Getting Back to the Basics

The room was packed with eager participants ready to advance back to the basics of grammar and proofreading. While we are constantly trying to stay on top of our editing skills, it is important to revisit the fundamentals of grammar to ensure we are not letting the same mistakes fall through the cracks time after time.

Here are a few key elements the group took home with them from speaker Lindsay Diven, South Region Marketing Manager with T.Y. Lin International, at the July Coordinator’s Club:

1. Writing and Editing Guidelines

  • Writing and editing guidelines give a clear direction of how to communicate on behalf of the company
  • Style guidelines tell the story behind your brand and include items such as logos, color schemes, and layouts
  • Writing guidelines sets the voice and tone of the company
  • Editing guidelines provide clear direction for consistency, direction and usage
  • Basic elements include punctuation, capitalization, graphics/tables, etc.

2. Common Mistakes

  • Comma Usage
  • Word Usage
  • Numbers in Text
  • Capitalization

3. Proofreading

  • Print it out! Studies show that your eyes read differently on a computer screen versus paper

4. Edit in Phases

5. Spell Check

6. Cut the Fat not the Meat!

The attendees of Coordinator’s Club received a FULL executive summary, proofreading checklist and a sheet that helps create your own guidelines. Make sure you attend the next Coordinator’s Club to receive the full benefits of SMPS’ programs:

You Be the Judge (August 21, 2012 – 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM)

Free for members ($25 for guests) – Register here!

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What’s Killing Your Proposal?

We recently read an interesting article written by Bob Lohfield on WashingtonTechnology that describes “100 words that kill your proposal.” See an excerpt from this article below:

“Inexperienced proposal writers seem to use words that should be avoided when writing proposals. These inappropriate words and phrases can weaken a proposal, annoy evaluators, and even undermine the bidder’s credibility.

To help you write better proposals, we have compiled a list of the most frequently used words that should be avoided when writing proposals. Some of these came from Carl Dickon at CapturePlanning.com while others came from lists that have circulated around the proposal industry for so long that the identity of the original authors has been lost.

Our list doesn’t cover every word that should be avoided, and there are certainly exceptions to the usage rules, but our list does provide guidance and suggests alternative words that will strengthen your proposal. The full list (actually about 200 words) is available on our website.

Here’s a brief discussion of the kinds of words you should avoid.

Crutch words

When writers don’t know what to say, they often use crutch words to make the reader think they know what they are writing about. For example, when a proposal writer says, “We understand your requirements,” then fails to demonstrate any understanding, the writer is using the word understand as a crutch.

The proposal would be much stronger if the writer demonstrated an understanding of the requirements by discussing how features of their proposal fulfill customer requirements. Avoid using the word understand in your proposal. It will most certainly be a crutch that replaces what should be a discussion of your understanding.

Boasting Words

Boasting words cause a proposal to lose credibility and undermine the integrity of the bidder. I know every 10-person company feels compelled to say they are world class, uniquely qualified, use best-of-breed tools, have industry-standard processes, have state-of-the-art technology, and are thought leaders in their market.

I can assure you no proposal evaluator has ever based an award decision on this kind of puffery. Remove boasting words from your proposal, and focus your proposal on what you are going to do for the customer, instead of trying to make your firm sound so important. Interestingly, the bigger and more successful companies are, the more humble they seem to be about their credentials.

Vague, useless words

No proposal evaluator has ever been moved by a proposal that said we are pleased to submit this proposal, enthusiastic about performing this work, committed to top quality, or we place our customers first. These are just useless words in a proposal. You will do better if you strip these from your proposal, and write about what matters—which is how you are going to do the work.

Weak, timid words

We believe, think, feel, strive, attempt, intend, etc. are all words that contemplate failure to perform as an acceptable outcome. Say what you intend to do, and don’t couch it in timid terms.

Redundant words

In page-limited proposals, concise writing is mandatory. Let’s make it a practice to replace redundant words with precise words. For example, replace actual experience with experience, advanced planning with planning, close proximity with proximity, consensus of opinion with consensus, and so on.

Unnecessary Qualifiers

We are absolutely certain, it goes without saying, now and again, comparatively, thoroughly, needless to say, etc. are unnecessary qualifiers. While these words and many similar words may have a place in proposals, most writers use them as unnecessary qualifiers. Remove them to make your writing more concise.

Needlessly long words

Normally, you wouldn’t use unnecessarily long words in conversation, so there’s no need to use them in a proposal. Replace ascertain with learn, encompass with include, enumerate with list, illustrate with show, initiate with start, and so on.

Slang

We are hitting the ground running and rolling out the red carpet with seasoned managers… You might say this in conversation and it would be fine, but in a proposal, it just sounds odd. Proposals are more formal and may even end up being part of the contract, so write without using slang.

If I’ve missed some of your favorite words to avoid, let me know and I’ll add them to the long list on our website.”

A Brand is More Than Green M & M’s: A Live Brand Review

Have you ever asked your boss what your brand was? What about your fellow employees? Two A/E/C firms did just that with the help of Christine Hollinden, Founding Principal of Hollinden Marketing and Strategic Consulting. The firms that bravely participated were TLC Engineering for Architecture and Kleinschmidt Associates.

Months before Build Business, Holliden surveyed the employees of both firms asking what is their firms brand and to list three things that make their firm unique. She also had everyone rank what they thought the most important aspect of a brand was: people, actions, collateral, website, logo, proposals, or colors. Overall, the results were generic and disappointing. If your employees perception of your brand including products, services, and experience are generic that will be the outside view of your firm.

Holliden provided a series of steps to help your firm take action and create a strong brand.

  1. Executive Input: What do the principals want
  2. Employee Survey: What do your employees think of your current brand
  3. Competitive Research: What are your competitors doing
  4. Market Audit: What is out their
  5. Findings Review: What does this all mean
  6. Report: What are you going to do about it

How do you get all of your employees on the same page with your company brand?

  1. Encourage
  2. Educate
  3. Inform
  4. Train

Sounds simple enough but it takes a consistent effort. Showing excitement for your brand and providing employees with the right tools will give the employee the confidence needed to live the brand.

Beginning the process with a positioning statement (elevator speech) is key. This is your business strategy that must be articulated sincerely, compellingly and consistently.

A very simple example template she provided was:

[Firm] is the [descriptor] [expertise] in [market]. We help [clients] to [benefit] and [benefit].

Additional recommended steps to take are creating a brand standards guide that all employees are given and having brand ambassadors that live the brand and train others.

A strong, developed brand not only helps your firm win jobs but it helps tie your company together.

Most important: Live your brand.

Has your company rebranded or do you have a branding training program initiated?

David Beats Goliath: How to Win that Big Job Against All Odds

Each one of us has been in a Go/No Go meeting and the discussion against pursing the project turns into “they are bigger than us” or “they have more experience than us”. For many of our firms, this is a regular occurrence but Howard J. Wolff of Full-Height Advice spoke on this very topic and provided action steps to beat Goliath.

Wolff provided case studies that taught these five lessons:

  1. Know why you are going for the project
  2. Get to know your clients hot buttons
  3. Assess the competition, differentiate yourself
  4. Have faith that you are going to win it
  5. There isn’t one “thing” that will win

The first discussion was about the novel “How the Weak Win Wars”. This $100.00, 279 page book deciphers how under sized and underfunded armies have the ability to conquer the large powerful armies. When the army acknowledges their weakness and uses an unconventional strategy they had a 64% chance of success. How many of us wouldn’t take a 64% chance of being selected? I know I would.

Next up was the “Local Boy”. This is the story of a hometown architecture company that wanted to pursue a project in their home town that had drawn the attention of many national firms. Their biggest issue was not the size of their firm but their lack of experience with the type of structure. Somehow they got shortlisted and had to prepare a presentation. The local architect teamed with very experienced, top notch firms and in the presentation he acknowledged his firms weakness (experience), complimented his teams strengths, downplayed his role, explained how the role of his team was the most important and confirmed that they were going to play the major role. He build the trust of the panel because he was honest and he proved that he had the best team for the design. The “Local Boy” won.

A second design firm lacked the man power to go up against a national firm with dozens of designers but they knew they could provide a great design. The main designer had established a relationship with the owner of the project prior to the project being on the radar but knew that it wouldn’t be enough. This firm was left with a few options, pursue the project and tie up all resources, not pursue the project and ultimately regret it or change the game. They were able to influence the selection process by suggesting a three day design competition that involved the community. This eliminated the advantage of a large design staff and only tied up the small firms staff for three days. They knew they had a great design and the community agreed. Relationships may get you in the door with a firm but solutions are what win. Don’t be afraid to change the rules.

An additional example of changing the rules came when a firm realized that the dollar figures were higher than the anticipated budget of the owner. Instead of dropping the proposal, they proposed a second option that included phasing. Each phase could be completed on its own and built as the budget allowed. Knowing that the engineers on the panel wouldn’t care for this idea they spoke to the planners. The planners liked the idea and awarded the project.

Big firms tend to make mistakes. They don’t try as hard and don’t feel each job is as important. Often they think that it is “their job to lose”. They don’t put in the effort.

Follow the steps and don’t forget:

“It’s alright to be Goliath, but always act like David” Philip Knight, Nike Co Founder

FIPLT?

Another update from Nicole Roe who is attending SMPS National’s Build Business in San Francisco…

How many times have you been called a happy lunatic and it was meant as a compliment? My guess is never. For the Build Business first keynote attendees about a dozen times. Keynote speaker, Greg Bennick, has been termed the juggler of objects and content. When he walked onto stage with an aria of balls, clubs, and fishnets we knew the first part was true.

Why happy lunatic? In Bennick’s preparation for the presentation he met with multiple committee and national board members and he immediately saw the SMPS passion as well as their desire for a good time but slightly crazy. He followed the observation and the title with the statement that we are perfectly poised to take action.

As marketers we are dealing with constant change and Bennick wanted to give us a plan: FIPLT. Catchy right? Not quiet but what the letters stand for are.

  1. Focus
  2. Ignite
  3. Propel
  4. Launch
  5. Take action

Going through the points included a volunteer from the audience and five juggling balls. Never have I sat through a speaker that juggled. This was a presentation of firsts.

He began the juggling portion with stating: don’t be afraid to drop the ball. I think that was his insurance statement, just in case.

Focus: the foundation is listening & serving others

Ignite: thinking about what you listened to

Propel: find the confidence that you have developed, allow creativity to be your guide

Launch: move ahead

Take Action: Do it

Overall, Bennick was a great way to kick off the purpose of this years Build Business. He involved the audience, kept us interested and managed to ride a unicycle.

Be Ready to Take Action

Coming to you live from San Francisco, SMPS Central Florida’s Director of Communications, Nicole Roe, gives insight into what this year’s national convention is all about. With a strong presence, SMPS Central Florida is taking nationals by storm…

What better way to kick off SMPS’s 2012 Build Business in San Francisco than with peace signs, tie-dye and SMPS National President, Frank Lippert, accessorizing his suit with sunglasses and flip flops? It was entertaining to say the least! Lippert is the ideal individual to promote this year’s theme: Take Action. His energy and enthusiasm is addictive, but he is a realist. He knows we are all guilty of attending a conference, leaving with pages of notes, having a mind full of ideas and returning to the office to just file everything away and return to normal. His goal is to have the conference attendees leave with not just notes, but action items: Items with a plan for how to follow through. He even asked to be blind copied on the action items (let’s hope he has a good email filter)!

Up next: Keynote speaker Greg Bennick (spoiler alert: a unicycle was involved)