How To Prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP): A Step-by-Step Guide

How To Prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP): A Step-by-Step Guide

Navigating the complexities of vendor selection and project initiation can be daunting for any business. A Request for Proposal (RFP) streamlines this process and ensures that you find the best fit for your project’s needs. Enterprise companies (5,001 to 10,000+ employees) win 46% of the RFPs they participate in. However, mid-market companies (501 to 5,000 employees) are just 1% behind, calculating a win rate of 45%. This statistic underscores the effectiveness of well-prepared RFPs in securing the right partnerships.

In this guide, we’ll walk through how to prepare an RFP, highlighting best practices and providing practical tips to make your RFP compelling and clear. With organizations increasingly relying on external vendors to meet their strategic needs—Gartner reports that external spending can account for up to 50% of a company’s total expenses—an effective RFP is more crucial than ever in achieving project success and financial efficiency.

This guide outlines a clear, methodical approach to RFP preparation. It aims to simplify the RFP process and help you leverage the best external capabilities for your project’s benefit.

What is an RFP?

An RFP (Request for Proposal) is a formal document issued by a business or agency that describes a project’s specific needs and asks for proposed solutions from qualified vendors. This document solicits suppliers to submit business proposals detailing how they would solve the project requirements and at what cost.

An RFP differs significantly from a Request for Information (RFI), which is typically used in the preliminary stages of vendor engagement to gather general information about the capabilities of potential vendors. While an RFI is used to understand what solutions exist in the market, an RFP is more targeted; it invites vendors to submit comprehensive bids and solutions, facilitating a detailed comparison of potential providers based on their proposals.

The RFP process includes a detailed description of the project, including its scope, timeline, and specific requirements. It often requires vendors to provide detailed information on their qualifications, methodologies, timelines, staffing, and pricing structures. The purpose of an RFP is not just to receive a quote for services but also to evaluate the compatibility of potential vendors with the project goals and company culture. This strategic tool allows buyers to systematically compare and contrast capabilities and offerings, ensuring the best fit between the vendor’s solutions and the project’s objectives.

1. Understand the Purpose of Your RFP

Before drafting your RFP, it’s essential to clearly understand why you are issuing one and what you hope to achieve. This clarity will guide the entire process, helping to align your internal team and the responses you receive from vendors.


2. Gather Internal Requirements

Successful RFPs are built on a foundation of thorough internal agreement on the project’s scope, goals, and criteria. Gather key stakeholders to define:

  • The project’s purpose
  • Specific needs and expectations
  • Budget constraints
  • Desired timelines
  • Selection criteria

3. Write a Clear, Concise Introduction

Your RFP should start with a brief introduction about your company and the purpose of the RFP. This section sets the stage for vendors, providing essential background information that can influence their decision to participate.

“AJC Health is a Washington, DC-based health communication firm that empowers young adults to lead healthier lives. We are seeking proposals for a video series that educates on health topics.”

4. Define Project Details and Scope

Be as specific as possible about what the project entails and what deliverables you expect. Include information such as:

  • Project objectives
  • Scope of work
  • Specific tasks and responsibilities
  • Deliverables

“We require a three-part video series that discusses nutritional choices, exercise, and mental health for teenagers. The selected vendor will handle all aspects of production from scripting to final editing.”

5. Outline Budget and Constraints

Transparency about the budget will help vendors determine if the project aligns with their services and capabilities. Additionally, outline any potential roadblocks or constraints that might impact the project’s progress.

“The budget for this project is not to exceed $15,000. To ensure accessibility, all content must comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”

Also Read – RFP in Project Management

6. Detail Your Selection Criteria

Clear selection criteria will streamline the evaluation process and ensure that responses meet your needs. Criteria might include:

  • Vendor experience and past performance
  • Quality of previous work
  • Price
  • Projected timelines
  • Compliance with specific requirements

“Preference will be given to vendors with experience in educational content for government clients and demonstrated capability inaccessible multimedia production.”

7. Specify Submission Guidelines

Clearly state how proposals should be submitted, the format they should follow, any necessary forms or documents, and the deadline. Provide contact information for the procurement officer to whom questions and final proposals should be directed.

“Proposals must be submitted via email by MM/DD/YYYY to Please include all requested documentation, project timelines, and a detailed budget breakdown.”

8. Review and Revise Your RFP

Before releasing your RFP, review it carefully to ensure all information is accurate and presented. This step prevents misunderstandings and increases the quality of responses.


Once your RFP is polished and ready, distribute it to a carefully selected list of potential vendors. Monitor the submission process, be ready to answer questions, and prepare for the next phase of selecting the right partner for your project.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is an RFP?

An RFP (Request for Proposal) is a document that outlines a project’s requirements and asks vendors to submit proposals for completing the work.

2. When should I use an RFP instead of an RFI?

Use an RFP when you know your project needs and are ready to receive bids. You can also use an RFI to gather information about vendor capabilities before making decisions.

3. How detailed should the project scope be in an RFP?

The project scope should be detailed enough to give vendors a clear understanding of the tasks, deliverables, and expectations without being overly complex.

4. What should be included in the selection criteria?

Criteria may include vendor experience, quality of previous work, pricing, ability to meet deadlines, and specific project requirements.

5. What is the best way to format an RFP?

An RFP should be clear and scannable, using headings, bullet points, and concise language to outline requirements and instructions effectively.