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What’s new? We just received another RFP in the email this morning and I’m starting to get allergic to this types mails entitled “Request for Proposals” are they a legitimate RFP or RF Free? I need to consult my team and brainstorm if we are to proceed with it. My response to the sender is that “we are looking into your invitation and our team will evaluate your request” full stop.

Our next move will be to look into the proposal in detail, check the documentation, plans and requirements. Check out our Forum to participate in the discussions.

More often than not this RFP’s will come with a full suite of requirements that after submission, it has enough information to construct and fit-out a space without even paying a single cent for consultancy fees!

The most common requirements are a Floorplan, 3D Visuals and a detailed Bill of Quantities. Some optional items are materials board (just take a photo and send it), FFE specifications and may even include some basic construction drawings. It is normal that you will already have this done or at least studied because how can your QS come up with a “detailed costing” if the design team has not completed all the requirements.

Do your Due Diligence…

Anyway, the good thing is that most RFP’s come with a site visit and briefing which is the most important part of the project evaluation process. On this occasion, you will meet all your competitors and do due diligence to the Project Management or Facility Management company if they already have an inclined preference to a specific designer or contractor. During this briefing, we have to be mindful of the body language and conversational relationship between people so we are able to catch a glimpse of who are the front runners.

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After the site briefing, we will do a short team discussion on our chance of acquiring the project given the circumstances and the competition we will be facing.

Nowadays you have to know what battles you need to fight and not all clients are customers. Some just need an extra comparison for management to look into for compliance.

The question is do you want to be one of that “Extra Comparison” company after spending a week or two of late nights and brain-twisting concepts that define us as designers. Once everything is done, we all go into this RFP’s thinking we are all winners our designs are fantastic and our cost is competitive.

As part of our evaluation, we also look into our capabilities and our cashflow. Can we afford to go for a week or two focused only on this RFP totally disregarding other incoming projects because we are just a small team? Or we work smart by finding smaller opportunities but a higher chance of acquiring the work.

Do RFP’s need to be paid?

In the past, Designers and Contractors may even pay the requestor or project management companies to acquire documents to join this RFP’s. I remember preparing cheques of a few hundred to collect envelopes with CDs and hard copy documents printed on A3 or A4 sized papers. Nowadays they are mostly paid online and downloaded in pdf format.

Poor designers and contractors. In today’s cut-throat industry we will do everything just to get this opportunity. Sad to say that I always feel exploited by this process. Now we even have to pay instead of them paying our professional fees. This is totally absurd and a lack of respect for our profession.

As Designers, we have bills to pay and family to feed. As business owners, we have the staff to employ, software on subscription, rental for our premises, hardware to maintain and the most important factor, “Our Time and Professionalism”. and if we don’t acquire the project, this is a big loss especially to boutique firms like ours.

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What needs to be done?

In the past years, our firm used to join RFP’s frequently, our success rate is around 15-20% the most. More often than not our team goes empty-handed and demoralized upon hearing the news of another unsuccessful pitch or RFP’s. With this, we learn along the way and we mature both as designers and as a firm. We learn how to fight smaller battles with more rewarding victories.

Moving forward, I have wished there will be mechanisms in place to avoid what we have experienced and in return have a more engaged and well-rewarded approach to designers when it comes to RFP’s.

My suggestions are;

  1. There should be Professional Fees to pay RFP Participants not the other way around. The fees should at least cover the basic overheads of the firm to participate in the entire RFP process.
  2. There should be an Accreditation process with different level classifications for basic entries to this RFP. That means only accredited firms are allowed to join. This cuts the fat and increases the chance of acquiring the project for the participating companies. (Government-mandated accreditation is a long shot so why not leave the initiatives to organizations like SIDS, IDCS, IFMA, Corenet, etc.)
  3. More stringent Pre-qualification exercise. Some firms are doing it but with less substance. Others are just using preferential companies introduced by friends, colleagues or whoever. Some are from Google search. The PM & FM companies should at least put more effort on pre-qualification as much as we designers and contractors put our effort in giving them what they want. Again this increases chances for participating companies and not waste other firms time.
  4. Lastly, a more Transparent selection process that diminishes the participants’ doubt when it comes to preferential treatment. With the latest technology and fast live streaming services, decisions can be made in real-time and online.

If we can abide by this basic suggestion that I have proposed, we can drastically improve the RFP process resulting in better opportunities for participating firms, more quality designs, and cost-effective solutions.

The Office Designer.com has opened up a Forum to tackle these issues, you can submit more suggestions, comments or replies to the Forum Thread.

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