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The Ultimate Agency RFP Guide: Definition, Benefits, and Strategy

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Updated on:
February 15, 2024
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Let’s imagine that you’ve got a business project in mind, and you’re looking for a firm or agency to help. There are lots of companies that could potentially fulfill that role. However, you’ll naturally want to find the best possible people for the job. That’s where an agency RFP comes into play.

This guide will cover all you need to know about agency RFPs, including what they are, the benefits they bring, and how to write them.

A Definition: What Is an Agency RFP?

Let’s kick things off with a clear and simple definition. RFP stands for “Request for Proposal.” It’s a document that outlines your project and what you need from a vendor, agency, or other project partner. Basically, it’s a document that businesses can use to effectively broadcast their needs to potential partners and, hopefully, find the right one to work with.

There are lots of reasons why a company might want to draw up an RFP. They might be seeking assistance with a digital marketing campaign, for example, or looking to outsource certain business processes. Even when investing in new services, many firms opt for the RFP approach to give themselves options, rather than rushing in and buying from the first provider they find.

RFP vs. RFI

There are a lot of acronyms in the business world. It’s easy to mix them up or confuse one for another, especially those that sound very similar, like RFI and RFP. These two terms are indeed closely related, but RFI stands for “Request for Information.” It’s like an RFP, but usually used at an earlier stage.

For example, when companies merely want to get an idea of what solutions are out there, they’ll use an RFI. That gives them some information that they can take back to the drawing board when working out their next move. Meanwhile, an RFP is used when the company is ready to make a purchase or place an order.

RFP vs. RFP Response

Another term you’ll often hear when RFPs are discussed is “RFP Response.” This is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the response that an agency or firm provides back to a company after receiving their RFP. Similar in many ways to a freelance proposal, an RFP response details how the agency aims to meet the needs of the firm and provide the required service or product.

Often, businesses will receive multiple responses to their RFPs. They can then compare options to decide which firm to work with, or draw up a shortlist of the best prospects. They may then undergo further consultation or have to provide a secondary RFP response for the company to review, before it comes to a final decision.

The Benefits of Agency RFPs

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There are many benefits of RFPs, both for the companies that make them and those responding to them. Here are some of the main advantages, summed up as three C’s: clarity, comparison, and contentment.

Benefit 1 – Clarity

One of the best benefits of RFPs is the clarity that they bring to situations where businesses need services or support. The very act of creating an RFP gives the business a chance to clearly define its needs and expectations. It sets out what the business is looking for, how much it has to spend, and so on, making its position abundantly clear.

This is beneficial both for the business itself and its prospective partners. The business gets the benefit of reviewing its situation and having the opportunity to clearly set out its demands. Meanwhile, prospective partners get the benefit of seeing what the requesting company is looking for, right down to the smallest detail, so they know exactly what they’re getting into.

Benefit 2 – Comparison

These days, when people want to buy goods or services, they don’t tend to simply buy the first thing they find or order from the first firm they come across. Instead, they weigh up their options, comparing a range of products or providers, looking at the prices, as well as the pros and cons of each one to come to an informed decision.

Well, the same logic applies to businesses deciding on agencies or partners to work with. It makes much more financial and logistical sense for a business to compare multiple options and take their time figuring out the right one, rather than rushing in. The process of comparison allows the company to make the best possible choice for its future.

Benefit 3 – Contentment

Another big benefit of RFPs for small businesses and agencies alike is that both parties have a better chance of being content with every aspect of their working relationship. That includes the budget, the timescale, and the final results. Ultimately, this is the main aim of any RFP – to help businesses find the right partners who can satisfy their project needs.

If a business simply rushes in and picks a partner without prior research or planning, they could end up making the wrong choice. That could lead to wasted time, wasted money, and a fruitless, unsatisfying partnership. By using RFPs and finding the right project partners, businesses should be able to enjoy happy, mutually beneficial working relationships.

How to Write an RFP the Right Way

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To get the best results from an RFP, it needs to be written correctly. There are lots of common mistakes you might make, especially if you’ve not got much or any experience of RFPs. A poorly-written RFP or one that contains too little (or too much) information may do more harm than good, putting off certain agencies and preventing you from finding the right partner.

In this section, we’ll break down the process of correctly writing an agency RFP into six easy-to-follow steps.

Step 1 – Introduce Your Business

Every RFP needs to begin with a clear introduction of the business or organization making the request. This effectively sets the scene for the rest of the proposal, letting providers know right away what kind of business they’ll be working with, should they choose to respond.

You don’t need to go into too much detail here. Instead, simply introduce your firm, the kind of work you do, and perhaps highlight your brand’s unique selling point (USP) or anything else you feel prospective partners need to know.

Step 2 – Provide an Overview of Your Project or Situation

The next, and arguably most important part of the RFP, is to outline the project or situation your business is in. This is where you can start to discuss what kind of service or product you’re looking for, explaining why your business needs the product in question.

This is particularly useful for prospective partners. They can use the info you provide to ascertain whether they’re the right fit for the project or not. If so, they can then tailor their response accordingly to align with your demands.

As with most other sections of the RFP, it’s recommended to keep this section as clear and to-the-point as possible. Outline what you want, what kind of vendor you hope to work with, and the main aims of your desired collaboration.

Step 3 – Get into Detail Regarding Budget, Scope, and Expectations

Next, it’s time to dig into the details of your project, especially in regard to aspects such as the budget, the scope of the work required, and your expectations. The more detail you can provide in this section, the more informed your prospective partners will be.

So, while the other sections of the RFP tend to be concise and brief, this one can be a little more in-depth. Make sure you’re very clear about what budget you’ve got to work with and what kind of work your vendors will need to do.

Consider using bullet points or lists to break up the text and highlight the most important points. This allows prospective partners to scan through the RFP and obtain the most important facts without any wasted time.

Step 4 – Highlight Any Potential Barriers or Unique Challenges

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It’s also crucial to list any possible barriers or challenges that your prospective partners need to be aware of. For this section, it’s helpful to put yourself in the partner’s shoes and imagine what issues they might encounter when trying to fulfill your demands.

For example, if your business is completing an architectural RFP, you might have to highlight specific building code regulations that need to be adhered to. Alternatively, if you’re operating in an industry with strict rules and regulations, like healthcare, you’ll need to highlight the importance of compliance for any firms that apply to work with you.

This is a crucial part of creating an effective and efficient RFP. Yes, you may put off some firms by highlighting the challenges that they’ll have to deal with. However, this also helps to weed out the companies that simply aren’t suited to the project and narrow down your search to the best possible options.

Step 5 – Outline Your Ideal Project Partner

It’s also important to dedicate part of your RFP to outlining the ideal partner or vendor you want to work with. This, once again, can help vendors decide whether or not they’re the right fit for the job. In other words, it helps to narrow down the field of possible partners.

In this step, precise detail is recommended. List the key criteria that you want to see in the firms who respond to your RFP. You could state how much experience you’d like your ideal project partner to have, for example, or their rates, qualifications, etc.

Again, the more detail you provide, the more chance you’ll have of getting relevant responses from agencies that are best-suited for the job. This should also help you avoid wasting your time on responses from firms that are too expensive, inexperienced, or simply not the right fit.

Step 6 – Detail the Submissions Process

Last but not least, finish off your RFP by explaining how prospective partners can issue a response and get in touch with you. Include the email address you want responses sent to, for instance, or the online portal where prospective agencies can make their submissions.

It’s also recommended to provide a detailed project timeline, including the date when proposals need to be submitted, as well as when firms can expect to hear back from you. For example, you could write: “All proposals must be submitted by March 31st. A decision will be made by April 10th. The estimated project completion date is August 31st.”

Finally, it’s worth listing everything you want your prospective partners to include in their submissions. You might state, for example, that all proposals should include an overview of the submitting firm and a one-page summary of its strengths and relevant skills.

How to Respond to an Agency RFP

Of course, you might also be on the receiving end of an RFP, rather than the sending end. In that case, it’s just as important that you know how to write a proper agency RFP response. By responding in a prompt, detailed, and efficient fashion, you’ll have a better chance of impressing the requesting business and getting hired for the project.

Again, here’s the full process, broken down into six easy steps.

Step 1 – Review the RFP in Detail

First, read through the RFP thoroughly. Pay close attention to the client’s needs and expectations to decide if you want to proceed or not. A lot of agencies make the mistake of rushing in and responding to RFPs without taking time to read them and understand if they’re the right fit.

Step 2 – Discuss the Project with Relevant Team Members

Before drawing up any kind of RFP response, it’s first recommended to discuss the project with team members who will be involved in the deliverable work. This not only helps team members feel valued and involved with decision-making, but also gives them the chance to bring up any concerns or fresh perspectives on the project.

Step 3 – Draft Your RFP Response

Next, start working on the first draft of your RFP response. To begin, it’s best to once again review the requirements listed in the original RFP, as well as researching the company behind it. This will help you avoid any nasty surprises later on, giving you a clear overview of who you’ll be working with and what you’ll need to do.

From there, tailor your response accordingly to match the client’s situation and expectations. Again, it’s wise to get multiple team members involved in this process, using their views and insights to create the most detailed and thorough response.

Step 4 – Review the Draft With the Team

With the draft complete, it’s time to review it. Once more, it’s best to bring the whole team on board for this. Hand out copies of the RFP draft to relevant workers and team leaders to get their thoughts on it. They may have feedback to share about the timeline, budget, or other specifics of the deliverables.

Step 5 – Edit and Enhance Accordingly

Next, take the feedback gathered in the previous step and use it to improve your original RFP draft. Add any extra details that may be needed, and take the time to proofread the text thoroughly. Look for any errors that need fixing or sections that could use a little tidying up or streamlining.

Remember, your RFP response is crucial in forming a positive first impression of your business. It’s almost like a resume. Therefore, it needs to be neat, tidy, error-free, and as polished as possible to impress the client and convince them that your firm is the right choice.

Step 6 – Submit Your Final RFP Response

Last but not least, you can submit your RFP proposal to the issuer of the RFP. Remember to follow their specific submission guidelines – which they will usually detail in the RFP itself. Submit to the correct email address or platform, and make sure you’ve included all relevant info and addressed all of the client’s requests.

Tips and Tricks for Writing the Best RFPs

Free photo two confident business man shaking hands during a meeting in the office, success, dealing, greeting and partner concept

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when writing RFPs to maximize their value.

Find the Balance Between Detailed and Concise

The best RFPs need to be detailed enough to inform prospective vendors of everything you need, but also concise enough to be quick and easy to scan through. It’s easy to go too far in either direction, resulting in a document that is either too wordy or too brief. Try to make use of bullet points and brevity to make the RFP scannable, while still conveying valuable, important info.

Always Double-Check RFPs for Errors or Omissions

As with any official document, it’s always worth double-checking RFPs before you submit them. Typos or seemingly minor mistakes don’t just make the document look less professional, they could also cause major confusion. For example, if you miss a “0” on your budget or leave an important piece of information out, agencies reading your RFP could get completely the wrong idea.

Consider Using Templates to Simplify the Process

Many businesses have to write multiple RFPs each year. That can take up a lot of time, delaying your projects and business operations. To save time and simplify the process, you may prefer to make use of proposal templates instead. This allows you to simply enter the relevant info for each request, rather than wasting time on outlines, formatting, and layouts.

Be as Honest and Up-Front as Possible

As repeated throughout this guide, the businesses that read and respond to your RFPs will want to see as much information about the project as possible. They’ll appreciate RFPs that are clear and honest about the work that needs doing. So be honest, even if it means admitting some difficult truths, like a limited budget or challenging work conditions.

Summing Up: The Value of RFPs

The importance of RFPs should not be underestimated. These documents may take time and effort to create, but when completed correctly, they offer a myriad of benefits. They help to match businesses with the ideal partners and vendors, getting the services or products they require at prices that work for them.

In short, RFPs facilitate better business relationships, bringing companies and agencies together for seamless, harmonious collaboration. If your business needs a specific kind of service, product, or solution, writing an RFP is a great first step to take. You can use Hello Bonsai’s handy templates to make the process much easier and faster. Contact the Bonsai team today to learn more.

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