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Control Website Costs With A RFP

The more work you put into defining your web site needs and securing bids, the less it is likely to cost.

A good Request For Proposals (RFP) will help get you the best price. We describe a procedure for web sites here, but the same rules apply to email campaigns, online donations, database development.

The cost of creating or upgrading a web site will depend largely on what you choose to do and how careful you are in your planning.  For nonprofits, creating a new web site or significantly upgading an existing site runs somewhere between $1,500 and $15,000 depending on:

The quality of your existing site, if any, and the quality you desire.
The size of the site (number of pages).
Graphic design elements.
The geographic location of your web designer (different parts of the country vary in price).
The physical location of your web designer (firms with high overhead charge more).

The most cost-effective web sites can be obtained with the following steps:

Define the goals for the site. (Why is it being built, or rebuilt?)
Identify the central message to convey through the web site.
Identify the number one target audience. Are there important secondary audiences?
Make an outline of the way you think your site structure should look and give names to the different pages.  Include as much detail as you have available.

If you have prior experience with a web design project then you have probably learned enough to do this yourself.  If you do not have that experience, or if your outline is very complex, or if you intend to include a database in your site, hire a web professional to draw up the proposal. 

The cost for having someone else prepare your request for proposals is likely to range from $500 to $1,500 and it will enable a high degree of specificity on the part of your bidders that will save you money.  I’ve seen savings that result from this approach of anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 on sites costing from $3,000 to $20,000.

A web professional can also spot items you think you want that may cost a lot more than you can afford.  She or he can work with you to describe a phased project that can be implemented over several budget cycles. Agree in advance with your professional about whether he or she will be invited to bid on the final project.

Due date (allow 2 – 4 weeks for responses)
Your revised site outline, goals, central message, target audience
Details of special requirements (ability to perform edits in house, use of in house staff in production)
Requirements for photos or other graphics
Technical requirements, if any
Desired timetable
Sample graphics, if available
Examples of other web sites you like
Requirements for information you would like detailed in the response
Description of proposed solution, including methodology and approach, technical architecture, and development techniques.
If this is a large project you may request a sample of a proposed design and layout based on your information
Implementation timeline that identifies key milestones from project start through implementation.
Relevant information regarding the use of third-party software,
Relevant information regarding the need to purchase additional hardware to support the proposed solution.
Requirements for information about the bidding company
Information for each assigned project team member, including: name, project role, company title, relationship to your company (if not a full-time employee), title, skill sets, knowledge base and experience.
Background information on your company, including: financial stability, number of full-time employees, breakout of staff
Overviews regarding company’s project experience designing and creating web sites.
Experience with planned giving and other planned giving web sites
Client references with name, title, and phone number.

Email your RFP to at least 10 web design companies.  Do not restrict yourself to local companies.  Many companies are experienced doing business long distance. Expect to meet your designer face-to-face only once, at their expense, at the interview.

Do not expect all of the web  design companies to which you send your RFP to respond, but do expect those who are truly interested in working with you to call you with questions.  Pay attention to how long it takes different companies to contact you.

Expertise and talent can make a difference between a good site and a great one. Just as the lowest bid may not come from the best designer, the highest bid may not be the best designer either. There's more to a good site than price. Here are some key points to review:

How long have they been in business? (solo designers cost less than full shops, but may not be in business in a year)
How many sites has the designer built?
Look at their recent work. What is the quality? Are there good reasons why some sites cost more?
What is the timeline for delivery? Do they guarantee the timeline?
Do they stand by their database work and repair any problems that may later emerge?
Do they use templates and style sheets to assure ease of updating?
Do they design with FrontPage (a sure sign of a novice)?
Beware of people trying sell you fancy graphics you haven't asked for.
Is the proposal detailed and responsive to the specifics of your RFP? Does it convey an understanding of your needs? Or is it a cookie-cutter reply?

Hourly rates mean little. It's not just how much the hourly rate might be. It's also how quick the designer is and how accurate. One company that charges $100 per hour may get more than twice as much done in one hour as another company that charges on $50. Just as very good companies can be over-priced, the lowest bidder is sometimes the least experienced.

Conduct face to face interviews with three companies that you select from among those responding.  Have online access at your meeting. Look at their work with them. Ask them to explain in detail their experience with web sites they have created. Ask questions about those experiences.

Talk to the people who have worked with the company you select, before you sign an agreement.

You can often get a break on the bid price or get a slightly expanded project for the same price.

One word of caution.  Never, ever share one designer’s proposal document with another designer. It’s illegal.

One word of kindness. Be sensitive to the fact that you are asking designers, especially independents, to invest significant time and resources in preparing a bid on your site. Don't send them an RFP unless they have an equal chance of obtaining the contract.

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