How to Write an RFP for Municipal Website Projects

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What is an RFP?

An RFP is a document that solicits bids from vendors to work on and complete an outlined scope of work, which can be a one-time project or an ongoing service (or a combination). An RFP encourages vendors to submit proposals to be considered for the work. Usually, public RFPs are shared online, either on the organization's website or through a third-party system. As well as RFPs, other common public bid documents include the following: RFQ (request for quote), RFI (request for information), RFEI (request for expression of interest), RFSQ (request for supplier qualifications), etc

Note: Sometimes, RFPs are issued directly to one or more vendors. If issued directly it's typically called 'sole-sourcing', and if issued to multiple vendors, it's typically sent to three or four directly. This often varies depending on the organization's procurement guidelines.

When Do You Need to Send an RFP?

Depending on your local regulations, this can differ. Some organizations have their RFP sole-source, multiple bids, and public RFP thresholds set by a governing body, such as a Council or Board of Directors. Typically, we have seen the thresholds at one or more of the following: $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, $75,000; this usually depends on the size of the community served, and the structure of the organization.

Preparing for a Website Redesign RFP

Not sure if you need a new website? See our article on Signs it is Time for a Website Redesign.

When you need a new website (sometimes called a 'website redesign', 'website redevelopment', 'website replacement', 'website implementation, hosting, support and maintenance', etc.), deciding on what goes into your RFP is very important because it will dictate the submissions/proposals you receive. 

You'll want to set up your RFP so that your resulting website is user-friendly a resource for local information, helps you meet any legal requirements (such as web accessibility--for more about this, see our article on What is Web Accessibility), is on a secure and reliable platform, and is supported by your chosen vendor if needed.

Clearly stated preferences and requirements will ensure that you receive quality responses from vendors who can meet your expectations. Additionally, while most issuing municipalities prefer to receive multiple proposals, reviewing too many can be overwhelming and require a lot of resources to review, so don't be too vague in your requests! 

What to Include in Your RFP

We recommend taking a step back and clearly identifying what information will be useful for making a final decision and excluding other proposal requirements. For example, if you would like fixed-price proposals a time-task matrix requirement would be irrelevant and add more work for the vendors and your reviewing team.  To help determine the project scope and allow for more detailed proposal responses, we recommend including the following details in the RFP if possible:

  1. Project background 
    a. Indicate any projects connected to this website redesign project that is already in the works or recently completed, such as an information architecture (IA) initiative or new branding
    b. Indicate the decision makers involved, such as steering committees, leadership teams, elected officials (this could affect the scope and timeline if there are multiple approval points.), and any other vendors involved
  2. Timeline--Indicate the desired timeline to get the site live, and indicate if the timeline is flexible (this really helps vendors understand if this is just a request or a firm requirement due to an event or staff change, for example). We recommend not being too prescriptive about the details in the timeline (e.g. design review meeting on June 20, implementation done by July 7) since not only do your response reviews more-often-than-not take longer than planned but also because different vendors have different processes so your ideal order might not fit theirs. (See our article on Website Timelines for guidance if needed)
  3. Overall approach--Do you want this to be lean and clean, no bells and whistles, economical and quick; or do you want this to be the best website anyone has ever seen? This can drastically change the types of responses you get! Being up front with your expectations will help you get the types of submissions you want to see
  4. Budget--Please, please, please include a budget! We see RFPs all the time that don't have a budget listed, when in fact it was $5,000 or $1,000,000 or somewhere in between (see our article on The Right Budget for a Municipal Website for guidance if you need); if you don't include the budget or price range then you'll likely get many responses which fall way outside your constraints, resulting in time wasted for all involved
  5. Website requirements 
    a. Include just one master list of requirements (i.e., consolidate your lists into one master list if possible); this makes reading and answering the RFP easier, and allows for much more consistent responses in your review
    *This is probably the biggest error that organizations make when writing RFPs: many different lists of requirements
    b. Indicate any third-party applications you would like to have linked/integrated with the new website, and how you want them incorporated, which will help uncover expectations for depth of integrations (e.g., API requirement) and any changes in the works, like a new registration system, etc.
    c. If you like to engage the public for community feedback (e.g., through community surveys, focus groups, or user testing sessions). Read this article to learn more about engagement options
    d. If you have any requirements for website hosting, such as it needs to stay with the current host, or if you are open to hosting with the new vendor (note that many vendors require you to host with them as part of the solution)
  6. Expectations of the vendor’s responsibilities versus tasks that your staff will conduct in-house--for example, if your staff will be responsible for writing/revising/migrating website content versus requiring content services from the vendor. Read this article to learn more about content migration and accessibility
  7. Content management system (CMS) preference (e.g., open source versus proprietary), and if you aren't sure, be open to options
  8. Website design approach preference, for example a template design/theme (used by other organizations) versus a custom design (unique to your organization). Read this article to learn about custom and templated website designs and which one might be a fit for your organization
  9. Relevant statistics
    a. Number of current website pages (this helps determine scope/timeline for content migration, content editing, and/or sitemap reorganization if required)
    b. Daily/monthly website visit estimates (this helps decide the hosting package that bests meet your goals). Tools such as Google Analytics 4 can pull some of these statistics
    c. Number of staff/website users who will be involved in content creation/management for the new website, and how involved they will be
  10. Share a weighting/scoring matrix so vendors know which parts of the proposal are most important to you

Bonus tip: Give yourself a realistic timeline for reviewing proposals, conducting interviews and demos, and selecting a vendor. This often takes longer than anticipated, we see this process taking anywhere from a couple of months to over a year. Municipalities frequently receive 20+ submissions to public RFPs, and need weeks if not months to review the submissions (especially if the RFP requests result in 100+ page responses). 

If you are preparing for a website redesign project and would like to speak to our team of experts to learn more about our approach and process please get in touch

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