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An alternative to RFPs? Building relationships.

Do you know how many of our clients had previously put out an RFP to strangers, selected an unfamiliar company to do the work, and then were less-than-thrilled with the results (and subsequently developed a relationship with us)? Quite a few of our clients had been burned by the RFP process before meeting us.

It’s understandable.

This can happen when you don’t really know someone.

A random proposal from a stranger can’t help you determine:

  • Who am I working with — and will we get along?

  • Are they cordial, impatient, schmoozy, or genuine? Will they be reliable, attentive and invested?

  • How well will they really get to know our organization?

  • What happens if the project endures unexpected challenges? How will they handle it?

Remember: Any design studio can put together a bid. Even the best-looking, best-sounding, or cheapest bid in the world can’t tell you what working together will actually be like.

That’s why we recommend a better way.

Here are our tips on how NOT to give your design projects to a stranger / tips to get your projects done, without regrets:

  1. Do your research. Find design studios who are skilled at what you need. First and foremost, you want to see a portfolio of relevant work — and you want it to look impressive. You want to see that they work with organizations like yours. Consider smaller, experienced studios over the biggest agencies in the industry — as these small studios will likely devote more time and energy to you, instead of resting on their laurels.

  2. Meet at least three studios, dig deep, and trust your gut. You don’t just want deliverables — you want a comfort level working together. Make sure they are approachable, and that you like them. Find out who — exactly — you will be working with for the duration of your project, and meet all of them. An account executive can show up and woo you, but what happens after that? In addition to incredible design skills, you’re also looking for someone who really GETS you. Because even the prettiest design won’t work if it’s not reflecting your actual organization and speaking to your actual patrons. A comfort-level, human connection, and insight are critical parts of a successful project.

  3. Stop building the plane while you’re flying it. Start small. We see companies 1) finding a new design relationship, 2) branding their company, and 3) designing their website — ALL AT THE SAME TIME. These are monumental projects that take time and attention. They require an understanding of your organization, getting to know your values, your mission, and your audience. That can’t happen on day one.

Start with a small project before you let this new acquaintance rebrand your entire organization. Unless you actually work together, you don’t know what it will be like to work together. Hopefully you’ll be partners for a while … no need to lay your entire brand in their hands quite yet. This is like a coffee date.

If you do prefer to put out an RFP, make sure to extensively interview and vet the companies you’re considering. Get a feeling for what kind of partners they will be, and how intentional they are about their decisions during the creative process.

Remember, it’s not just about the work they’ve done — or how good it looks. It’s also about the process of working together and how well these visuals represent your organization and goals!

If you’re ready to embark on a big project, this means:

  1. You’ve set aside (and likely raised) capital

  2. You’ve got donors, the board and decision-makers involved

  3. There is a lot of pressure on the outcome

  4. You’ve envisioning this for a long time

  5. There’s pressure on your shoulders

When the stakes are high, don’t give your money to a stranger.

At GDLOFT, we care about client relationships as much as we care about truly-connective creative. Want to chat over coffee? We’d love to meet you.


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