Freelancer Tips: Everything You Need to Know about Responding to RFPs

Have you ever received a request for proposal (RFP) from a potential client? Or noticed one in the E-Learning Heroes forums?

If you’re an e-learning freelancer, you might be wondering if it’s worth prepping a response to an RFP—and, if you do, the best way approach.

In this article, I’ll help you learn what RFPs are, and share my tips for preparing and submitting your response.

RFPs in a Nutshell

When a company doesn’t have internal resources to complete a project, they must find someone on the outside to help. Their goal is to find a business partner qualified to execute and successfully complete their new project. If a company has a more formal qualification process, they might determine who is qualified by writing and distributing a competitive RFP.

Each organization will have its own requirements in an RFP, so they vary widely. In the E-Learning Heroes forums, I’ve seen RFPs that were four to ten pages in length, requiring five to six days to craft and prepare a response. Less common are complex RFPs 50+ pages in length, requiring weeks to prepare.

Typically, an RFP includes:

  • Introduction / Company Background: Information about the organization issuing the RFP.
  • Project Scope / Requirements: Details about what work they need completed.
  • Selection Criteria: More info about how they’ll choose the winning RFP.
  • Timelines: Context to help you understand how quickly the work should be completed.
  • Processes to follow for submitting questions: In case you need to clarify the scope and requirements.
  • Questions and RFP requirements: Info about what you should include in your response.

Should I Bid?

One of the first things to ask after reading the RFP is, “Should I bid on this?” If you decide you can’t meet the timelines proposed or don’t have the resources/skills needed, then stop. There’s nothing wrong with passing on the opportunity if it’s not a good fit for you, especially since the time you take to respond to an RFP isn’t paid.  

Make sure to read the RFP closely and keep an eye on the fine print. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Requirements are very specific for submitting questions, including deadlines, processes, and how to submit them. If you fail to follow these guidelines, you could be disqualified.
  • Questions submitted, and their answers, are almost always shared with others competing for the same project. Be strategic in what you ask so as to not give away insights into how you intend to approach the work.

If all your research shows that this RFP is a great opportunity for you, it’s time to get your response ready.

Writing Your Proposal

You’ll want to get your response started with basic info, such as:  

  • Company name and contact info
  • Company background and client references
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) for anyone who will be doing work on this project
  • Work samples

After you’ve covered the basics, make sure to respond to any specific questions or requirements that are outlined in the RFP. As you approach each question, make sure your answer is detailed and answers questions such as:

  • How will you approach solving the problem(s) referenced?
  • How have you solved similar problems?
  • What value can you emphasize with your proposed solution(s)?
  • How much will you charge for your services?
  • What assumptions will you make about the project?
  • What will your proposed project schedule look like?

If something in the RFP is challenging, point it out in your proposal. It’s not unusual that some requests may be more complex to implement than others. Be open and honest; it shows you’re thinking strategically.

Tailor your proposal personally to the client. As you prepare your response, show that you understand their unique challenges and explain how your company can help address them.

To answer questions regarding schedules, start dates, milestones, and what you’ll charge for your services, I recommend the following additional resources: 3 Tips to Know Before Negotiating Your Next E-Learning Contract and E-Learning Project Estimate Worksheet.  

Tips on Bidding for Larger Projects

Large projects often include requests for financial records. From my experience, it’s best not to provide confidential information (e.g., cash balances, income statement). Instead, provide more general financial information such as the number of years in business, your number of clients, and client references. This information usually suffices when it comes to demonstrating that you’re a legitimate business. If not, you’ll have to decide how much is too much to give. It’s also common for these to require that you have a business license, professional liability insurance, and sign non-collusion statements and business continuity agreements.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully these tips will help you make informed decisions about the next RFP that comes across your desk—and capture any business you decide to bid on! If you have any questions, please share them in the comments below.

8 Comments
Stephen Gee
Nancy Woinoski

I don't actively pursue RFPs and have decided not to bid on them when invited. For the most part, I find that the elearning RFPs lack enough information to make a proper bid or they ask you to jump through hoops just to get to an interview stage. Having said that, I know you are based in Ontario so you could try https://www.merx.com or http://www.rfp.ca for public sector opportunities. You can also try city websites such as https://web.toronto.ca for municipal opportunities. Some of these sites make you pay for the RFP so you have to decide if it is worth it or not and since most seem to be geared towards big vendors or have a vendor of preference (and they are just going through the motions) it is most likely a long shot to submit a bid. As for private sector RFPs, I am not sur... Expand

Richard Watson

Stephen, My apologies for the delay in responding to your comment on this article. I've been dealing with Internet connectivity problems for several weeks and just got them resolved today. It looks like Nancy gave you some good advice! In regard to your question, "Where do you find RFPs?" Here are some thoughts: I often receive requests to submit RFPs from vendors who have found me either here in the ELH forums or via my social media presence. Many times, as Nancy states, the RFPs are very limited in the information they provide. I have been approached to bid on government and academic projects (via my contact form on my website) but sometimes, the hoops you have to jump through may not be worth the time you'll need to invest in them. Here in the U.S., you can search... Expand

Tracy Carroll
Richard Watson