An RFP requires strong details to promote your project. Understanding the necessary sections saves time and ensures you’ll attract relevant vendor submissions.

Nearly all government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses need to attract external vendors to complete a project or provide a service. A request for proposal (RFP) is an important procurement document that announces and describes a project or purchase request.

Compared to using a proposal template where you’re trying to secure a donor or customer, an RFP solicits an opportunity for vendors to help resolve a specific need for your organization.

Although the RFP process isn’t the most exciting one, writing an effective RFP is essential for your organization’s success. We’ll share the background behind RFPs and tips for crafting your own proposal.

RFP meaning: Request for proposal.

An RFP includes the scope of a project or information about what needs to be purchased. RFPs can be open to any qualified company or sent by invitation only to a select set of firms.

RFPs require specific elements to help the proposal be as clear and detailed as possible. Buyers and contractors like to use a request for proposal because it eliminates the guesswork from the procurement process. A good proposal makes the process of finding a vendor easier — it outlines information for both parties, including what needs to be delivered, the project budget, and timelines. A good proposal will save you time, money, and resources by only attracting qualified vendors.

The RFP process has six essential steps:

  1. Identify stakeholders
  2. Collect RFP requirements
  3. Create RFP
  4. Evaluate RFP responses
  5. Select winning vendor
  6. Create vendor contract


The meaning of an RFP is not to be confused with a request for information (RFI), which is used to understand what solutions are currently available in the marketplace. An RFI helps conduct general research, but an RFP is used to narrow down that research. RFPs allow companies to shop for a vendor that can help them meet the goals of their project. The RFP process helps companies make a final decision by reviewing qualified submissions.


An RFP is also different from a request for quote (RFQ), which is used to request pricing options for a specific product or service. Companies use an RFQ when they know exactly what they are looking for in a vendor, or if they want to directly compare two or more vendors.

When to create an RFP.

Not all projects need an RFP. However, if you are creating a complex project that requires a specific set of skills, you can use an RFP to solicit vendors and use your predetermined request criteria to compare them objectively.

As an example, let’s pretend that your company wants to create a marketing video to celebrate the launch of a new product. If your company doesn’t have an internal creative team, you may have already contracted with one or several freelancers. But if the video project for this product launch is complicated or is outside the scope of your current resources, you can create an RFP directed toward multimedia companies that specialize in video production.

A successful RFP also helps create competition among vendors and provide comparisons in experience, pricing, and turnaround times.

Best practices for RFPs.

You’re probably already familiar with how to write a proposal to win a new client. What do you do when you’re the one who needs to hire a business or contractor for a project?

When writing an RFP, you’ll need to include various types of important information about the specific needs of your company’s project. RFPs must include everything a potential supplier or subcontractor needs to know and should serve as an outline — it should give them a good idea of the project’s scope so that they can bid accurately.

Identify project needs.

Although no set formula exists for writing an RFP, you should consider the following key elements for your project:

  • Project needs, goals, and scope
  • Project timeline, including whether the deadline is flexible or not
  • Potential concerns or roadblocks for the project, including any specific challenges for the vendors to solve
  • Estimated budget range for the project
  • Metrics for determining the success of the project

Identify stakeholders.

You’ll need to put together the team that will evaluate the RFP responses. Defining and documenting the roles of each team member is important for creating the RFP evaluation process. Some stakeholders who may be important to include are:

  • Primary stakeholders. Involve the individual who requested the project or solution as well as other prominent members of the department or team.
  • Executives. A company executive will usually be tasked with the final approval of high-cost projects.
  • Procurement. A member of the procurement team will ultimately review the request, help distribute the RFP, and work with vendors.
  • Other stakeholders. Depending on the needs of the RFP, you should also consider including IT, legal, and financial reviewers.

Define RFP evaluation process.

If you are going to create an RFP, you and your stakeholders need to prepare how you will evaluate responses from vendors. Discuss and plan the following proposal planning elements:

  • How RFP responses should be submitted and whether e-signatures are supported
  • The deadline for bid submissions
  • The date the winning proposal will be announced
  • Criteria for evaluating proposal responses and selecting a vendor

A typical RFP lasts around two weeks. In setting your bid review timeline, allow your team adequate time to review all proposals without compromising your proposed project start date.

When evaluating the responses, you may be looking for a vendor with a certain certification. Or you may prefer vendors who already have similar experience with the project outlined in your RFP. One important criterion is a bid response within scope and budget. Write down all aspects that you will use to determine if a vendor meets the project requirements.

Choose proper creation and formatting tools.

Choose the format that will be best for your RFP. Many RFPs are created using spreadsheets or word processing software and distributed electronically, though formats can also be web-based. For a more efficient and organized process, draft the RFP using RFP software to save time and improve collaboration.

Use an RFP template.

Using an RFP template will convey the best meaning for your project — it will help you transfer all your proposal needs into a streamlined request for vendors. Additionally, a template helps you spend less time organizing your content and more time finding the right vendor.

Although RFPs may be designed differently, they will all include the key elements outlined above to ensure your proposal is complete from start to finish. Using a template will provide consistency during the evaluation process and simplify side-by-side response comparisons.

How to write an RFP in 7 steps.

Once you have planned and prioritized all the requirements for your project and processes, you can populate the content needed for your RFP in 8 easy steps.

1. Introduce the company and project.

The first part of your request for proposal is your chance to introduce your company. An RFP can be similar to a job application where you want to promote your company in its best possible light. Explain your company’s industry, business history, and mission, and include details about the executive team. Also, include your company’s contact information so vendors can ask questions if needed.

You’ll also introduce the purpose of your project, including its goals and objectives. If your company has requested any similar projects from other vendors, those previous projects could also be mentioned here as examples of expected results.

2. Outline project background.

Explain the background of your project. Ensure your RFP expresses what you mean to say clearly to vendors. Help vendors understand why this project or service is needed, your priorities, and the specific qualities you are looking for in a vendor. Also, outline the proposed timeline for the project, including the projected completion timeframe (or specified date).

3. Provide bid deadline and proposal timeline.

Specify the deadline for proposal submissions, including how to submit responses and what format to use.

If you want your deadline to be at a specific time, include that time as well. You can choose to disregard any bids that are submitted after that time and date, as you should work with vendors who show they are capable of meeting or exceeding deadlines.

Identify the timeline for the RFP proposal process. Outline how long after the bid deadline you will review the proposals and what date the selected vendor will be announced. Also, indicate how you will announce the selected vendor.

4. Specify budget.

Outline the budget for the project. You can require that vendors itemize their pricing for each element within the project scope.

If you aren’t sure about an aspect of the budget, include that information in the RFP. Invite vendors to propose projected costs based on the scope requirements.

5. Outline project scope.

This section is where you can outline all specific elements within the project scope and outline the expected deliverables from the vendor. Reiterate the goals of the project and all expected tasks.

Additionally, you can also outline milestone deadlines that you expect during each week or month of the project, depending on the project duration. Or, if you want to implement a recurring project update project, indicate those expectations clearly as part of the project requirements. Some RFPs include a penalization fee that the vendor must pay if the project is not met by the completion date.

6. Express concerns or roadblocks.

Obviously, not all issues that may occur in a project can be foreseen. However, if your project has some potential roadblocks that you know about in advance, identify these for the vendors so they can address them as part of their response.

You may also include other questions that you have for potential vendors. In relation to the project as a whole, you could also consider asking what questions have not been addressed from the vendor’s perspective and how the vendor would respond. As part of issuing an RFP, you are soliciting a specific skillet, and vendors who have experience with such a project may have insights to contribute about the project.

7. Explain evaluation criteria.

Vendors don’t want to waste their time responding to an RFP if they don’t know how their response will be evaluated. Telling them the requirements will help them know how well they may meet the criteria and possibly be selected as your vendor.

Create your RFP template with Adobe.

Adobe Acrobat products help you with every step of the RFP process, including:

Frequently asked questions.

What is an RFP template?

An RFP template contains the ideal structure for your RFP and ensures that all essential information is included in the proposal. It also provides structural consistency for side-by-side comparisons during the evaluation process.

What are the essential steps in the RFP process?

  1. Identify stakeholders
  2. Collect RFP requirements
  3. Create RFP
  4. Evaluate RFP responses
  5. Select winning vendor
  6. Create vendor contract

How do I create an RFP?

The best way to create an RFP is by using good RFP software. If you’re going to be sending proposal requests to multiple companies, you need a good way to create and organize the responses that will be submitted to you during the RFP process.

What should be included in an RFP?

Although RFPs can be written differently, all RFPs should include the following key elements:

  • Project needs, goals, and scope
  • Project timeline, including whether the deadline is flexible or not
  • Potential concerns or roadblocks for the project, including any specific challenges for the contractors to solve
  • Estimated budget range for the project
  • Metrics for determining the success of the project
  • The team that will evaluate the RFP responses and the role of each team member
  • The deadline for bid submissions
  • The date the winning proposal will be announced
  • Criteria for evaluating proposal responses and selecting a vendor

What are the 7 steps in writing an RFP?

  1. Introduce the company and project
  2. Outline project background
  3. Provide bid deadline and proposal timeline
  4. Specify budget
  5. Outline project scope
  6. Express concerns or roadblocks
  7. Explain evaluation criteria

How do I select the winning vendor for my RFP?

For an objective comparison, your team should use the evaluation criteria set as part of the RFP. The winning vendor will meet most or all of the evaluation requirements. If multiple vendors meet the requirements, you can contact the vendors to ask additional questions, ask for references from previous clients, or request a walkthrough of a prior project. For software bids, you can ask for a demo of the product.

How do I send a digital contract to my selected RFP vendor?

Once you’ve received and selected your winning proposal, consider sending a digital contract for your chosen contractor to sign using an e-signature. Discover how Adobe Acrobat can help you get your business documents signed faster and more securely than with traditional signature-gathering methods.

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