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An important part of planning your event will be hiring your venue and suppliers. To help you obtain quotes and choose the best vendors you should consider formalising the process by drawing up and sending out an official tendering document.

Known in the industry as a request for proposal (or RFP), the document will set out your requirements and prompt suppliers to respond in a specific way.

Michelle Fanus, Founder of Dynamyk Events and Lecturer in Events Management at University of West London explains exactly what benefits RFPs offer organisers and how to go about writing one…

What is an RFP and what do you use them for?

“An RFP is a request for proposal. You use it to set out all of your requirements to a proposed supplier for an event that you are planning.

“It’s important because you can refer back to it based on what you asked for originally, and therefore what you end up paying for once it comes to the quote.

“It is also great for comparing lots of quotations. You can send the same request to a number of suppliers; you can then compare exactly what comes back.”

Why is it better to issue a formal document rather than sending an email?

“It’s important to have it saved somewhere so you can easily access and refer to it. It is usually quite useful to have RFPs stored together in a cloud-based file because then it’s not just on your computer, it’s something that everyone can access.”

What kind of services would you use an RFP for?

All event services, so the main ones are venue and room hire requirements, catering, audio visual production, speakers, registration, exhibition stand builds, website development – anything with technical or design requirements.”

What size of event would an RFP be relevant for?

I would write RFPs for most of my events, whether it’s large or small, but the more complex the event, the more important it is to create comprehensive briefing documents.”

Where do you start writing an RFP?

I would normally start by writing down my goals, objectives and end point, then you can say, ‘What do I want or what do I need?’

“Break down in detail the service that you are looking for and also put why you are looking for it, because it might be that you don’t have the resource or the expertise in-house.

“I would always include the size of the event, the date of the event, timing, duration, if it’s on a weekend etc.

“Is it a formal event? Who is the customer? Is it an in-house event, is it a recurring event or is it an external event for one of your clients? Indicate the style and scale of the event to help the supplier get a feel for it.

“Also include timeframes and deadlines – how long do they have to deliver the service, how soon do you need it? The other thing I would do is give a deadline when you expect the quote to come back.

“Finally, are there any special requirements that you might need or any deal breakers? Is it that you’ve got a really tight budget and or a really short turnaround and you need it in the next two weeks? Specify those kind of key things.”

How much time should it take you to write a decent proposal?

Anything from about two to three hours to a week. You might be waiting on information to come back because there might be internal decisions that need to be made.

“The actual sitting down and creating of a document would probably be about two hours, but you need to allow for the actual preparation.”

How long is a reasonable amount of time to give suppliers to respond to an RFP?

“It depends on how well I know them. Some come back straight away or give me a ring and then they clarify something over the phone, but I would say up to about a week, maybe two weeks depending on how complex or technical it is.”

What should you expect to receive back from them?

It should be quite a formal document outlining the pricing, the breakdown of what you’re looking for, with each element that you’re looking for itemized and costed.

“I quite like it if they come back with alternative suggestions. It shows that they have put some thought into it. They might throw things out there that I had not thought about.”

How many vendors would you typically approach for any one service?

“The standard is three. You’re able to compare quite well then.”

Would you include details about your budget at that stage?

“Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. If you say, “I’ve got ten grand to spend,” they’ll go away and cost something that costs ten grand. It depends on how well you know them. Also, how much of a game you want to play. You want to negotiate, so I would give a range. Tell them you have between £8,000 and £11,000 pounds to spend, when you know you’ve about ten, so you know you’ve got wiggle room. Also, that gives them a bit of wiggle room as well.”

How do you evaluate the proposals that come back?

“Sit down in a quiet room, and compare exactly what you’ve asked for against what they’ve included. So, you’ve got three quotes and you’re comparing all three against your original requirement. Then you can see where the value is.

“I would compare on price, on quality and value for money as well. The other thing is the reputation of the supplier. You take into account who they are, whether they came recommended, whether you’ve used them before and can maybe expect some kind of discount, and whether they’ve got any kind of wow factor.

“Also, go back through what you are looking for in the first place. Go back and reevaluate your objectives and your goals and see if they meet up, or surpass them and then that will help you.”

Do you use any software to help in the evaluation process?

An Excel spreadsheet is great for recording all the costs. Especially venue cost, because then you can stipulate what you’re getting – what the size of the room is and what you’re getting over above and beyond what you might be paying for.

Finally, are there any other dos or don’ts when sending out RFPs?

“I would say don’t keep changing your requirements. It looks unprofessional and is one of the things that I think is the most frustrating for suppliers. They put a lot of effort into crafting the proposal so don’t waste their time if you aren’t really clear enough on what you want.

“Try to be clear and as well-defined as possible in what you’re looking for and if you don’t know then ask for recommendations.  It’s not always a bad thing to not know what you want, just be clear you’re soliciting ideas if that is the case. You might want to have a conversation before you send off the actual requests, then they can make some suggestions and recommendations.” 

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