The Art of the RFP: Your Candidate Pool is Only as Strong as Your RFP

January 5, 2015

By Amy Holloway, President, Avalanche Consulting

As the New Year kicks off, you may decide to engage a third party to help your economic development organization create or implement a strategic plan. With public dollars often in the mix, many of you will be required to issue an RFP to ensure a competitive bidding process.

Over the past 20 years as a strategist in the field of economic development, I’ve reviewed hundreds of RFPs from economic development organizations. Through my experience, I have learned that the RFP itself is an indicator of what it will be like to work in a community. There are RFPs that excite us about an assignment and others that make us concerned to the point of not responding.

To help you make the most of your bidding process, I share five simple suggestions on how to craft an RFP that will attract responses from high caliber firms:

  1. Think short and sweet. In my experience, I have seen RFPs ranging from a few paragraphs to more than 50 pages in length. Be as clear and concise as possible. Whenever possible, start with the meat of the assignment: the context for the project, desired objectives, timeframe, budget (if possible), and contact person. If additional paperwork must be included, place those pages at the back of the document.
  1. Leave room for creativity. Avoid including a detailed description of the methodology that you want the consultant to follow. State your objectives and expectations, then let the consulting team prescribe a scope that reflects its unique point of view. You’ll find that the proposals you receive will be more creative and might even include solutions that you haven’t thought of.
  1. Cut the red tape. RFPs that require things like accounting records, notarized forms, dozens of printed copies, tabs in said printed copies, or anything else that requires craftsman-level skills in paper folding and binding, indicates to us that a community is more interested in red tape than results. (If those things are required, try to save the request until after you have your short list.) We love you, but we would rather spend time thinking about a custom approach for you than standing in line at Kinko’s. Starting with the RFP, show your bidders that you embrace technology and appreciate simplicity.
  1. Show your personality. Avoid legalese. Instead, show off your community’s character in the RFP. The chemistry between the EDO and the consultant needs to be positive for the relationship to succeed. Give a hint to what that chemistry might be like by being candid and authentic in your RFP. You’ll find that the resulting proposals are more engaging.
  1. Personally contact your top candidates. If at all possible, give your best prospects a heads up that they are being considered by personally alerting them to the opportunity. A personal connection, no matter how brief, raises our passion for the opportunity much more than if we are among dozens of competitors copied on a mass email or notified through a proposal distribution service.

I hope these tips help you craft your next RFP in a way that generates responses from the best thought leaders in our field.

Let’s make this year the most successful yet for economic development. Happy 2015!