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5 reasons why RFPs are a bad idea

For many businesses and organizations, the process of creating a new web site begins by issuing an RFP. An RFP usually describes the scope of a project, and lists features, budget and milestones. While often created with good intentions, RFPs are usually a bad idea both for the issuing party and for web firms responding to them. Here are some reasons why they just don't work.

"We sent the RFP to thirty other firms"

Many clients seeking a new web site will send their RFP to dozens of web design firms, without any regard for the firms' capabilities, interest level, or suitablity for the project.  Contacting a large number of firms is no guarantee of receiving a useful response—the fact that a firm responds or doesn't respond says little about whether it can perform well.

A laundry list of features

RFPs will often contain a laundry list of features which have little to do with the group's actual needs.  For example, does a plumbing supply house really need a robust social media strategy? Respondents must laboriously address each item, even when it's inappropriate for the client, for their response to be complete.

A firm has been chosen—just going through the motions

In many cases, the client has already selected a firm, and they're just going through the RFP process to appease higher ups, a board of directors; or following the letter, if not the spirit, of company or organization rules.  This just wastes everyone's time.

Give us a bunch of good ideas, for free

Clients will often ask web firms to "show us what you would do for us" or "present a strategy for developing our site".  This is like asking an architect to create a blueprint so you can decide if you want to work with them.  Each firm responding spends anywhere from 4 to 30 hours crafting their proposal, knowing that only one of them (or none) will be chosen.  All professionals—architects, painters, carpenters—are paid for their creative abilities, and for the time they spend exercising those abilities. They do not work for free, and neither should web design firms.  

Most firms, including Versa Studio, will offer an hour or two of free consultation. We're happy to explore the general scope of your project. However, there is a limit to how much time we'll spend offering expertise without a more formalized relationship.

A good proposal is no guarantee of successful outcome

We've talked to many clients who used the RFP process to choose and hire a web firm, and they've been dissatisfied with the outcome.  Just because a firm can dot all the Is and cross all the Ts in a long, detailed response to your RFP does not mean they have the right skills, technology, or follow-through to ensure a successful outcome. If you are going through the RFP process because you simply want to get the lowest bid, you will not get best result.

Ok, these are all negatives—what should we do?

First, forget the RFP.

Instead, hire a web firm to do a needs assessment. This is the first step in the process anyway, and arguably the most important. It's critical to find out what your business or organization needs before spending a lot of time and money pursuing the project. Spending a modest portion of your project budget (10-15%) on needs assessment can save dozens or even hundreds of hours (and a fair amount of hassle) down the road.

To create a blueprint, a good architect will talk with you about who will live in your house, and how it will be used.  Likewise, a good web firm will inquire deeply about who will use your web site and how. This will guide the creation of a set of of requirements that can then be used to properly plan and estimate the creation of your web site.


Before creating yet another RFP, do a needs assessment first.  This will:

  • Save you time
  • Save your prospective vendors time
  • Give your project a much better change of success

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Image credits: Matthew Harrigan