How to write a request for proposal

A request for proposal, commonly known as an “RFP”; is a document governments and large corporations typically issue when seeking qualified vendors and contractors for large projects. Writing a request for proposal is challenging and requires detailed plans.

Organizations issue a request for proposal to attract the largest pool of qualified bidders to compete against each other for a contract. The goal is not simply to get the lowest bid but the lowest qualified bid.

Because the request for proposal is a public document that initiates an open bidding process, it’s important for organizations issuing an RFP to write it carefully in order to adequately detail both the project and the bid requirements. The Jotform request for proposal template is a useful guide for writing a detailed proposal that includes all the important requirements.

Follow these steps to write a request for proposal for your next big project.

Pro Tip

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Detail the project and what your organization needs

State what the project is — construction of a high-rise corporate headquarters, renovation of an apartment complex, development of a new information management system, etc. — and the capabilities vendors must demonstrate. If you expect the vendor to oversee the work and file progress reports, say so. List where the project will be, the timeline for completion, deliverables, and any penalties for missing deadlines and bonuses for finishing ahead of schedule.

Use this to guide your writing of the request for proposal so that you don’t overlook or omit something.

Write an executive summary

A request for proposal for a large project — such as building a high-rise office tower in a city center or a cloverleaf freeway interchange — is likely going to be a lengthy document. Use the executive summary at the beginning of the RFP to state what the project is, what you need from the vendor or contractor for the project to succeed, and what you require from the bidders in terms of capabilities, management skills, relevant experience, and so forth.

Include vendor qualifications and the project budget

Make clear what you seek from the vendor. This, of course, means actual capabilities — such as experience working with tower cranes if you’re building a high-rise building — but also a track record of workplace safety or fair hiring practices. State the project budget so vendors considering whether to bid can calculate whether they could make a profit.

Be transparent about the selection process

You know what you’re looking for, from a vendor both in terms of demonstrated capabilities and compatible culture. Make all of this clear in the request for proposal. Explain what you require from the winning bidder and what will disqualify a proposal. List the priorities of your company. Transparency helps vendors determine if they’re a good match and write more informative responses.

Provide timelines

Replying to a request for proposal can be as time-consuming as writing it. Give respondents adequate time to complete their responses, but set a strict deadline for submitting. State when the project will begin, when the contractor must obtain permits (if applicable) and begin work, which milestones you will contractually mandate, and when the contractor must complete the project. State all potential penalties and bonuses.

Format for readability

Use ample subheadings and bullet points to make your request for proposal easy to read. A well-written RFP provides a guide for bidders to write detailed responses. A well-organized request for proposal lists what qualifies as an acceptable response, keeping in mind some bidders might be responding to a formal RFP for the first time. Your goal is to get responses from all qualified bidders, not just the established players.

Have the expertise

Don’t expect someone with little experience in construction to write a request for proposal for contractors to build a massive new building. The same is true for a brand-new group of programmers when you’re looking to contract with someone to revamp your company’s data management system.

Whoever writes your request for proposal should have expertise comparable to that of the contractors you’re seeking. You’ll also need this same expertise from your evaluators, who will review responses and select the best contractor for the best price.

Detail the job but not how to do it

A good request for proposal details what work you need someone to accomplish — a building of this many floors, a hospital with a certain number of operating theaters, an information management system capable of this volume of data flow — but it doesn’t dictate how a contractor will accomplish the job.

You may not be up to speed on the most recent technology, techniques, or materials available. Write your request for proposal to encourage bidders to offer creative responses for achieving your goals.

While it’s standard procedure for the government at all levels to issue requests for proposals for all major projects, the process is too time-consuming for small businesses in many instances. Nonetheless, working through your project mentally and listing what you need is still a good practice, even if you don’t issue a formal request before hiring a contractor.

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Use a signature collection tool

Using a signature collection tool like Jotform Sign will make the proposal process much easier on you and your potential future vendors. Jotform Sign keeps your contracts, signatures, and audit trail all in one place. The decision-making process will be much more streamlined because your proposals will automatically become part of an approval flow when you send them out for signature. You can also designate a signing order to make sure the proposal goes through all the proper channels. 

When you decide on a vendor, you can send them a contract made with one of our many templates. Additionally, when you sign up for Jotform Sign, you have access to the rest of Jotform’s products so you can create surveys and RFPs all in one place.

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Peter Page is a professional writer whose career began in print. He has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business leaders as an editor at and Green Entrepreneur. He is now editor for contributed content at Grit Daily News.

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