If you are interested in hiring a consultant to help with your communications or marketing and want to compare a few firms or freelancers, you should put your needs in writing in an RFP (request for proposals).

Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention has drafted some great guidelines for marketing RFPs.

Here are a few more tips I’d emphasize, in addition to Nancy’s.

Include the dollar range. As Nancy points out, nonprofits can rarely pay for all that they really want, so don’t worry too much about consultants jacking up the price to match your budget. By including a range or a maximum, you let experienced consultants like Nancy and me tell you what we can give you for that money. You can then compare how much you are getting for your dollar when you look at all the responses to your RFP.

It also demonstrates that you respect the consultants’ time. A proposal for a $5,000 or $10,000 budget will be vastly different from one for a $50,000 or $100,000 project. It takes hours to put even a basic proposal together, so make it worth the time by helping us focus on what you really need and are capable of paying for.

Know what’s important to you and don’t ask for more. If you know how you’ll evaluate the proposals, you can ask for information that addresses those criteria. Don’t ask for a bunch of information that you won’t really use in your decision. For example, is my complete work history since high school really relevant? It’s doubtful that you need to know where I waitressed in college. When I see RFPs that request irrelevant details like that, I ignore them. You might even provide an outline that you want the consultants to follow in their proposals. Putting this outline together will help you decide what you really need and what you don’t.

Consider asking for a pre-proposal. If you are still in the fishing stage (you know you need help, but you aren’t really sure exactly who could help or how), ask for a two-page pre-proposal that outlines a general approach to your project, or some options, along with some basic information on qualifications. Most consultants can quickly whip up two pages and it will give you enough information to narrow down the candidates to a few from which you can request full proposals.

Tell consultants what additional contact they can expect. Will you let us know that you received our proposals? Will you let us know when you’ve made a decision, even if we are not selected? Common courtesies like these go a long way in helping consultants determine whether they want to work with you or not.

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