7 Simple Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to a Website RFP

When responding to a website request for proposal (RFP), agencies often make simple but loud mistakes that drop them from consideration. Attention web agencies, creative boutiques and mobile development firms (or whatever the trendy term is these days): Here are 7 mistakes to avoid when your agency responds to an RFP.

1. The Canned, Self-focused Introduction

Your proposal’s introduction is the chance to demonstrate upfront that you have read the RFP, understand the organization and have done your competitive research. Often agencies use the introduction to boast about the number of directors they have on staff, how creative they are and the trendy neighborhood in which they’re located – all of which is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. The client does not care if your employees play retro video games at work or if there are bean bags in the conference room. They simply want to know why you are the perfect fit.

The introduction should clearly and succinctly demonstrate the value your agency provides for this specific project. Focus on your understanding of the project requirements, the client’s goals and their competitive market. Some of the best proposals I’ve seen pull a client in with teasers of innovative solutions and new market opportunities, right up front in a brief introduction.

Lazy Proof Reading

It seems impossible in a world of spell check and spreadsheets, but I often review proposals for clients that are riddled with spelling errors, grammatical atrocities and miscalculated costs. Then there is that agency that lists the wrong client in the title page, an indication of a bad copy-paste job and general disinterest. Such mistakes demonstrate inexperience, sloppiness, and poor communication skills, all of which lead the client to assume that the project will be carried out in a similar manor.

Every agency should expect their account teams to proof proposals to perfection. Asking staff not involved in the project to review the proposal will often catch unnoticed errors. A few mistakes here and there are always unavoidable, but don’t let obviously sloppy work cost you a big project.

3. Omitting Costs

If you recommend something in your proposal, their must be a cost clearly associated with it. For example, I recently helped a client review an agency proposing responsive design. During their pitch, I asked if responsive design was included in the proposal costs. Their answer was “no” and we quickly dismissed the agency from the RFP process.

Always include a cost for every item proposed. At minimal, be clear an item is out of scope and will be estimated at a later point.

4. Excluding Higher Level Leadership from Proposal Meeting

When inexperienced staff present at pitches, an agency gives the impression they do not care. Inexperienced staff often can’t provide solid answers to questions and lack the professionalism of agency leadership. I sat through several reviews and it never sounds good to hear, “Um, I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you” in the final presentation.

If you made it to the final round, a partner or director staff should attend the pitch to set a good first impression and to establish credibility. It shows that you are serious about getting the business.

Not Satisfying the RFP Requirements

This is pretty basic. When you finish your proposal, review the RFP again. Does your proposal meet all of the deliverables requested? If not, then your final quote is not competitive with what your competitors have submitted.

When reading an RFP, make a checklist or outline of requirements that you can address as you write the proposal.

6. 50-Page Proposals

Keep it short and sweet. The client is often exhausted from reading lengthy proposals and quickly loses interest in the details.

7. Dropping Bid Without Explanation

This mistake is not so much about dropping out, but rather, how an agency exits the process. As the RFP process proceeds, it may become clear to you that you are not a good match for the client. However, don’t drop out without explanation. This is unprofessional and may negatively affect your agency’s reputation for future bids.

If you decide to exit an RFP process, reach out to the client with a professional explanation.


Having guided companies through the website RFP process, I’ve seen agencies make these completely avoidable mistakes over and over again, costing them the project. If you need assistance writing a winning website proposal, contact Richter Sterling, a consulting firm experienced in guiding both companies and agencies through the daunting RFP process.