I Can't Get No Satisfaction: The "RFP blues"


The Request for Proposal (RFP) is increasingly prevalent in every industry. Clients submit them to vendors from whom they want information and an estimate, and then the vendor (such as a designer) comes back with a detailed proposal. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, it's the follow-through (or lack thereof) when the "blues" start playing.

What's the Problem?
Sometimes clients don't respond after receiving the proposal, which does both parties a disservice. The bottom line: You need to learn from your mistakes in order to become the best you can be... and that means engaging in a dialogue with the other party.

Don't Leave Me Hanging
Feedback allows you to see outside your "box" and address real issues with your conceptualization, performance and possibly price. It is important for both designers and prospective clients, because it allows each party to refine and improve their work (as well as scope of requested work). Yet many clients are uncomfortable and fear they'll hurt a designer's feelings.

That radio silence on the client's part creates a false sense of hope, which can prove detrimental to a designer attempting to schedule their coming weeks and months.

It's a tough business world; we must be agile, and remember that rejection isn't personal. Here are a few ways for both sides to tackle the "blues" head-on, before they ever start.

You Want to Stay Positive
It might be sensitive, but designers have to ask for feedback up front. Any professional will tell you that crafting a proposal from a client's idea or outline is an exacting process--and time translates directly to overhead.

Are You the Right Fit?
When you send an RFP, the designer should know all the parameters of the project. For example, if you're unsure of the designer's ability to create a website (in addition to the other project aspects), it's better to simply ask them up-front than to reject that designer without ever mentioning that particular requirement. It will save you both time and effort. Which leads to the next point...

Talk Bottom Line
A project usually has a budgetary bottom line... with a bit of flexibility and range, perhaps. Make sure to extend to the designer how much you're willing to invest. The designer may have a counter-proposal (even in a price-sensitive economy, their business needs some margins), but they'll almost certainly negotiate project scope; designers don't like crafting proposals without a good sense of the potential client's budget.

A Million Ways to Solve a Problem
It's better to know expectations rather than guess. Let's use a house as a metaphor for a website. What is the size of your land, and the desired size of the house? Is it a "standard" house, or a custom job with lots of glass and steel? How many bathrooms? (In this metaphor, things like bathrooms and bedrooms stand in for desired features, such as video; overall size of the house and land is the scope of the website itself and any special features required.) Just as you can't build a house by guesswork, a designer can't work without clearly defined goals.

What to Expect from Decision Makers
It isn't unusual for a designer to commit to a project with a rush schedule, only to find that the client is hesitant about actually moving forward, for other business reasons. This is a tricky conundrum if the designer has already promised a delivery date for the finished project. If you complete the work and nobody on the client side is willing to pull the trigger, the designer's fees are tied up for an indefinite period.

In light of that, clients and designers should have an understanding about the timeline and expectations for the project: the more transparent, the better, as it ultimately affects the bottom line. You must know if there's a clear sign-off on the project so they can begin work; a lot of the time, they're juggling obligations to other clients.

Apples to Raisins
When deciding between designers, consider what you're actually comparing. Before asking a designer to craft a proposal, make sure they'll potentially fit your needs, and that they have a history of delivering on projects as complex as the one you want done. Otherwise, trying to match the designer's talent, ability and experience to your needs is the equivalent of comparing apples to raisins.

Are you Shopping For a Number, Or a Bargain?
While a handful of designers refuse to do proposals, many are more than willing to spend time crafting a detailed one for a serious client. But if that proposal doesn't quite fit your vision or budget, please provide feedback; the designer will appreciate it.

Learn from Experience
We build a support system of trusted vendors in our lives, so we have a healthy talent pool that we can turn to when we need them. Are those vendors necessarily the lowest bidder? If they cut out their profit to compete on price, can they afford to deliver the quality and talent necessary to solve the problem?

Better Next Time: Continuous Improvement
Designers are willing to work for free of charge for a week or two in order to build a proposal, in hopes of winning a new relationship. If they don't land the project, they can at least use any feedback to become better and smarter about what they do down the road. We all want to exceed expectations and make everyone proud of the result. It seems fair if both clients and designers see the RFP as a trade-off of time in exchange for possibly winning work. And if you don't win, getting valuable feedback will make you wiser and, in the end, a better partner.

Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world's most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.

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