Getting bids from developers: How to write a Web RFP

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An RFP should read like a good business plan. One of the first steps marketers have to take to get on the Web is finding a developer. Yet this is also one of the most complicated. How do you write a formal Request for Proposals for a Web site?

The following guidelines are under consideration by the Internet Developers Association as part of an ongoing project to design a model RFP for marketers to use for Web development.

The first thing that someone putting out an RFP should keep in mind is that the Web development services market has stratified into a wide number of niches. There are firms that will take on small projects that are just a few hundred dollars in size, and there are firms that won't touch anything but large projects over half a million dollars in value.

Your RFP should be targeted to companies that provide the appropriate level of services for your needs. At the risk of extreme oversimplification, it helps to classify companies into three basic categories, although there is often much overlap in services provided.


In terms of increasing level of service (and usually cost), these companies can be grouped as follows:

  • Companies that provide basic Web site hosting, without ancillary services such as page development;

  • Basic Web page design and development companies;

  • Full-service presence providers that will provide ancillary services such as strategic planning, online publicity and advertising campaigns, programming (e.g., Java development), server administration, database interfacing, etc.

    An RFP should state clearly what is expected in response, along with details on how the response will be evaluated.

    Is cost the most important factor? Innovation? Responsiveness? Try to give the people responding to your RFP an idea of what you will base your decision on so they can try to be as responsive as possible.


    If you are looking for high-end services, you should not be shy about asking about specific experience and capabilities. Here are examples of some of the types of qualifications you may need to evaluate, depending on your situation:

  • Experience in Internet marketing strategic planning;

  • Understanding of online;

  • Design capabilities;

  • Connection speeds for servers;

  • Traffic measurement abilities;

  • Capability for gaining client exposure in the local and national press;

  • Business stability;

  • Customer recommendations regarding past working relationships;

  • Ability to support secure server software, database interfaces, Java development, shopping baskets, etc.

    Ken Sethney, Internet strategy coach at Laguna Hills, Calif.-based businessVision Consulting Group, covers RFP development in his frequent presentations on Web-enhanced marketing strategies.


    According to Mr. Sethney, "an RFP should read like a good business plan. It should outline anticipated results, list available content and technology resources, and indicate an investment the client would be willing to make to achieve their objectives. From this point on it should be up to the developer to select technologies and design a site to achieve the objectives in partnership with the client."

    You should take care that the work called for to respond to your RFP is not out of scope with the amount of work you are attempting to contract for.


    A good rule is that for smaller projects people are not likely to respond to an RFP for which the hours required to prepare the response are more than 10 percent of the hours required to fulfill the contract. For larger projects, the percentage will generally be lower.

    For example, if an RFP requires 20 hours of labor to respond to but the entire contract is only for 50 hours, you are unlikely to receive a response.

    The RFP should give the prospective bidders some idea of the rough budget you are working with. Working through an RFP that requests $50,000 worth of services only to be told the client has a $5,000 budget makes no one happy.


    You should also state your level of commitment to choosing a vendor. Has the budget been allocated and approved, or are you going to ask management for a budget based on the responses you get to your RFP? Your potential contractors will want to know this information to help them decide how to best prepare a response.

    Losing parties to your RFP should be debriefed in a timely fashion as to why they were not chosen. It's not fun for you, but it is the classy thing to do, and the feedback will be much appreciated by those who have invested time in preparing a response for you.

    Cliff Kurtzman is president and CEO of The Tenagra Corp., co-moderator of the Online Advertising Discussion List, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Internet Developers Association.

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