Insider Scoop: Jeannette Waldie of JK Waldie & Associates
March 13, 2015
A: We offer businesses a unique approach to their business communication – we weave the threads of their vision, culture, and what makes them unique to craft written documents that connect them to clients, their employees and the world – whether it is a proposal for services, website for a global market, or company processes.
Q: How did your company start out?
A: I started JK Waldie & Associates in 2012 when I had an opportunity to team with one of the top proposal consulting firms in the US, Shipley Associates. It was part of my long-term goals to become a consultant, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it.
Q: How has the company evolved over the years?
A: Over the last 2 years, I have become part of a wonderful team of fellow independent marketing and proposal consultants. Although, individually we are all very small companies, we support each other on projects so we can all offer our clients a full range of services. It is great fun to have peers to play with on projects!
Q: What changes have you seen in the industry since you first began?
A: I have been in the marketing and proposal development profession for almost 25 years. The biggest change is how computer technology, especially related to connectivity and cloud computing, has impacted the global market. It is now much easier for non-US firms to find and win work in the US as well as US firms to compete successfully for business abroad. Proposals have also become easier and more economical to produce, when a company plans properly that is! The downside is that now I work in my office on the proposals instead of getting to travel to Spain or England or where ever in the world my client is.
Q: Can you walk us through the process of creating an international proposal?
A: The first step in creating an international proposal starts long before receiving the Request for Bid or Request for Proposal (RFP). A company needs to make the effort to develop relationships in the target country and take the time to understand the culture, the politics, and the risks. Without that basis understanding, it doesn’t matter how well the proposal is written, it is much harder to win the project and manage the risks effectively.
The second step is to engage team members who understand that part of the work and can help your company manage the project effectively. These team members need to have an “in-country” knowledge of the culture, the politics and local resources. Again, the team should be defined and created before the RFP lands on your desk.
The third critical step is to identify your translation resource and engage them when you get the RFP. Most countries now accept English proposals. But you still need to write it to the culture of the client. Also, at some point in the process you will have to have information translated. Your language service provider can be a great resource in defining what you need for localization; and to help prepare your documents for translation when they eventually need to be. This includes information on the style of English to use, cultural terms to use and avoid, color palette, etc. Engaging the translation provider at the beginning of the process will also reduce your costs when you do need material translated.
The biggest problem I see is that companies don’t understand what it costs for a quality translation. You just can’t take Google Translate and apply it. Google is great for conversation and understanding the gist of a language, but it does not deliver the quality of translation needed to win (and keep) a project. The more lead time you give your language service provider the easier it will be to manage the cost.
Q: What are the most important measures a company can take to ensure that their international proposal will lead to procurement?
A: The most important measure a company can take is building the relationship. That applies whether your client is local or half way around the world. When you have that relationship, you are able to write the proposal in a way that the client feels you are speaking directly to them and that you understand them – their challenges, what they want to accomplish, and their risks.
Another measure that a company needs to take is understanding the politics and the risk that goes with that. Politics can change the game in a heartbeat. I have seen companies loose a big project because they did not take the time to understand the client’s government regulations and requirements.
Q: What are the common missteps in creating an international proposal and how are they best avoided?
A: The most common misstep is writing an international proposal like you are writing one for a US client. Language can be very subtle. If you don’t understand those nuances, you can either have a big misunderstanding, or even worse, offend your client. That is why localization is so important. Localization is writing your document in the style of language your client speaks – whether it is English or their native tongue.
Let me give you an example. I’m originally from Canada. After I moved from Toronto to Boston, I got a job at a large firm. On my first day, I asked where the “pop” machine was. I got blank looks. They had no idea what I meant. It took a few moments to figure out that in Boston it was referred to as the “soda” machine. Now that I live in Texas, no matter whether I’m looking for a Pepsi, RC Cola, Sprite, or whatever, I need to say “coke” machine. And that is English to English!
As my example shows, one language does not fit all! Just are there are variations of English – Canadian, US, and British (not to mention regional variations in each country), there are variations in French, Spanish, Germany, Russian – almost all the world’s languages. That is why it is important to have resources on your team, such as a language service provider, who understands those local nuances.
Q: What are the biggest challenges that a company must face when trying to procure an international contract?
A: The biggest challenge is finding local team members and resources you trust and can work with, I think. The other challenge is patience and perseverance. Procuring an international contract is not a quick process. You need to be able to invest the time, resources and money and treat it as a long term goal.
Q: Would you like to tell us about a particularly competitive procurement and how your guidance in the proposal process helped secure it?
A: Last year, I was involved in developing an Executive Summary for a Houston client. The project was for a sole-source opportunity with a West African Government. Although it was not a big document and did not require translation, we still had to develop the text so it was localized. We did thorough research of economic factors, language, history, and the local style of English and country color palette. Now, here’s why it is important to understand your client – even though British English was standard, we learned the government officials this presentation was designed for had attended U.S. universities. So we kept to the American English spelling. I recently found out that they won and have started the project.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about the road from international proposal to successful procurement?
A: It is a big world out there full of lots of opportunities. Companies, no matter their size, can complete internationally as long as they take their time and invest wisely. American products, technology and knowledge are desired overseas. There are great resources in Houston that can serve as gateways to successfully winning international work, such as the Port of Houston and the numerous Chamber of Commerce organizations.