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June 8, 2014

How to give your project the best chance to succeed when hiring outside resources

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Where can I find a vendor?" or "What should I do to find a reliable company?”, the answer is write a Request For Proposal (RFP).

An RFP is the best way to lay the foundation for your project. Here's why.

Why RFPs lead to successful projects

What would you do if I asked you to draw a square? If you know how, you’d draw a square. You’d start, draw some lines and end. Completing a task with efficiency feels good. It makes us happy. RFPs are that good feeling. They don’t draw the square, they are the blueprint for how to successfully draw a square. Applying this to projects, RFPs find companies that know how to draw a square. You’ll get better squares which leads to feeling good and more importantly, saving your company money.

How to write an RFP

Start by asking yourself why? Why are we creating this website? Why are we adding this feature?

The answer should be a clear statement, also known as an objective. I like to use the acronym DUMB to remember what objectives are. Objectives are Doable; Understandable; Measurable; and Beneficial. For example, a company’s objective is to sell more electronics online. This is doable, after all, ecommerce is very possible to set up without knowing how to code. It’s understandable, selling electronics online help the company tap into new markets, or maybe it’s just their business model. It’s Measurable, with Key Performance Indicators (KPI), like the average order size, using analytics software. It’s Beneficial, as it could increase a company’s bottom line.

When a company is deciding whether or not it should undertake a new project, they should ask themselves these five questions:

  • Will it increase revenue?
  • Will it decrease costs?
  • Will it increase new business?
  • Will it increase existing business?
  • Will it increase shareholder value?

The proposed objective should impact one or more of these properties in the proper direction.

We’re well on our way to writing our RFP. We know why we’re undertaking this project. We know what the end result is: an e-commerce website; or a site that attracts and converts users to subscribe to your service or product; or whatever the objective is for your project. We can start to break down the big task into smaller, more manageable components.

Breaking the tasks down

Ask yourself, what does the site need to do in order to achieve its purpose? Does it need a registration system? Does it need to accept and process credit card payments? Does it need an automatic e-mail system to remind members of new promotions or that their order is been shipped? Does it need content based on the brand’s positioning to showcase the value of the product and entice visitors to complete a task on the site?

How to handle what you don’t know

Use the “black box” technique for an element you don’t know what you require. Have a “black box” page where you list all the features or points you would like clarification on or aren’t sure how they work. That way you won’t be held back and can move forward. For example, you don’t need to know how you’ll integrate your database with an e-mail marketing tool, just that you want to is enough for the RFP.

Breaking the tasks down even further

Keep breaking down each task as much as you can. The time you spend doing this will translate directly into how accurate the bids you get are and how you'll more likely get exactly what you need to reach your project’s goals. For example, you might have a task like "get customers”. Spend time breaking this down into smaller tasks will help your company get specific bids and even recommendations on how this can be achieved.

Rounding out the proposal

Part of the RFP should include the reasons why you’re undertaking this project. Perhaps your website is outdated and no longer usable on smartphones. Perhaps your company is launching a new product and needs to update its brand. Firms bidding on your project need to know why this proposal exists. They also need some background on your company’s vision, meaning, purpose and positioning. If you have a timeline, for example a trade show you'd like to have the project completed by, include that in your RFP. A budget is also very helpful and time-saving for both you and the vendors.


When you put all of this together, you’ll have a detailed list of requirements coupled with a description of why this project exists, who your company is, what you believe in, and how you want to be seen by the rest of the world. An RFP gives your project a good chance to be successful, which can translate into you looking like a hero to your stakeholders.

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