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Why is the RFP Process Such a Headache? 4 Tips to Make it Easier

As a previous director at a community management company that oversees multiple HOAs, it seemed as though our team of managers were constantly creating new requests for proposal (RFPs) for various services across our communities. Since I do it all the time, it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? It should at least get easier every time I go through the process, right?

No, it actually doesn’t.

To give you an idea of what we would go through every time we needed to find a new vendor, here’s an example of the process. Keep in mind that this is one of many examples and often, there can be several of these RFP processes happening at the same time.

In this case, we would set out to find a new landscaper to handle just our large tree-trimming needs. We already have several other good companies that cover the other landscaping needs, but they don’t do big trees. Or, I should say, they would do big trees, but their cost to do so is astronomical, so we decided to put out an RFP to find a new service provider.

Over the years, our company had created what we call an “RFP template,” but that term may be a bit of a stretch. It’s basically a Word document that we tweak every time to fit a new set of needs. In other words, I’d have to rewrite some of it for each new project. From start to finish, I’d say it would take up to three hours to complete, depending on the scope. And that’s just the beginning.

Once I sent it out, the real fun began. Within a few days, proposals start to hit my Inbox. After reading through each bid, I’d make notes and questions for each vendor. I usually created a spreadsheet to track these, as well as where I was in the process with each service provider, but sometimes I would forget to make notes in the spreadsheet and can’t remember who I’ve replied to yet, so it’s back to digging in the Sent emails to figure it out.

Once those replies and questions started going out via email, there was a ton of back and forth, and plenty of negotiating and promise-making by providers, not to mention voicemails and texts sometimes from the very same vendors that have also emailed me back. Between my phone and my Inbox, it’s too much to untangle and manage in my head and again, my spreadsheet isn’t the most reliable method for tracking all of the action.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Well, the whole point of me writing this article was an attempt to save you the headaches that I’ve experienced over the years! The truth is, I now have the opportunity to do things very different than the scenario described above and have learned a lot, especially recently with the development of some automated services.

Here are four tips that will make your RFP process much easier:

  1. Lay the groundwork first: Especially if you don’t know much about the service for which you’re requesting bids, do a little research in advance. For example, if you’re not an expert in roofing or landscape design, talk to people who are. Also, go online and get some sense of fair pricing and what services should be included. Since you’re the one who’s going to be reviewing the proposals and responsible for the results, don’t go in blind. Learn a few basics and enlist the help of any experts in your circle.

  2. Compare apples to apples: You may think that reviewing the proposals would be easy -- just take the best deal. But it’s not that simple. Sure, price is a big consideration, but there are many other factors involved. The truth is that it can be very difficult to compare quotes when they may contain a different mix of services. One way to avoid this is to be as specific as possible in your RFP and to set vendor responses to a specific set of criteria. Don’t leave wiggle room for vendors to propose things you don’t need or omit things you do.

  3. Lowest isn’t always best: As I just mentioned above, it’s not as simple as finding the lowest quote. In my experience, hiring a known and trusted service provider can save you a lot of effort and time, even if they’re slightly more expensive than the next guy. Also, knowing a vendor has all its legal ducks in a row (e.g. insured, licensed, etc.) is a factor that pays for itself if anything were to go wrong.

  4. Use an automated solution like Synlio: I learned this the hard way, but you can avoid almost all of the difficulties I described above by switching to an online service that does the leg work for you. You still need to be smart by using my three previous tips -- laying the groundwork, comparing apples to apples, and choosing the best value -- but the process of choosing a vendor will be so much smoother, faster, and less riddled with problems, I don’t see why you’d choose to stay manual.

Using these tips will allow you to create great RFPs quickly. Good luck on finding your next quality vendor!

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