After years of reading and writing many website proposals, I’ve seen it done in many ways. If you don’t live in that world, it can be hard to distinguish one from another. The following are some tips that will help you make the best decision when choosing a vendor for your web design project.

No RFP? No Problem

Unless you’ve already selected your vendor, it’s not too late to document the goals and objectives for your project. Just make sure they’re clearly defined, and written down, and have alignment from all relevant stakeholders.

Start with clear goals

A formal RFP (Request for Proposal) process forces an organization to define its goals and expectations for the project upfront. Whatever you call the document, it’s the first step in deciding the right vendor. You need clear goals for the project or it will be impossible to select the right fit for you.

A good RFP should include a clear overview of the purpose of the project, current pain points that you want to solve, and goals that will define what makes this project a success. This document will be the standard that will guide you through the rest of the project.

Start collecting web design proposals

Send the RFP to agencies you’re interested in seeing proposals from, post it on your socials, and get the word out in the community. Be sure to define a set length of time for the RFP to be open. Having a deadline will make sure you get the feedback you need promptly. Also, provide access for potential vendors to ask clarifying questions. You may get some insights from the types of questions you get. Once the proposals are collected, the fun begins!

Rule out the obvious “No’s”

Some proposals will miss the mark. If you received a lot of proposals, don’t waste your time on a deep dive into ones that you already know you’re not interested in. The first wave of elimination should be removing the ones that are not a fit.

Here’s a list of potential deal breakers:

  1. Doesn’t address the pain points, goals, and objectives outlined in the RFP
  2. Has typos and spelling errors (Grammarly, spellcheck)
  3. Looks sloppy and unprofessional (This is a design project, the proposal should look good)
  4. Doesn’t include a contract (it speaks to professionalism, and defines the terms of the relationship)
  5. Feels like it was written by ChatGPT, or just feels off for any reason.

The next steps in this process will be data-driven to help you make an informed decision, but use your gut to eliminate the ones you know won’t be a good fit.

If the proposal reflects what was in the RFP, and you’re feeling good about it, they move to the next round. Bonus points if they asked clarifying questions in the process to make sure they were meeting all of your needs.

Rate the rest and start the research

You can do this digitally, but if you can, print the proposals and lay them out on a long conference room table from best to worst and start going through each one making sure they address each item in the RFP. Did they come within budget? Do they provide a sample timeline? Does their approach seem like a good fit?

Review the company values

Once you have a bunch of web design proposals to review, you’ll be tempted to skip over those first few pages that describe how awesome they are, their unique approach, their proprietary process, and successful case studies, and jump to the last page with the deliverables and pricing. However, hopefully somewhere in that preamble will be a description of company values. Finding a vendor that aligns with your values can make the relationship go much easier and it’s worth considering it when choosing a vendor.

Quality of their work

Next, you’ll want to review the quality of their work. They should have provided examples of web designs that you can review. Don’t forget to look at their website as well.

  • Do you like what you see?
  • Have they worked with others in your industry?
  • Go to their websites and navigate around. Do they load quickly? Are they organized and easy to navigate?
  • Do all their sites look the same, or do they feel unique?

Quality of the experience

Often agencies will have a published process for how they approach their work. Review that and see if it feels like something you can get on board with. For example, some will allow for multiple designs you can select from, and some have limits to the rounds of revisions. There are different ways to approach the web development process. Exploring those differences may give you some insights into what they will be like to work with.

Look at online review sites or client testimonials. The ones that they provide will be glowing, so find their Google Business Profile, BBB, or Clutch review which will be more objective.

Company size and years in business

Larger companies can be more stable, there’s an escalation path if there are issues, and they may have more longevity to support you in the future. Smaller companies may be more innovative, hungry to prove their value, and specifically suited to your niche.

Longevity in the industry is also an important consideration. There is a fresh energy that can come with newcomers, but nothing beats experience when it comes to creating comprehensive solutions, strategies, and potential hazards.

Price and terms

Evaluating the true project cost must factor in the up-front cost, payment terms, and maintenance costs. If payment terms are outlined in the RFP then you may already be in control of that factor, but for a website project agencies typically split the cost into two or three payments. 50% upfront, and 50% on completion is common, but progress payments at key milestones may also be expected. If they require initial payment to start work, and final payment to launch the site, you’ll want to understand that up front as well. This can have a major impact on the project timeline depending on how quickly you’re able to get the payment processed.

Consider the cost of ongoing maintenance as well. You should be planning for that upfront, and if you select an agency that writes proprietary code, they’ll be your best (and maybe only) option for ongoing support. Maintenance costs can vary depending on what is included but don’t assume there will be none. The web is ever-changing and if you don’t keep things updated you’ll be looking at potential security vulnerabilities, performance issues, and missing out on new features as platforms evolve.

It may be tempting to go with the least expensive option, but start with all of the other criteria first, and judge based on price last. I’m assuming if they’ve made it to this round, they didn’t completely blow the budget that was defined in the RFP. Go with the best agency you can afford. You usually get what you pay for.

Vet your shortlist with clarifying questions

By now you should have the selection narrowed down to no more than 3 options. If you’ve narrowed it down to 1 already, this step will just be for clarification and will just serve to solidify your choice assuming nothing unexpected is uncovered in the process.

With the shortlist, you’ll want to go back to the RFP and ask any questions that may have come up in this process. Sometimes, seeing another agency’s approach will uncover new questions.

Here are a few more that you’ll want to have addressed upfront.

  1. What is the process if the project scope changes or if you need to go back and change something previously approved?
  2. What if we need more rounds of revisions?
  3. How do you handle maintenance after launch? What does that entail?
  4. Do you provide training and documentation for our team?
  5. What is your warranty period and what is covered?
  6. What browsers and devices will be supported?

For an even deeper dive into each potential partner/vendor, review this list of 17 questions to ask before you hire a web design agency.

Reach out to your shortlist with these questions, and one will most likely rise to the surface. All else being equal, go with the one that responded to your email the fastest with the best answers, or just go with the most expensive one you can afford.

Need help choosing a web design agency?

If you have a list of proposals and would like an outside perspective, book a call, and let’s discuss how we can help. Web projects are a big undertaking and a crucial way people will interact with your brand. It’s important to get it right.