Friday, October 14, 2011

Creating and Managing an RFQ or RFP for a New, Small to Mid-Sized Business Website

Small to mid-sized local and regional business owners are very frequently faced with the nagging and very intimidating process of updating their online presence. This may focus on the core website, but may also include profiles in social media communities, marketing & advertising, mobile applications.

What's the best approach for creating a "Request for Quote/Proposal" (RFQ/RFP) to document your requirements and budget, and solicit a qualified provider to build your new website? Within your budget and timeframe?

It's very important to be methodical and complete as possible when preparing your RFQ, in order to avoid:

(A) unqualified responses,
(B) excessive question and answer exchanges, and
(C) receiving proposals that are very different from one another, in terms of services delivered , costs and/or project management expectations.

You want to create a solicitation that enables an "apples-to-apples" comparison, and competitive prices.

Following are the initial items to consider when preparing your RFQ – additional items will be covered in the next posting on this topic. The more time spent upfront planning and documenting a clear, organized and comprehensive RFQ – the better providers you'll attract and ultimately the better outcomes. Preparing a typical, information-only mid-sized business website RFQ shouldn't take more than a few days (including reviews and approvals), once the strategic planning material and documentation has been collected and verified.

  1. Engage a trusted website or Internet technology adviser, to help you organize your requirements, express them in a way IT providers understand, and interpret any responses. Perhaps a business partner or associate can help out – ask around your professional network or retain a local advisor. Working WITH a trusted IT adviser can save you many hours and days of time, and considerably reduce your risks. Such an adviser may also be able to help direct the RFQ to preferred providers, reasonable and effective sources of consultant services, or other well-known sources for feedback (and thereby avoid a deluge of spam or excessive, useless sales pitches). KME Internet Marketing provides trusted advisory services for IT procurements, for example.

  2. Organize your requirements by:

    • "Provider Requirements" – these are the characteristics of the provider you're seeking, including whether they're local or offshore/nearshore, independent or part of a larger agency, very experienced (with references) or can be relatively new, etc.
    • "Project Requirements" – the logistics around responding to the RFQ and submitting a proposal, the schedule and major project milestones, stakeholders, locations and any other criteria regarding the working relationship of the Project Team.
    • "Business Requirements" – i.e. the overall business objectives of the website, its audience, how success is measured, the relationship of the website to other IT or communications channels, what should happen with the old website, etc. Also, "non-functional characteristics" of the website, like availability (i.e. how critical it is that the website is "up"), security (is there any real sensitive information to be protected?), and scalability (essentially, will this website need to grow bigger in the near future, and in what ways).
    • "User Experience" (UX) Requirements – information, guidance or examples regarding the visual branding, look and feel, use of template or not (i.e. will this be a purely custom design?), kind of user interaction controls (i.e. buttons, sliders, zoom in-out, etc.) or devices that will be used (including mobile requirements).
    • "Web Application" Requirements – for some websites, a custom-built or configured application with a database is required, where users enter data during some kind of workflow, and the system processes it, and then publishes other information either back to the user or to other systems. Be as explicit as possible regarding data and database requirements, including any conversions or migrations from existing sources. Note the "Web Applications" also includes any 3rd-party COTS products, like email or ecommerce systems, analytics programs, content management systems or blogging software.
    • "Information" Requirements – the website may provide users with different kinds of text, images, files, videos, etc.; this "web content" needs to be described in terms of how it's managed, how much and what types, and where it comes from.
    • "System" Requirements – this is where you'll need to consider the website "infrastructure" or "hosting platform" requirements – in most cases for small businesses, an "Internet Services Provider" (ISP) will have a standard package that's acceptable, but it's worth documenting the primary elements of these requirements including whether or not your website will be on "shared" servers, how often your data is backed up, what operating system applications are being used and what kind of Internet domains and subdomains you might need to set up. Also, be clear regarding whether your business or the new web development shop will procure and manage any software or IT service licenses or agreements.

  3. After you've organized and documented any requirements you have (and you may not actually know all the requirements yet, but can express some assumptions ), determine what kind of visual illustrations or models can be quickly produced to help the RFQ respondent understand the visual theme and user interactivity approach you're seeking. Examples of other websites that you like, a high-level diagram of the main website pages, a high-level "site map" (i.e. showing how many core web pages, what they're for, and how they're linked), and perhaps some screenshots of the old site with annotations about what you don't like – these are all helpful to include.

Next Steps – Package the RFQ, select (and screen as necessary) the respondent pool or targets, test it out, then distribute and manage interim feedback and formal responses. Once the "best fit" responses are identified, the actual evaluation and decisions can be made.