How to Write a RFP

by Kate Bruscke; Updated September 26, 2017

A Request for Proposal, also known as an RFP, is a document you create when you need to procure new goods or services for your business. An RFP spells out your specific needs to potential vendors and invites them to submit bids for you to review, allowing you to choose the vendor that can provide the best level of service for your business within the budget you allow. While there is no standardized format for writing RFPs, these step-by-step instructions will help you create an effective and clear RFP for any business need.

Items you will need

  • Computer with word processing program
  • Printer (for mailing)
  • Paper (for mailing)
  • Envelopes/postage (for mailing)
  • Internet access (for emailing)
Step 1

Determine your needs. You want to spend some time determining exactly what you are asking for and how much you are willing to pay for it. An RFP will cover both your necessary “have-to-haves” (your requirements) and your "nice-to-haves" (your wants), but be sure to identify what a vendor must supply or provide in order to gain your business. This is an essential piece of the process—if you can’t define your needs clearly, you will not get back proposals that address meeting those needs.

Step 2

Draft an outline. Again, while there are no hard and fast rules to how to compose an RFP, provide the most accurate and specific information you can. At the very least, you will probably find yourself using section headers that include an introduction (not only an introduction to your company, but to the project/need and how you’d like to see this need addressed), requirements (the “have-to-haves”), the selection criteria you will use to determine to whom you will award the bid, budget (how much you are willing to spend), and timelines (how quickly you need this done). You may find that you will add or subtract sections, as needed for your particular RFP, or even add subsections for extra information a vendor would need to know before bidding.

Step 3

Flesh out your requirements section. This is usually the longest section and the one that requires the most attention. Be sure to spell out what you need done, not how you need it done—unless the process is a specific and essential part of the project. Also, use clear words to differentiate between your “have to haves” (use will, must, and required) and “nice-to-haves” (may, can, and optional).

Step 4

Write your RFP. You can search online for sample RFPs if you are having writer's block.

Step 5

Spellcheck and proofread your RFP. In some industries, a misplaced decimal point can make a huge difference.

Step 6

Distribute your RFP. You can mail or email it to potential vendors you are familiar with, or make it available in other ways, such as placing it on your company's website.

Step 7

Select your winning bid.

Tips

  • Prepare your RFP 8 - 10 weeks before you need the project or service. This allows time for proposals to filter in and to make the best decision prossible.

    Decide in advance what selection criteria you will use to determine the winning bid. All companies have different strength and will tailor their proposal to play to those strengths. Are you looking for the best price, the most experienced vendor, or the quickest turnaround time?

    You can require vendors to prepare their proposals in a specific way or format, but tell them this requirement in the RFP.

Warnings

  • The vendor usually pays to prepare their own proposal/bid as a common practice in most industries. However, you may want to spell this out clearly in your RFP.

About the Author

A writer and professional lab assistant based in Seattle, Kate Bruscke has been writing professionally about health care and technology since 1998. Her freelance clients include "The Seattle Times," KGB.com, Reading Local: Seattle, Nordstrom and MSN/Microsoft. Bruscke holds a Master of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.