Request For Proposals (RFPs) Are Awesome! (But NEVER Respond to One!)

“Toby, I just spent the last week responding to an RFP, and when they received my reply, they said they already chose someone else!”

Eee Gads!!!

Here’s a Table of Contents from a real RFP I received in my inbox today:

This is a Table of Contents from a real RFP I received in my inbox today.  They want me to A) Read this crazy thing  B) Understand it and C) Give them a bid to complete the work!  I wonder what kinds of responses they are getting…

Freelancers hate RFPs.

HATE them.

By my non-scientific estimates, RFPs cause freelancers over 10 billion headaches a year!

But here’s the thing: The problem isn’t RFPs; it’s your sales process.

My Biggest Contract Ever Was an RFP Response

“You should talk to Randy – he’s looking for someone like you for a big project,” a colleague mentioned at the water cooler of my co-working space.

3 months later, I had landed the biggest deal of my life.

How, you ask?

The buyer helped me write the RFP response!

Sound crazy?  It’s not.  In fact, that’s how it works every time on valuable projects!

In this case, I knew at the outset that I had an inside track due to my friend’s referral, but I had never met the buyer before.

So, I went to work building a relationship with the buyer.

RULE: You should never put effort into an RFP response unless you:

  1. Have an advocate inside the company with some pull. AND
  2. Have an opportunity to build a relationship with the buyer. AND
  3. Know exactly what is going to cause them to say, “Yes.”

If you don’t have all three of these things, then just forget about it.  Move on.  Get coffee with a friend – it’ll be a better use of your time.

Oh…And a Custom Proposal is the same as an RFP.

You received a hot lead who wants a custom proposal!  


But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a custom proposal isn’t an RFP.

It is.

The same rules apply to Custom Proposal responses as RFP responses.

RFPs are Awesome!

RFPs are amazing…for the buyer!  Not for you.

Remember that huge deal I landed (described above)?  Well, I have a confession to make: asked them to send out an RFP.

I did this for my own benefit and for theirs:

  1. I knew who they were sending the RFPs to, so I was able to communicate why I was a better fit.  (For the record, I was a better fit.)  
  2. The buyer felt better about their contract with me after the RFP process!
  3. We got someone else to pay for some valuable insights into our product!  Free research!  Wow!  


  1. Freelancers should never respond to RFPs or Custom Proposals unless they meet the 3 criterion detailed above (in which case, the response is a mere formality).
  2. Buyers should always send out RFPs!  Even a horribly-written RFP can get you some valuable insights into your product…for FREE!
  3. Actually, there is another case: I respond to RFPs when they meet these 2 simple criterion.


p.s. If you are in Minneapolis, visit my new Small Business Breakthrough Meetup!

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for