RFPs – The Incomplete Story

I can honestly say that at least 60% of the RFPs I am asked to respond to are incomplete. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to even respond to them. How can I honestly and completely respond with an accurate proposal when I don’t know all the information?  Most of the time the requester will include a statement to the effect of, “If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.” Which is fine if they respond to those requests for information; which they often do not.


For photography RFPs I need to know certain information. Things like the number of attendees and the length of the event are always included, but details are often left out. In order to capture an event and get the results the client (you) wants, I have to know what it is you want!

  • Do you want a feeling of the event as a whole?
  • Would you like the event to be capture in a journalistic fashion or do you want more of a celebratory tone?
  • Will you need to capture the speakers/presenters as they are presenting?
  • If so, what is the intended schedule? Will any of them be speaking at the same time in separate rooms?
  • What is the venue like? Do I need to access it prior to the event to set up lighting?
  • If this is a large (especially a multi-day) event, what is the overall scope so I know if I need to bring in a second photographer?
  • Is there going to be a portrait session for the presenters or the guests?
  • If so will there be a logo or banner that needs to be included in each portrait or am I to provide a backdrop for that?
  • Will I be assigned a space to do these portraits or am I doing them “on the fly”?


This is just a very short list of details that I need to know to be accurate in my proposal. If an event is in the planning process I totally understand that you may not have many of these details as of yet. That’s fine, but remember that one photographer providing a response may include all of these options with costs included while another may include none of them and provide a lower bid.


The better RFP will include something of these details but include a statement to the effect of “details of the event are subject to change. We would like to work with the service provider to plan for these contingencies and we will adjust the RFP and proposal accordingly.”


To have a provider bid on certain guidelines and then during the event ask them to add services (such as portraits for example) requires a compromise on both sides. The reason for this is that if I plan on being as efficient as possible then I will have to sacrifice some duty in order to fill this on site request. It is my job as a professional to respond to your request and to tell you the consequences as to what it will effect, whether that is services planned, cost or whatever. Some requests will have minimal impact, some major, but it is my job to tell you what they will be.


At the same time I have to ask that my clients be prepared for changes when they make such requests. However if we sit down and plan the services to be delivered in advance we can minimize those changes. The issue is that if I respond to a bid that doesn’t include XYZ, when XYZ is proposed I am going to have to change the cost of the bid.


This is where problems usually arise. Clients say things like, “well you said it would cost this!” Yes but that did not include XYZ.


I know that some photographers can be a bit dramatic and get huffy. To them I say get over it. Scopes change and they need to learn to expect that in the career they have chosen. You as the client have the power to dictate the services that I will provide. However, please be aware that in order for me to quote you properly on those services I have to know what they are. If something new arises, I will have to charge for additional services.

To My Client: No Surprises

I recently received an RFP (Request for Proposal) from a potential client and the client included a criteria of “Complete listing of expenses (no surprise costs)!” I fully understand their need to include this statement. Some of the surprises aren’t completely the fault of the vendor.


First let me look at the client’s view. Very often, too often, when they send out an RFP to any vendor they get an estimate back that A) doesn’t include all of the information that is needed for them to make an informed decision. What they receive is a quote for the cost of the entire estimated job but no details on the breakdown of costs. For most large clients these details are needed for reporting as well as their ability to budget correctly. B) doesn’t include a capability statement that explains why a particular vendor is able to even complete the work.  How would the client know that Company X has knowledge of the job being bid? How do they know that the vendor has the resources to even deal with the scope of work? These details are crucial to their ability to do business and as a possible vendor it is my responsibility to provide them with as many details as possible so that if I do win the bid, that there is little or no stress about my ability to complete the requested work.

I don’t hold all the responsibility though. Many RFPs are vague and incomplete. Often the reason for that is the fact that the client wants to see my knowledge of the work proposed. That is understandable and acceptable. At the same time certain details are needed for me to understand the work required. A full scope of work as the client understands it, and/or a detailed explanation of the use of the product or services at the end of the project is huge help. With that detail I can chart the path from beginning to end and that should show the details the client needs to decide on a vendor.


Knowing where you want to be at the end of a project is crucial for both client and vendor. Knowing the need, use and benefit of any product or service helps the client get all that they need out of any vendor they choose to work with. Without it, it is like packing a bag and getting in your car knowing you want to go on vacation but not knowing where you are going.


Using a similar metaphor, if the client knows they want to go to Vermont to go skiing for vacation, as a vendor it is my responsibility to pack their skis. At the same time my client will get nowhere if I don’t put gas in the car too. It is my responsibility to know, plan for, and handle the details. By relating those details my client is able to see on paper that their vacation is exactly what they want planned, and they know that by including the details I am going to ensure they get to where they want to be.


So what if the client doesn’t include the needed information so that I can provide a complete and details response? Again that is where the responsibility is mine. It is my job as a professional to ask the right questions, to ask detailed questions and get the information I need to answer their questions. When I do that, my clients get the results they want and there are no surprises.


Send me an RFP for photography services and let me show you what I mean.