RFPs (Request For Proposal). Why I think they suck.

Today, a friend posted on Facebook that the company he works for is going to put out an RFP for some graphic design work. Timely, because at my new job, we actually answer RFPs, but here’s why I think they suck.

A request for proposal is basically sent out by a company that needs to have some work done. For example, if your company needs a new website, a new logo or a new IT infrastructure, you can send out a request for companies to send you their best proposals.

The upside for the client:

You’ll receive multiple offers from pretty talented people and organizations. You can base your decision on the work that has gone into the proposals you’ve received, combined with the price under the line. Great!

The downside for the client:

When I freelanced, I ignored RFPs, solely because I didn’t have time for them. Crafting a proposal that’s put together well takes time; Time I don’t have because I’m helping people that found me for my talents. I’m not saying I’m the best in my field and everyone should hire me, but I know for a fact that I have designer friends that do exactly the same as I did: ignoring RFPs.

Guess what? You’re missing out on these great people!

The upside for the designer:

You can end up with a great contract and a lasting relationship with the client. This client usually has fairly deep pockets, so you’ll have some freedom when it comes to going over budget in some cases.

The downsides for the designer:

RFPs have gotten super complicated over the years. The bigger the organization of the client, the more (silly) questions they ask for. A lot of them are based on points, so you can’t afford to skip a paragraph.
Writing a proposal takes time. A lot, in some cases. No request is the same and the requirements for the proposal is also always different, which means you can’t just have a template ready and swap out some information. Time = money.

Another one is the usual unrealistic timelines. Clients often set deadlines because they don’t know how long it actually takes to do the job. That means you’re rushing a job that 9 out of 10 times doesn’t need to be rushed. When they seek you out without an RFP, you can educate them before they put out an RFP.

Boards or committees. When a company is sending out an RFP, it’s likely that they think it’s a good idea to put together a committee that’s in charge of the project, which means, you’ll get 7 opinions if there are 7 members on the committee. Make sure you’re in charge of that situation and make the client understand that you’ll need a unified answer, preferably from 1 person.

I mentioned the upside for the designer: A lasting relationship, however, if the client has put out an RFP this time, they’ll likely do it again and the only advantage you have over your competitors is that you have history, but it’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll continue working with you.

Oh and of course: there’s no guarantee you’ll actually get the job or even hear back from the potential client. Time wasted.

Clients, how can we make it better?

Look, I understand that big companies need a few quotes/proposals before pulling any triggers, but there’s a better way.

  1. Don’t make RFPs complicated. You don’t need to know my family history to receive a great logo. If you keep it simple, you’ll more likely get more response because the threshold isn’t high.
  2. Do your homework. Don’t just whip up an RFP and send it to who-ever wants to reply. Seek out talented designers. Have meetings with them and THEN ask for a proposal. You’ll get your money’s worth.
  3. Don’t base your decision on the number under the line. Services are not products and can not be compared as such.
    1. Pick the one that doesn’t have time for you now. It means they’re busy, which means they have work, which means they do a good job.
    2. Don’t go for the cheapest. These are usually the ones that have something to prove or don’t know what they’re doing. If someone is confident in their work, they’ll make you pay for their talent. You get what you pay for.
  4. Be courteous. The least you can do is shoot an email to the people that replied but didn’t make the cut. If you’re really nice, you’ll actually say WHY they weren’t picked (and “we found someone else with a better proposal” is not helpful).
  5. Don’t be too strict on the end-result. You’re hiring a professional. Let us do OUR job.
  6. Don’t set ridiculous deadlines or at least be willing to be flexible on them. I understand you’re not in our business, so you might not know how long it takes to do our job. Just because you made a promise to your boss, doesn’t mean we have to rush (and compromise) our job.

End rant

I’ve had a gripe with RFPs for a long time and although I’m still new at my new gig, it’s already my least favourite part of the job.

Your turn. Are you a client that sends out RFPs? Are you a designer? Do you agree with me, or am I completely wrong? Drop a comment below.

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