Congrats are in order! You’ve decided to hire a real, honest-to-goodness pro to design your new website. Your carefully crafted RFP (request for proposal) spells out your needs. You’ve done your homework, spoken with qualified candidates before requesting a website proposal, and now have several in hand.
All going according to plan… so far. But now what? How are you going to sort through those proposals, rule out the also-rans, narrow it down to the best of the best, and eventually choose the perfect designer who’s the ideal fit for your project?
It must confirm that the web pro has the needed skills and experience, has defined a solution that will help you reach your goals, and offers a strategy to implement it within cost and schedule constraints.
How to evaluate a website proposal
Start with ruling out non-contenders. Begin with a brief review of each website proposal, and drop the ones where:
- The cost is far above your stated budget.
- The delivery date goes far beyond your required timeline or deadline.
- There’s not enough “there” there. While you shouldn’t evaluate proposals based on page count, an extremely brief proposal indicates the level of attention this pro is willing to invest. If the proposal is merely a statement of “Sure, we can do it for $3,000,” cross them off your list
You don’t need to accept a proposal “as is”
After you’ve rejected the obvious non-contenders, it’s time to dig into each website proposal for more detail. Don’t immediately reject a proposal missing one of the key items outlined below. It might be difficult to capture all of your requirements from initial conversations or the RFP. If it’s a contender but you have concerns or questions, ask for revision or clarification.
First impressions count
The website proposal is actual work candidates are delivering. The level of professionalism shown here is a good predictor of professionalism in future work. Spelling, grammar or punctuation errors indicate a lack of attention to detail.
You have every right to expect an organized document with a logical flow to conclusion with a price quote.
Beware of a document overloaded with marketing “fluff.”
By the time you receive a website proposal, you should have had enough discussion to know that this pro is a viable candidate. You don’t need an extensive marketing pitch now.
Then again, this is business
Even though you already know something about them, the website proposal should also summarize key aspects including age and experience of the business, and legal status. If you’re talking to an agency, they might include background information about staff members assigned to your project.
Take it personally
Most web pros have a template and know what belongs in a website proposal. While writing it might not take long, some want to do additional research before making a commitment — including evaluating your current site or competitors.
Look for customization relative to your project needs, competition, and references to specific requirements or concerns already voiced. You want confirmation that they were listening, heard what you said, and will work to help you reach your goals.
You need to know what you’re paying for, as well as how and when to make payments. That includes details about accepted payment methods, deposits, progress payments and penalties on overdue payments.
Look for evidence substantiating the quoted price — whether it’s a list of pages, a time-based estimate or a standard package with relevant details.
You want assurance they have put adequate time into understanding your needs and priced your project accordingly. Beware of a single, bottom-line lump sum without a breakdown of where the money is going.
Understand additional costs
Look for details about costs not directly associated with the development of the website, including information about who pays for what. These costs could include fees for related services, such as hosting, domain registration, SSL or email, or single-purchase items such as stock photos or licenses for necessary third-party software.
Who else is on the team?
It’s reasonable to think your web pro will need to integrate some third-party solutions to supply all required features. If they are outsourcing part of the design work, that also should be clearly defined, as it can affect the project in terms of cost, schedule and interaction.
Time and time again
The timeline should include estimates for elapsed calendar time and the commitment of a start date. If your RFP specifies a target launch date, you would expect them to commit — but note that some pros will not commit to a firm completion date without an escape clause, because completion depends on timely delivery of information, feedback and approvals from the client.
Approach and philosophy
While you want to be assured that the candidate is capable of delivering the work, you also want to know how they will go about it. Have they explained their process and strategy to track progress and meet milestones? Are they communicating through email status reports or collaboration tools such as Google Drive or Basecamp? Do you feel that your communication styles are a good fit?
The website proposal should clarify which content the web pro will create, as well as the content you are expected to provide. It’s a reasonable assumption that all text should be original or reused with express permission of the author or owner of that text. Photos may be either provided by the client or purchased through stock imagery sources.
Revisions and re-work
Is there a limit on revisions, or are they willing to keep working until they have it right? Beware of proposals specifying a limited number of revisions with possible additional fees.
What happens after launch?
Expect clarification of a post-launch window where you’re allowed some fine-tuning, based on feedback or discovered errors. Look for information about handling ongoing back-end maintenance work and content updates — including associated costs.
You paid for it, you own it
Get assurance that the site, its design and contents clearly belong to you after launch. This is work for hire: the pro must agree that once you’ve paid for it, the site belongs to you, not them.
You’ve reviewed proposals. Now what?
For any rejected proposals, take a minute to respond — even with just a quick email saying “thanks, but no thanks.” Let them know you’ve chosen another solution, so they aren’t left wondering if you received the proposal or are still making a decision.
For likely contenders where you want more info, go back to them with questions.
Once you’ve selected the winning proposal, contact the pro and ask about next steps. Some might include a signature section in the proposal, expecting that the client will sign and accept the terms. In that case, you’ll need to make sure the proposal really covers all of the items a contract would cover. If not, ask for a contract.
- Take a methodical approach to reviewing website proposals.
- Be willing to ask for clarification or revision.
- Don’t be afraid to reject website proposals that don’t meet your needs. If you haven’t found the right person for the job yet, keep looking — and don’t settle for less than what you want and deserve.
Armed with these guidelines, you should be well on your way to selecting the best pro for your website design.
Also published on Medium.