it will be to attract qualified and experienced vendors who are truly interested in working with your organization.

17 ABOUT THE AUTHOR Page 17 Devin Gauthier is a founding partner and Digital Strategist with Sandbox Software Solutions. He has over 12 years of experience in website and web application development. Over his career, he has responded to dozens of Website Development Requests for Proposals, and assisted a number of clients in writing their own RFPs. Learn more about website development at

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