5 Reasons Why Requesting Web Design Proposals Will Set You Up To Fail

By Hannah Eisenberg - November 21, 2016

Does this sound familiar? It is Friday afternoon; you are ready to wrap up your week, and your boss walks into your office, saying: "Oh, I forgot! We must get our website redone asap! Can you quickly call up some web design companies? Just get five proposals including pricing and then we can decide at the team meeting on Monday which we should go with."

Sound familiar? However, you know, it is not that easy. Finding a website company that is good is difficult enough.

However, shopping for a website redesign is like shopping for a new car — but hopefully without the pushy salespeople. You might not need to get the prettiest or fastest car, but there are significant differences between an oversized flatbed truck, a used family minivan, or a sleek city-ready hatchback. So what you are shopping for really depends on what you need. 

As with shopping for cars, the type of website you need depends on your goals and needs — and therefore you will need to find a web designer who really can help you achieve those. 


Thinking about your boss, you wonder why the sudden urgency.

Something awful must have happened that your boss is focusing on the website: maybe a prospect or client vented about how bad the site is. Alternatively, the sales team is not reaching their quota again, and they are blaming the website for not delivering enough leads. Whatever it is, it sends you scrambling!

You quickly turn to Google and search for "web designer near me" or "website design company." There are thousands of companies out there. Some are bigger, others are more expensive, have more experience or better clients to show for — but they all offer the same thing using slightly different language and mostly the same lame approach.  

So you pick ten companies and check out their websites, glance over their portfolio, scan their web design service page and — if you like what you see — you have a conversation with their sales team and ask for a proposal. 

Requesting Proposals Seems The Logical Thing To Do If You Need A Website

What your boss is looking for is an apple-to-apple comparison: read their pitch, compare prices, and make a somewhat informed decision. It makes sense, right? How else are you going to pick a web design company from the thousands available? 

We used to think so too. We responded to requests for proposals by looking at the old website, talking to the client about what they wanted to change and why. We would get lovely and well-intended emails like this:

Thanks for your time today - I thought the meeting was very useful. Can you please put all the information (Pricing, design suggestions, etc.) in a PowerPoint or Word Doc so I can show it to my boss? Thank you very much for your interest again! Hope we can work together soon.

And, of course, we did want to work with them as well. We were very thorough. So we mapped out the process, priced out all the new features and functions, and even included first design suggestions in the form of mockups. 

In one out of two cases we would win the bid and get started with a kickoff meeting including the entire team.  And that is usually when the whole process began to go down south. 

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Why Requests for Proposals are Setting your Website up to Fail 

1) Proposals Are Based on Assumptions & Estimates

Most of the time, clients who want to have a proposal expect a document outlining the approach, the projected activities, the planned features and functions, an estimated timeframe, and exact pricing for the website redesign.

However, all the information web designers have to go on is:

  • Information we find in our initial research (mainly the old website, reviews, and social media channels)
  • The requirements that were outlined in the call (usually not more than an hour)
  • In a best case scenario: a briefing document before describing the requirements, marketing goals as well as some key facts about the company and products.
This is not much to go on. So, web designers have to fill in the gaps with assumptions and estimates. 

2) Lack Of Transcendent Business Goals & Strategy

In the above-described process, we would start our website redesign process with a kickoff meeting including all the important stakeholders. Often, the foundation on which our proposal is based on is already cracking in that first meeting:

  • The CEO mentions a new product that will be launched shortly — which changes how all other products are marketed.
  • The VP of Marketing has a huge list of to-dos that was brainstormed in the last team meeting. 
  • Sales have a must-have requirement that was not mentioned before because no one had asked them.
Depending on the politics, corporate culture, and skill sets, this list looks a little different for each company, but you get the picture. Everyone has a particular idea of how this should be accomplished. Ultimately, you would end up with a patchwork Frankenstein Monster cobbled together to make everyone happy. 

We have found that websites built after going through a "Request for Proposal" process significantly underperform compared to those strategically planned with your goals in mind.

3) Constant Scope Creep Is A Given

25WebsiteMustHaves.pngOften, our clients will find that the website they initially envisioned is not what they needed in the end. If you base your entire project on assumptions and estimates without a transcendent business strategy or overarching goals, scope creep is a given because as the design and the development progresses, you will often find you did not think this part of the website through correctly and needed an entirely different tool or feature. 

Many web designers will build in buffers for that - so you are paying from the get-go for inefficiencies. However, buffers are not always accurate, and as the project progresses, web designers are often forced to come back with additional fees, which is always unpleasant.

With our approach to scope website projects, we are better able to map out the budget and expectations to stay on target. 

When we talk about potential website design projects, I recommend that you and one of our website strategists get on the phone to discuss:

  • How you are planning to use the website, 
  • What your marketing goals are, 
  • How many leads you are currently generating vs. how many you will need in the next 6, 12 months, etc. 

In other words: You have to know EXCATLY where you want to be in 12-18 months and use your website redesign as a vehicle to get you there. So, having this website strategy planning session is a crucial first step to understanding, if and how we could help you. 

4) Request For Proposals Leads To Inefficiently Managed Web Design Projects

The above-mentioned inefficiencies also trickle all the way through to the way the project is managed. Usually, proposals already include a timeline, and the scope of the project is divided into. It will also outline the different steps of the redesign. 

Once the ink is dry on the contract the project is kicked off; it will be mapped out in a project plan following the Waterfall Method - nicely visualized in a color-coded Gantt-Chart. However, have you ever encountered a Gantt-Chart that turned out exactly as expected? No, because this method of project management is resulting almost always in scope creep, delay, and bottlenecks!

A better way to manage your website redesign projects is an SCRUM-based methodology (going through smaller, more manageable cycles of improvements) that is made to adapt to ever-changing scope, eliminate those bottlenecks and turn projects around on average 30-40% faster!

5) By The Time The Website Is Finished, Your Requirements Have Changed

Last, but not least, due to the problems mentioned, we have found that websites that are based on a "request for proposal" situation take much longer to develop. An average small and medium size business website takes 3-4 months. Larger sites can easily take 6+ months. Then you will not make any major updates for another 2-3 year. 

However, we live in times where everything changes so fast, so with such long upgrade cycles, you are running the risk of being stuck with a website that does not serve your user requirements anymore. 


If you want to hire a web design company, you will have to have a way to compare companies, their approaches and get a feel for what they can deliver in what time and with what budget. There is no way around that. 

The bottom line is: If you call me today and ask me for a website proposal, I would not send you one. I know you have to get back to your boss with your top five choices by Monday. However, I am happy to explain to your boss why this will not result in a peak-performing website. 

I would be happy to help you run through an assessment of your business and marketing goals and develop a plan with you how you can reach those goals. I will also help figure out if our agency is a great fit for your company and supply your boss with all the relevant information he or she needs. So, let's give it a go, shall we? 

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