What Is a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

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A request for proposal is a document that organizations use to solicit bids from contractors to complete a particular project.

🤔 Understanding RFPs

When companies or government agencies are preparing to complete a project, they’ll often issue a request for proposal (RFP). Organizations use this document to share critical information about projects and ask contractors to submit bid proposals. The RFP process is a way to level the playing field and allow all contractors to bid on projects. Creating an RFP also allows organizations to convey the project scope, budget, and deadlines, as well as guidelines for bids. RFPs are especially common among government agencies, many of which are required to go through the process before awarding contracts.


Suppose a state wants to build a new Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) building. The government issues a request for proposal (RFP) that explains exactly what it needs, including the size and layout of the new building, the timeline, and what information it needs from bidders.

Contractors around the state submit bids to build the new DMV facility. The agency that issued the RFP gathers the proposals and looks for bidders willing to complete the project at a competitive price and on the state’s preferred timeline, as well as meeting any other requirements. The RFP process helps ensure that all contractors have a shot and none receives inappropriately preferential treatment.


Issuing a request for proposal (RFP) is like using a dating app…

Through a dating app, you can connect with many eligible singles in your area. It’s your opportunity to learn about prospective suitors, as well as tell them about yourself and what you’re looking for in a partner. Once you find potential matches, you go on first dates and choose one person to enter a relationship with. Just like dating, the RFP process is a way to efficiently find potential contractors available to complete your project and choose one to hire.

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What is the purpose of an RFP?

When a company or government is working on a project, it sometimes contracts with an outside firm to handle the work. That might include projects like construction, information technology upgrades, or website design. These entities need a way to get the attention of contractors and figure out who to hire.

That’s where the request for proposal (RFP) comes in. An RFP is a way for organizations to communicate information about a project they need completed and ask for bids.

Any organization that needs to outsource work to third-party contractors can use an RFP to solicit bids from different firms. Government agencies tend to use them most often. In fact, some government agencies are required to use RFPs when they contract with a third-party vendor. Using an RFP can help promote transparency, reduce costs, and ensure fair competition for contractors.

How does an RFP work?

Every request for proposal (RFP) looks a bit different depending on the project, but there are four primary steps in the process:


This phase occurs before you start writing your RFP. This is when you sit down with stakeholders to identify the project’s goals, timeline, and budget.

Draft and issue

During this phase, you draft your RFP and send it out to contractors. Be sure you’ve included all relevant information vendors will need, including what details you want them to provide. Set deadlines so that bidders know when to submit proposals.

Score and shortlist

After the deadline has passed and you’ve received all proposals, it’s time to start evaluating them. During this phase, you read through all of the proposals and determine which vendors make the shortlist. The evaluation phase might also include researching solutions you’re not familiar with or reaching out to vendor references.

Select a winner and issue a contract

Finally, you’ll choose a vendor to contract with. After you finish any remaining negotiations, both parties sign the contract.

What is included in an RFP?

Making your request for proposal (RFP) comprehensive will ensure contractors have all of the information they need to complete a bid.

Here’s what your RFP should include:

  1. Organization overview: What does your organization do, and how does it do it? This section gives vendors important background information and context for the project.
  2. Project description and scope: Share as much information about the project as you can. Be specific about what exactly you need from a vendor. Include any deliverables they’ll be responsible for. Identify what the problem is and what a solution would look like.
  3. Timeline: Communicate to contractors the schedule they’ll need to follow. If you want the project completed by a particular date, indicate that.
  4. Budget: Cost is probably going to be a significant factor when it comes to choosing a contractor. You may want to include your budget in the RFP to avoid a situation in which respondents bid higher than you’re willing to pay.
  5. Proposal guidelines: Provide instructions to bidders about how they can submit a proposal for the project. What information should they include or leave out?
  6. Vendor selection criteria: Let bidders know what factors you’ll be considering when you make your decision.
  7. Relevant deadlines: Let bidders know when proposals are due and your timeline for selecting the winner.
  8. Contact information: Tell bidders how they should submit their proposals and who they can contact with questions.

How do you write an RFP?

Writing an effective request for proposal (RFP) is critical to finding the right contractor to complete your project.

The first step is to consult with your organization’s leadership. Be sure you’re clear about exactly what they want out of the project. Once everyone is on the same page, gather your RFP team. These are the people who will determine what needs to go into the RFP. Include employees at your organization who will be involved with the project and potentially outside stakeholders, such as other vendors the contractor would have to work with.

Next, determine your goals for the project. Identify the outcome you want and how you’ll measure success. For example, suppose you’re crafting an RFP for a contract to set up your corporation’s IT infrastructure. Perhaps you want an integrated computer system that allows team members to easily communicate and share files. You don’t know exactly how to get there, but you can explain everything you want it to do. If the contractor can achieve that, the project will have been a success.

Then identify additional details such as the timeline and budget for the project. It’s vital that you tell bidders precisely what you’ll need from them.

Finally, it’s time to write the RFP. Be sure to have all team members read over the draft. Once the RFP is good to go, all that’s left to do is issue it to contractors.

How do you respond to an RFP?

There can be a lot of pressure when it comes to responding to a request for proposal (RFP). After all, the proposal you submit could make or break whether you get the job.

First, make sure you have a copy of the RFP and understand all of the information in it. If anything is unclear, reach out to the issuer’s point of contact. Better to ask questions early than to write a proposal that doesn’t make sense because you misunderstood the RFP.

Next, start drafting your response. If there are others in your company who will have to draft parts of the proposal, distribute those assignments. Responses should be detailed but straightforward. Additionally, make sure you’ve signed all forms and provided all attachments the issuer has requested.

The final step is to approve your proposal and send it off to the issuer by the due date listed on the RFP. Be sure you’ve followed all directions as far as whether to send your proposal physically or electronically and how many copies to send.

Why is an RFP important?

A request for proposal (RFP) can be a valuable tool in the successful completion of a project. First, the RFP process can help streamline the process of choosing a vendor. When you set a particular format for your responses, you’ll find it easier to compare one vendor to the next.

Using an RFP also helps create transparency by ensuring that the bidding process is open and fair. This transparency is especially critical when a government agency is issuing an RFP, as it can show the public it isn’t playing favorites and is giving all contractors a fair shot.

Finally, writing an RFP requires the issuing organization to fully articulate its project goals and benchmarks. Project leaders write this information for the bidders, but it can be valuable internally as well.

What is the difference between an RFP and an RFQ?

When an organization issues a request for proposal (RFP), it’s asking vendors to submit a proposal describing how they will solve the organization’s problem and how much they’ll charge to do it. The company or government agency issuing the RFP provides all of the information about the project and asks vendors to provide specific details within their proposals.

A request for quotation (RFQ) is similar but not identical. When an entity issues an RFQ, it likely doesn’t need as much information as when it issues an RFP — It’s just asking for a cost estimate. It might be that the job is smaller, or that the organization already knows what each of the vendors has to offer.

Suppose a company was looking for a contractor to do a small remodel job. It already has a shortlist of companies it knows and trusts — It just needs to know what they’ll each charge. In that situation, the company might use an RFQ instead of an RFP.

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