Scribble Talk

Showcasing stories of APMP veterans and the brightest bid & proposal minds in planet earth 

Today's Guest Is Kati Stutsman

Scribble Talk Episode 161 with Kati Stutsman

Kati Stutsman, CF APMP, Shipley BDC is a marketing and creative communications specialist with a background in value-add content development and exceptional client experiences. She currently serves as a Proposal Manager for Burns & McDonnell, a civil engineering and architecture firm based in Kansas City, Missouri. Kati also serves on the board for the Greater Midwest Chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals where she produces a monthly podcast (Shortlisted) and fosters member engagement.

Note: Learn how to say ‘No’ when necessary and to leverage your network to move forward in life.

In this episode we will discuss Kati’s

  • Life and Career
  • Childhood in Michigan and the countkess myriad activities she’s into.
  • Incredible fast track high school and college life that she achieved.
  • Discovery of the proposal industry and falling in love with the field.
  • Fun proposal memories and career trajectory.
  • Encounter with APMP
  • People influential in her life and career.
  • Advice to bid and proposal professionals with a dream of balancing passion and work.
  • Next Steps and 

Few fun Qs…. 

Get to know the human side of your proposal professional, Kati Stutsman.

If you're ready to sacrifice who you are, for what you will become, then you will be invited to our show…


Baskar Sundaram: Hi! You are listening to Scribble Talk, a podcast for bid and proposal professionals. My name is Baskar Sundaram and with my co-host, Ashley Kayes, we will be sitting down with our industry veterans to share their stories, discuss their career, and learn how to make an impact in the industry.

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Baskar Sundaram: Today’s guest is Kati Stutsman. Kate Stutsman is an APMP foundation level certified professional and also shipley business developmentcertified, market and creative communications specialist with a bag round in value add content development and exceptional client experiences. She currently serves as the proposal manager for burns and McDonald’s, a civil engineering and architecture firm based in Kansas city, Missouri. Kerry also serves on the board of greater midwest chapter of the APMP, where she produces a monthly podcast shortlisted and fosters member engagement. Welcome Kati to Scribble talk. Great to have you with us.

Kati Stutsman: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

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Baskar Sundaram: Kati, let’s go back to the very beginning. Kati, where were you born and let’s talk about your childhood

Kati Stutsman: Yes, absolutely. So I am from midwest, born and raised. So I grew up in southwest Michigan. Really small town, lots of inland lakes, farming, fishing, that type of stuff around me. I currently live in northwest Indiana, about an hour outside of Chicago, but it’s basically the area I grew up in. Sadly, a lot of my family has spread out since. I think that’s the journey of a lot of people who grew up in small town America. You go to the nearest big city, and slowly people start spreading apart. So I still have a few family members in southwest Michigan, where I returned to after living in Chicago for a little while. But, yeah, it’s home. I enjoy living in a small town. Do you have any childhood memories of growing up in Michigan? Yeah. So for those who are unaware, Michigan is surrounded by the great lakes. So I grew up near lake Michigan, which I don’t know how many states border lake Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, I think, but I was always within a few minutes of an inland lake. We grew up living on lakes, and then obviously the great lakes surround the state. So lots of family vacations, lots of camping with the outdoors. Northern Michigan is beautiful. I talk it up to everybody, but there’s a few, like, national parks with big sand dunes and national forests and things like that. So I think some of my favourite memories were with my family just being in the outdoors, and it’s something that I try to bring back into my life just as a break from the daily grind, just getting out in nature, going on hikes and walks and kayaking, that type of stuff. Love the outdoors.

Baskar Sundaram: Okay, let’s go back to the very beginning. Where were you born and let’s talk about your early life and primary school.

Kati Stutsman : Yeah, definitely. So I grew up in southwest Michigan, so Midwest, born and raised. I still live in the area. I grew up probably about an hour east of Chicago if you were to travel around lake Michigan. So southwest Michigan. I currently live in northwest Indiana and spent early years just regular public schools. Brief stint with some private schools in there. But was always super interested in learning and kind of was a nerdy kid in school. Definitely in my elementary or primary school years. I was an early reader. So always bumped up into advanced English and writing classes and was an avid reader myself when I was a kid. So when I wasn’t outdoors playing on the lake or out in the sunshine, I was holed up in my room with a book. But yeah, I love school. I was a good student. I really think that that’s kind of shaped why I became a proposal manager, and I’m sure we can talk about that in a little bit, but very organized, very much into team projects, so it was a good kid as a youngster, totally opposite to my childhood, but it’s okay. That’s okay. My parents need to drag me to read a single book. My mom never succeeded, but that’s good. So growing up I would read living around Michigan, Great Lakes and others. Did you do your high school just nearby your home career, or do you need to travel a little bit to do your high school? No high school where I grew up in the country, I mean, you had one high school in a 20 miles radius, so everybody went to the same public school. You could buy to go to a nearby public school if you really wanted to. Michigan has a program where certain academic programs you could apply for your kid to go to a neighbouring school, but things were so spread apart that it would be a pretty lengthy truck to get to school. Obviously, a lot of parents can’t afford that, or you’ve got parents who work and can’t take their kids or drive them 30 minutes one way just to hit the nearest high school. So went to school nearby. I think I had 100 people in my graduating class when I was in high school, and I could not wait to leave. I feel like a lot of people who grew up in small towns feel the same, but I was just itching to move to a big city or break out of the small town that I grew up in. So I was one of those kids who did partday college classes when I was in high school, so there were certain subjects. By the time I reached my high school years, probably my sophomore year, I had tested out of certain English courses or writing things. Math was another one where I had just taken all of the classes that were available for me to take in my high school and went to a local community college part day when I was in high school to finish things out. So by the time I graduated high school. I had almost a full year worth of college credits under my belt. And I was little did I know at the time I should have slowed my role a little bit and just enjoyed being a kid. But I was ready to go out and be an adult and go live on my own. And ended up going to a four year private school in Grand Rapids. Michigan. Which is a couple of hours north of where I grew up. It was a liberal arts school, so that’s what I did for college and focused on communications and writing primarily when I went to college. So I had most of my credits completed when I started my first year of college, all your basics, and could jump right into journalism classes, writing classes, et cetera. So I wasted zero time entering the adult world once I got done with high school. That’s the best thing about learning in the US. KT, where you could actually accelerate your studies. You could have your credits, get into credits, and you can do it. And that’s the thing that we don’t have the luxury back here. We have to do it in three years. Yeah. Well, one of the interesting things about the US. I’m pretty sure it’s law, or at least it was in Michigan where I grew up, that when you attend a public school, by law, the education system is required to give you, for example, four years worth of English or four years worth of math classes. And if your local school system can’t provide that to you, they fund being able to send you to a community college level type of class. So I basically got my entire first year of college paid for just through regular tax funded type of education. So it was all out of pocket for me, which is really helpful given the cost of student loans and all that mess in the United States.

Baskar Sundaram: Totally. So now after completing your communications degree in the liberal arts, what was your next step from then?

Kati Stutsman: I was very focused, headed into college. Like I said, I entered within an entire year under my belt already so I could dive right into a degree. I ended up finishing my bachelor’s degree, and I got a dual, what they consider like a double major. It was an interdisciplinary communication major with an English and writing focus. So, kind of like a hybrid communication degree. And I did it in three years instead of four since I entered with credits already under my belt. And I think that’s where things kind of ground to a little bit of a halt for me. I was on such a fast track through high school and college and very focused, driven type of person, and then I’ll all of a sudden, I was like, oh, man, what comes next after this? And. I had the misfortune of graduating with my bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2008, which I don’t know if you recall around that time, but that is when the US hit like a pretty hefty recession, was that summer? Spring. So for someone with a marketing and communications type of degree, there were zero prospects in terms of available jobs, a lot of unpaid internship opportunities and volunteer work, but not a lot of paid gigs right out of college. And that was something that I hadn’t expected. I mean, I was always used to being a good student and on the fast track and just kind of found myself in a situation where I didn’t know what to do. I decided that I was going to take the next couple of years out of college off and join the Peace Corps. So I always loved to travel, never gotten to do a whole lot of it internationally. So I applied to join the Peace Corps. And basically what they do is they send volunteers into Third World countries or areas of need around the world with a particular focus. So I was going to be in part of a program that teaches English as a second language, and I had gone through the entire application process. You have to submit your fingerprints, background checks, all that fun stuff, and was assigned to a program that was going to be operating out of Africa for two years. Hadn’t narrowed down the country yet, but I knew it was going to be in Africa for two years, and my parents were super terrified. But I sold all of my furniture, put things in storage, ready to go, and two weeks before I would get my official assignment and departure date, the Peace Corps reached out to me, and they’re like, hey, unfortunately, so many people are in your same position right now. We had too many applicants this year, so we’re going to put you in the next year’s group. And all of a sudden, I was like, okay, well, what do I do for the next year of my life? And moved back home to that small town with my parents and quickly realized that I would not be able to stay in the small town. I tasted freedom and gotten out on my own long enough when I was in Grand Rapids for college that I was like, I can’t do this. So did a marathon round of applications and job hunting, and pretty quickly, I would say, within a couple of weeks, landed a position for a pharmaceutical company outside of Chicago, out in the western suburbs of Chicago, which is a couple of hours from my family’s home, but an area where I knew nobody. It was an industry I didn’t know anything about, and it wasn’t necessarily a career path or a position I would have wanted. So it was a corporate receptionist type of job, entry level. And I kind of, in a moment of, I won’t say desperation, but very much lack of options and lack of any sort of momentum. And the other things I tried to get going when I left school that took a job to say, hey, you know what? I’m going to try it. We’ll see what happens. So very quickly, I packed up all my things again and moved to Illinois and started a brand new chapter in the industry I didn’t really know anything about and frankly, wasn’t at all what I thought I would be doing. I had always envisioned myself right out of college with a communication degree as a journalist or working for a company’s marketing and communications team. When I was in college, I did an internship with a hospital where I was interviewing physicians, writing articles, designing content for hospital websites, that type of thing. So I’d always assumed I jumped right into a job that I had trained for and instead, just based on the economy and options available to me, took more of us a support role for a company, which set me on a very interesting trajectory, I would say, in terms of career path.

Baskar Sundaram: Wow. I think it’s amazing how we all had different events that kind of hacks as a curveball, and then they come out of it, and then we end up doing different things, and then you can point it to a very unique place in our life. Thank you.

Kati Stutsman: Yeah, definitely. It’s hard to see it in the moment right when you’re embedded in your everyday life and trying to make decisions based on the best information available to you. Sometimes it takes a few years to look back on it and say, oh, that happened for a reason, or just the clarity and the maturity of saying, like, hey, maybe that wasn’t totally what I would have planned for myself. But it teaches you other things along the way.

Baskar Sundaram: Yes. It is only making you stronger. And those life lessons are something that you might not even learn from these universities, all these colleges. You are very studious student, and now you learn a lot more from life.

Kati Stutsman:  The life lessons, they can be hard ones to learn.

Baskar Sundaram: Exactly. So gradually you did the internships and you started your career. Talk us through your early part of your career and gradually came to your current organization, where you are currently the proposal manager.

Kati Stutsman: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like my professional journey is very similar to what a lot of people in proposal management face. I had no idea that proposals were a thing or that they were a needed business function. Obviously, now I know how critical and crucial proposal management is in terms of business development, sales, lifecycle. But like I mentioned, I took a job right out of college that was a corporate receptionist for a pharmaceutical company, which ended up being not a good fit. I very quickly became bored, started volunteering to take on additional assignments and try and find opportunities or advocates within that company that would help me find the right application of my skill set. It was a good learning opportunity from the point of view that I had to be very deferential and it was a very support driven role. They didn’t necessarily want ideas and innovation and thinking outside of the box, creativity types of things, which I was always used to bringing to the table. They wanted consistency and they wanted someone in that chair with a smile on their face every single day. And while I’m a pretty friendly person, I was never one to really bite my tongue or stay quiet if I felt like there was a more efficient way to do something. Or like I said, I wanted to be a journalist, so it was very easy for me to ask a lot of questions and why are we doing things this way? And it was a mismatch for sure. So I lasted at the job a couple of years before the economy started to turn around just a little bit. And this company was based in the western suburbs of Chicago and at the time I was in my early twenty s and it was just like, I’m this close to downtown Chicago and I’m not actually getting to enjoy the city life. A bunch of my friends had moved into the city and I decided that I was going to job hunt and take another position downtown Chicago. I wanted to know what it was like working in big high rises and I ended up taking another marketing corporate receptionist type of job for a pretty prominent venture capital firm in Chicago. So I kind of made the jump from pharmaceutical into finance. And I worked for a really high net worth private family basically, who had their own private foundation, their own venture capital firm, one of the wealthiest people in the United States, actually. So that in itself was a really cool exposure to a different class of service, if that makes any sense in terms of the types of events and the type of clientele and the people I was getting to interact with. Very much C suite level executive white glove treatment for a lot of people. So some of the events and marketing stuff I got to be involved with was really cool. Very much on the event management side of the business. But private events at Wrigley Field, for example, or booking entire Michelin Star restaurants for high profile events and flying in dignitaries. I got to meet politicians, for example. Former President Bill Clinton came to our office once and it just exposed me to a lot of really cool things that made me feel like, okay, well, I’m starting to make some strides into doing the things that I would have wanted to do, but I don’t know that finance is totally where I want to be. I’ve done. Like, I mentioned internship in college with a hospital and then started my career on the pharmaceutical side of things. I thought maybe healthcare really where I want to be when it comes to marketing communications. And took a job with a pharmaceuticals innovation team. So down in Chicago basically talking a lot about data and how we can use that data to make better health decisions and better public policy around health. So I was on an innovation team and my job was internal communications so I was responsible for a crowdfunding system where we would crowdsource good ideas from internal team members so the company itself was five 6000 employees and we would pose challenges to those employees around operational efficiency. How to use data. Different technologies. Things like that and as those ideas came in I was triaging them and getting them in front of the right decision makers and if those ideas were actually implemented we had cash prizes and different types of recognition programs and incentives for employees whose ideas ended up making a difference right. They were implemented and they cut down on processing or wait times for patients or different types of innovative things that our research and development team could then run with. So I was communicating to internal employees for the most part around opportunities for them to get involved and what that looks like. So a lot of web development I had started a video like blog series where I was talking with employees across the company I would do road shows so visit offices across the country just to get in front of people and talk about innovation and what it means and presenting to new employees and things like that and really started to step out of what would have been more of a support role as I was doing the receptionist and office support types of things into owning projects and into being a recognizable voice and face across the company and being able to present to our executive committees and finally starting to feel like I was making some traction and that took like five or six years out of college for me to feel like I was actually adding value in a position and unfortunately as life goes sometimes my company merged with another and my entire innovation team was eliminated as part of that merger which was really a bummer. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a position where I felt like I didn’t have a lot of choice over the matter. It wasn’t anything that I did or caused but how was I going to react at this point. They gave me an option to stay with the company in another position that was very much data entry, data driven numbers and I couldn’t do it, I am too much of a creative person. I needed the flexibility to be able to make things versus look for errors and really fine tune a data management process that just wasn’t where I was going to be happy. So I decided to leave the company when my position was eliminated and that is how I got into proposal management. I was just searching around the Chicago area for different types of opportunities I had a healthy enough cushion behind me that I knew I could take a couple of months and find a position that really sounded appealing to me. And proposal management was one of those things. In a big city, you’ve got a lot of engineering firms, a lot of financial firms, all of them looking for proposal managers. And I had no idea that that was something that was out there. But as I was reading job descriptions and things like that, it was just a role that seemed to combine all of the things that I liked to do. Hefty writing components. There was an element of journalism to it in terms of research and tracking information down, document design. So I ended up applying to a civil engineering firm based out of Pittsburgh, but they had a Chicago satellite office, and that is how I found proposal management. I knew nothing about it. Day one. They took a chance on me just based on my skill set and said, you know what? Even if you’ve not been certified, you don’t really know what this is. We think that if we give you the chance, you’re going to be able to figure it out. And I did pretty quickly. I worked for a company called Michael Baker International, the civil engineering firm out of Pittsburgh, and I was with them for a couple of years, and it was so valuable to my career. Ended up not being a great fit, just like personality team wise or company culture wise. But they did so many favours for me in terms of teaching me the basics and the best practices of proposal management. I was sent to shipley training, so federal proposal writing and management got a lot of exposure to that, and they, of course, introduced me to APMP, association of Proposal Management Professionals. That’s when I first got involved with that organization, and it really just set the foundation for being able to say that, oh, all of the things I like to do and the things I’ve dabbled in so far, all of that can kind of coalesce into a single profession. And I had no idea. And that’s where I’ve built my career over the last seven or eight years now, I guess, is proposal management. I ended up leaving that initial civil engineering firm, and I currently work for another civil engineering and architecture firm called Burns and McDonald. They operate out of Kansas City, Missouri, as their headquarters, but I work for my home in northwest Indiana. So it’s been a really nice combination of mid level career. I now know what I’m doing, and I’m a pretty strong proposal manager. They had hunted me, for lack of a better word, out of APMP, so it was a professional organization, network type of opportunity, and absolutely love my team out of Kansas City. I started in the middle of Covet when everybody was working from home, and it wasn’t something this company traditionally did. They like having people physically in the office butts and seats, as they like to say, and made an exception for me during COVID to be able to work remotely from home and it was something that I was able to work out permanently. So instead of commuting to Chicago. Which is what I was doing with my previous company a couple of years ago. Moved from downtown Chicago back into the Northwest Indiana Southwest Michigan area just to be a little bit closer to my family. Had some family members with health issues a few years ago and just needed to cut the difference in terms of travel time between downtown Chicago and where my family lives in Southwest Michigan. So I feel really fortunate that I was able to find a position that lets me be a proposal manager and implement and really drive best practices, but also I get to work from home full time and have really settled into that. Now that I won’t say COBA’s over. Obviously we’re in a brand new spike with a new variant and I think this is going to be the reality for us for years to come. Probably that we’re just shifting based on the latest health trends or whatever. But it’s really improved my life greatly to be able to work from home and eliminate a commute. To take midday lunch walks and be able to log off at the end of the night and actually get to enjoy friends. Family. Exercise. Being outdoors. Getting to enjoy some of that nature I talked about a little bit earlier. Now that I live back in an area where we have Lake Michigan five minutes from where I live, national forests, parks, etc. And I’ve taken the opportunity over the last couple of years to start dialing into the things that are really important to me versus just surviving or taking a job because that was what was available to me, or I felt like I had to prove that I could do it on my own and didn’t want to rely on anybody else. So I took a couple of positions early on that ended up not being the right fit, but over time, now that I’ve had some time, distance, clarity really set me up for a pretty happy life.

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Baskar Sundaram: That’s beautiful. Thank you, Kati. Thank you for sharing your ten years of career in like, 15 minutes. Sure, that happens. A lot of talking. I know that was a big question for me to answer. I’m sure we’ll have a part two where we can talk about the second half of your career very soon, but that’s brilliant. I think over the years you might have done a lot more proposals from 2015 onwards. Kati, anything comes to your mind? Good, bad, ugly?

Kati Stutsman: Oh, man. With proposals there’s always a good, bad and ugly. I think that working with civil engineers has been quite the challenge in good ways and bad. I think that when you deal with people who think very differently than you do. I’m a very creative person, but I’m also very driven and organized. And for me, having to adapt communication and work styles to fit with different personalities has been a tough challenge, a welcome challenge. I think it’s helped me grow as a person and grow as a business professional. Being able to interact with people who see the world differently than I do, it’s really helped me flex my journalism background quite a bit in terms of asking the right questions and ghost writing for people who aren’t necessarily strong writers. So working with engineers who just either are too busy, too much, deliverable work, don’t have the time to do it, or the patience or the aptitude for it. So being able to to interview them, receive a lot of technical information and then turn it around into something that makes sense for a general reader or evaluation committee, council members, mayors, etc, etc. Has been both a challenge and a really valuable skill set that I’ve developed over time. And in the midst of all of that, I would say that there are a few proposals that were more challenging than others. My previous company and my current company, I put on a lot of design build infrastructure proposals. So high dollar value, very public facing types of projects sometimes, and they can have a lot of working pieces. And it’s new legislation in the US to be able to fund infrastructure projects in this type of way. So having some nuance in how we talk about opportunities and solutions that we give to our clients and what that messaging looks like. It’s a daily challenge to kind of navigate internal teams versus external audiences. And I think there’s been probably only a couple of times where I’ve been brought to tears with a proposal. Obviously we don’t like it when things don’t go according to plan or we’re cutting it too close to the wire when it comes to a submitted deadline. We all go through moments like that. Or you submit a proposal and you read through it again and realize a critical error or in hindsight, with an after action review that things didn’t quite go the way I would have wanted to. How do we change moving forward. And those can be really difficult conversations to have when people are trying their best or trying really hard. And sometimes it does cause burnout. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too, that you got to give everything every single day, and it’s been a challenge for me to figure out what is that healthy balance look like. So I’m not trying to get the gold star and the A plus every single day to the point where I don’t leave enough time for my own sanity or I’m having nightmares at night, I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about the next day’s activities. And when you’re an A plus student and you care a lot about your work and you have a lot of professional integrity, you care a lot about everything. And I’ve had to reach a point in my career where I can’t care about everything to that point, and that’s okay, right? Where do you set those boundaries for yourself? Saying no has become a really big focus for me in the last couple of years. I think part of that just comes with the privilege of being mid level career. At this point. It’s easier to say no when you realize what say yes means. Sometimes it’s not a good thing. We shouldn’t be chasing every single opportunity. Let’s really focus in on the ones where we feel like we have a really good shot of winning and knock those out of the park. So I think the bad and the ugly has always turned into good over time. Sometimes it’s just hard to see it in the moment. Ultimately, it’s made me a lot stronger person and a lot more confident person in my professional life and also my personal life.

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 Baskar Sundaram: Totally. Kati, I think I think beautifully wrapped it up in a good for now, but it’s always the bad and ugly that teaches us more than actually that’s really important way of wrapping it. I know you mentioned that you did APMP certification. At what point in a carrier did you come across the APMP as an industry body? And talk us through your APMP association, including GMC chapter, and also your recent talk in Dallas, which I was one of your listener.

Kati Stutsman: Oh, great. Good to hear. Yeah. So I got involved with APMP pretty soon into my proposal career, so I joined a firm, like I said, Michael Baker. They were the ones who put me through shipley training and a lot of proposal best practices that they had tailored for their own organization, and they had a corporate membership for APMP. So by default, whenever they hired a new proposal manager, they funded membership into APMP  and really were great in encouraging us to associate with our local chapter, attend webinars lunch, and learns things like Bid and proposal cons, BPC. The chapter where I physically reside is the Greater Midwest Chapter, so I’ve been a member of that chapter ever since I joined APMP I think in 2015 is when I joined. So about seven years now and just loosely involved, I would occasionally read an article or blog or newsletter, maybe attend an event here or there. My company didn’t really have the budget at the time to send every single proposal team member to big events like BPC, so I just kind of hung out in the background a little bit. And then a couple of years ago, I decided that I was looking for just a little bit more exposure and trying to build a network. At the time, I was working for a company that was based out of Pittsburgh. I sat in Chicago. So I just really wanted to start connecting with people who are a little more local to me now that I knew that proposal managers exist all over the place in a variety of industries and volunteered my efforts with the Greater Midwest Chapter as part of their marketing committee. So I was helping support their quarterly newsletters by writing content, opinion pieces, that type of thing. And through that, I connected with Katherine Becchina, who is the current president of the Greater Midwest Chapter. She actually is my current boss at my new firm. So that is kind of the connection between how I moved from my last company to my current company and then also taking a greater role with APMP Greater Midwest Chapter. Around the same time I stepped into a board member position, I took over Kat’s position as the newsletter publication chair with the Greater Midwest Chapter. So I’ve been doing that for two years now. So I’m midway into my second year as the publications chair for the chapter. Last year, I just took over the activities in terms of quarterly newsletters content for our website, that type of thing, and towards the end of that year started to realize there was so much more we could be doing for the chapter and for members in terms of content value add types of resources. So we’ve done a couple of things in 2022 so far, which have been really exciting. We’ve rebranded. So I kind of led an initiative for a new logo that more closely aligned with APMP International Rebrand. So we’ve got a new logo. We transitioned away from quarterly newsletters. Again, my journalism question type of personality, why are we doing this? Who’s reading this? Is anyone finding this content valuable? And we couldn’t answer those questions because we were just emailing a PDF newsletter to our members on a quarterly basis without any ability to track metrics, apart from if someone receive an email or did it bounce so blindly, putting content out there without any sort of feedback. So we decided to scrap the newsletter this year. I now host a podcast called Shortlisted. So it’s purely through GMC. We do it monthly. So kind of like you’re doing with your Scribble Talk podcast. We just interview proposal professionals across the chapter, talk about our woes and successes within the industry. We’ve also transitioned all of our article writing into online content for blogs. We’re in the process of setting up a brand new website. It’s going to be a little bit more searchable and keyword tagged so people can find content that’s relevant to them. But I think we’ve taken a lot of good strides to bring ourselves into 2022 with the chapter. We’ve been doing things the same way ever since our inception in 2003, and I just needed a bit of a refresh. So I currently am doing that. I’m looking to apply to be the Publications Chair again next year. I have the opportunity, like you mentioned, to submit an abstract and do a presentation at BTC in Dallas this year in May. So my session was on designing proposals like magazines, and I very much brought in my background in communication, in writing, and how I manage proposals from a design perspective. That is one thing that I didn’t bring up when we were talking about my background in my college career, is that I was a section editor for a newspaper for a couple of years. So, similar to proposal management, assigning out articles, content, assignments, editing that stuff when it came back, and then designing pages for publication. So my presentation at BPC this year was about how I apply some of the same principles and practices to managing proposals, and it ended up going really well, I think. At least I hope I’ve gotten a few requests for that same presentation a couple of times. I’m giving an abbreviated version of it in the month of July here, coming up in a week. It looks like just over a week through the GMC. I’m doing a lunch and learn with an abbreviated version of that on July 26. So depending on when the Scribble Talk podcast comes out, we may have missed it already. But I’ll be offering this presentation again in August through the Best of BPC series and again potentially in October. The Greater Midwest chapter is hosting an annual symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota, December 10th, I believe. So I’ll begin a version of that presentation again, which is great. Yeah, I like getting in front of people and making connections. I’ve had a lot of people reach out. I think my LinkedIn connections went up by like, 300 people in the last couple of months, which is great. I just hope that I get the opportunity to actually meet and interact with people. I think you’re one of them that we met briefly at BPC is the first time you and I got to connect in person. So just really grateful for that opportunity to meet like minded people and get to hear other people’s stories.

Podcast Transition – 0.42.28

Baskar Sundaram: Thank you, Kati. Thanks for sharing. Again, APMP has always been that kind of a central point where you come in and you mingle with people. Then you realize it’s not just me who’s doing this for people like me.

Kati Stutsman: I’m not alone.

Baskar Sundaram: That’s brilliant. Thank you for sharing. So, yes, we talked a lot about your professional carrier so far. Let’s step back and let’s talk about you more. Kati, talk us through three things not many people know about you.

Kati Stutsman: Three things? Well, I would like to say not many people know that I’m getting married later this year, which is exciting. It’s probably not true because I talk about it all the time with my co-workers. They’ve gotten to hear all the updates over the last few months. But I’m getting married in November, so I think that that’s one really exciting thing. Obviously I care very much for my fiance Frank and just really excited to continue to build our lives together. He has a five year old daughter, so I get to be a step mom coming up here soon and it’s been a huge blessing being able to enrich and expand my life in that way over the last couple of years. I mentioned COVID gave me the opportunity to work from home and be a little bit closer to family and this is all part of that. So we can’t spent adventuring and going out to do things I love to kayak, which I would think most people wouldn’t know about me. I’m not a super athletic person. I’m the reader and the artistic creative person. So people probably want to peg me for an athlete, and an athlete I am not. But I do like being outdoors and enjoying nature. I would say. Another thing that people don’t know about me is that I’m actually a pretty decent artist. So apart from writing and proposal management and things like that, for a good chunk of time early in my career when I wasn’t super satisfied with some of the work opportunities that I was pursuing as a receptionist or like more office support roles, I was moonlighting as a wedding photographer and I also do hand drawn pencil sketches. So for a time I had my own website and I would take commissioned artwork requests. People wanted drawings of their pets and of their family members and things like that, so I would take those orders and ship them out to people. I started that actually when I was in college. From my dorm room I was freelancing on the side as a portrait artist. So don’t really get a lot of opportunities to do those things with my work at the moment. But that type of artistic graphic design type of mindset definitely finds its way into the types of proposals I design and develop. A lot of opportunities for headshots and interesting photos and very graphic, heavy on what I end up producing, which is kind of fun. I feel like it’s a little bit different than a lot of proposal managers.

Baskar Sundaram: That’s brilliant, Kati. First of all, congratulations on the wedding. Thank you. Forget. Let me land that. I’m sure listeners will be so happy to know more about, “hey, what costume are you going to wear?” “How’s the wedding going to be?” etc. I’ll leave them to reach out to you rather than to open up your entire plan. That’s one, second one is oh, my God. Doing drawing artists, kayaking and pencil sketching, graphics. And it’s a lot more. And that’s a very unique blend because it’s very rare you find a good writer and a designer blended together. Normally it’s always a writer, or sometimes it’s a manager with some writing skills. Not necessarily all writing skills, or if a graphic artist who always ends up being a graphic artist who doesn’t like writing. But in your case, that’s really a unique skill that you have, Kati and writing plus this, and with the proposal management role, it’s brilliant.

Kati Stutsman: I don’t think I could find another opportunity like proposals that could combine all of those things all into one. Like you said so many times, people are just graphic designers or just technical writers. I feel pretty lucky that I, by accident stumbled across this profession.

Baskar Sundaram: Exactly. And everything happens for a reason, as it always happens to you.

Podcast Transition – 0.47.25 

Baskar Sundaram: That’s brilliant. Okay, let’s officially enter the Rapid Random Questions Round in honour of Howard Nutt. There is no right or wrong answer. Tell us whatever comes to your mind. Let begin. What’s the naughtiest thing that you have done in your school?

Kati Stutsman: In school, I can confidently say that I don’t think there was one. When I was in school, I was never in trouble. I’ve never had detention, suspension, anything like that. Definitely in elementary and high school. I can confidently say that I was a really good kid. I was too scared of getting in trouble to do anything too naughty. But when I was in college, I mean, who doesn’t have a college story, right? But I very much remember the one time I feel like I was really breaking the rules. I had gone to a liberal arts school in Grand Rapids that used to be a private estate that ended up being donated by that family and turned into a university decades ago. Century ago, maybe. So a lot of the buildings on campus were old. They were at the old carriage house where they used to have all of the horses and the old mansion where the family used to live turned into administrative offices and things like that. And there were always rumors that certain buildings on campus were haunted. And I had a friend who worked with campus security at the time, and she had master keys to all of the buildings. So one time me and my girlfriends talked her into letting us into the most haunted buildings on campus in the middle of the night so that we could go down into the basement and see the old wine cellars and up in the attic where they had all of the old furniture that used to belong to the family covered in white sheets and very much against the rules. You’re not supposed to enter those areas, let alone at 02:00 in the morning. It was like, hands down, probably the creepiest thing I’ve ever done. Didn’t see any ghosts or anything like that. I’m not sure how much I loosely believe in those things, but definitely when you’re scared and young, feeling like you’re doing something a little bit dangerous, I would think that was probably the worst. And I would consider that not too shabby. That’s not too bad. Let’s say you were curious rather than yeah, exactly. It’s brilliant. Did you find anything? I’m sure listeners were curious. Yeah, I mean, there were no bodies under the floorboards or anything like that, but it was really creepy to see all of the old furniture and picture frames and things like that that had just been put into storage. I was kind of surprised to see it, actually thinking that maybe they would have put those things out on display or handed them over to a museum or something. So walking around, picking your way through old furniture, and you turn around and there’s a face right in front of you obviously a painting versus anything else, but yeah, it was pretty creepy. It was enough to feel unsteady, I think, once we left, but no major ones.

Baskar Sundaram: Brilliant. That’s brilliant. I normally ask people, do you think? Oh, sorry, in your case, I’m sure you’re going to say this, right? Yeah. Combo answer right there.What’s your favorite type of vacation? Where do you want to travel the most?

Kati Stutsman: Yes, I have a confident answer for this one too. I am not a beachgoer. I am too fair skinned, so you will not find me on vacation sitting out in the sun, on the beach, anywhere. Not my cup of tea. I’m very much a person who likes the woods and mountains, big vista, types of things. So my fiancee and I try to go camping at least once a year in northern Michigan. So legit camping out in a tent where you’re cooking over a campfire, that type of vacation is high up there for me. I’m also in the middle of thinking about planning our honeymoon after our wedding and we want to go to Alaska. So again, bringing in the hiking, the national forest, just being out in the woods. If I could rent a cabin somewhere in the woods for two weeks and just sit out on a porch overlooking trees, that would be ideal for me. That’s brilliant. Do you have a favorite song that you listen to when you’re on your own or you sing that song when you take shower or anything? All sorts of music. I don’t think I would have a favorite song, but I will say over Covet. I’m not sure if you’ve watched it or not, but will Ferrell put out that movie on Netflix about Eurovision Song Contest, which I’m sure from the UK, you obviously know what this is, but here in the US we don’t have Eurovision, so I’d never heard of anything like that. Ever since that movie came out, I have been listening to actual like Eurovision Song Contest submissions so those find their way onto my playlist or I’ll just listen through the entire like 2022 soundtrack or 2021 soundtrack. So that’s been a lot of fun and introduced me the whole different type of music and event that I knew nothing about before this. So I geek out about it a little bit.

Baskar Sundaram: Do you procrastinate, Kati?

Kati Stutsman: I do, yeah, absolutely. I either need to be busy all of the time, like consistently busy, or if I’m bored, I will let things accumulate so then I can make myself busy. I’m one of those people that I operate really well under pressure. If you give me too much time to do something, I get bored, disinterested, avoid it, whatever, and then force myself into a pressure cooker situation where I have to rapidly respond and then I’m happy again. So there’s probably something therapy could help with in that situation, but I totally can relate to that. Again, when I have my diary empty on a day I just freak out. I come out with a long list of I’m going to do all these things. The end of the day, I get nothing done. Whereas when I do, all the stuff blocked in where I don’t structure, it works really well. Yeah, I think deadlines help with that too. If I’m left to my own devices and there isn’t a real pressing need for something, I fidget. I need the weight of expectation on me, I think, to really push myself to accomplish something. I love to deliver things to those who have requested it. If I’m just working on something for my own amusement because I think it could be helpful or whatever, then I tend to slow down a little bit.

Baskar Sundaram: So if you are given the choice, you are allowed to eat only these three food for the rest of your life. What would you pick?

Kati Stutsman: This is going to say a lot about me. Probably chocolate bread of any sort. I’m not picky, maybe or like Chabada type of bread. What else? Maybe honey crisp apples would be the other one. We’ll throw something healthy in there. Just because apples are crisp, they’re really good. I live in an area where they have a pretty prominent apple orchard community around here. So during the fall time, always go to the apple orchards and get apple cider. Donuts apple cider to drink. Go pick trees, apples from the orchard trees themselves. So, yeah, I would say apples, bread and chocolate. I feel like that’s a balanced enough diet.

Baskar Sundaram: That’s brilliant. So would you rather time travel to the past or to the future?

Kati Stutsman: Good one. I feel like I would rather go to the past. Well, let me rephrase. I feel like it would scare me to go to the future because either things would be so amazing and so progressive and all these new technologies and opportunities, which would be great. I mean, I also fear that it would blow people’s minds a little bit if data and technology and innovation continues to advance at an exponential rate. I don’t know that I could it wouldn’t make me comfortable by any means to live in the future. Same could be said of the past. I mean, I would love to visit the past because you could see what a slower way of life looks like. And I’m always really drawn to certain periods of time that have interesting clothing and foods and getting to meet historical figures and things like that. That being said, the past has a lot of not so great things, especially when it comes to women’s rights and equality for different types of groups of people. It would be hard to live in the past, I think, for any extended period of time. It would not be pleasant to be in a situation where you couldn’t influence change or help people just based on societal structures or law or things like that. So maybe I’ll play a safe and say the future, but I like the present very much.

Baskar Sundaram: Nice. So how do you explain Christmas or Santa to your five year old stepson?

Kati Stutsman: So, Christmas. I grew up in a family that absolutely celebrated Christmas, one of my favourite holidays of the year. I grew up actually in a pretty religious household, church on Sundays, Sunday school, Bible camp, all of that fun stuff. And as I’ve gotten older have very much gotten away from organized religion. I would consider myself pretty agnostic at the moment that I think there is a higher power, and I think that there’s something to be said of every major religion. And I think that we owe it to ourselves to take the best of everything and kind of let that guide our way in the world rather than leaning so heavily one way or the other. I think that there’s a lot to be said for religion and Christianity, and it does a lot of good in this world, but it also has done a lot of harm. And I think that if we can take the best practices and the good things that make us happy and teach us to be better people and kinder to others and absolutely embrace those things. I think Christmas is one of those that even if you stray away or don’t really observe the religious connotations of it. It’s fun to be a kid and to think that there is this magical being Santa that just does kind things for people and brings you presents and toys and I’m of the camp that you should let kids believe that as long as they want to and there’s enough time to be an adult. There’s enough time for all the bad stuff that comes with being an adult and the loss of innocence and not seeing as much wonder in the world. So I don’t like lying to kids necessarily. So my fiance’s daughter, so soon to be stepdaughter, she’s five, so she’s still in the thrall of look what Santa gave me, and having Christmas presents under the tree and things like that. And that’s so much fun to get to relive my childhood through that. I love to give gifts anyway, but having a little kid in the picture, I think just the wonder and magic of Christmas is something that I hope if she believed in Santa all the way until she was 18, that would be fine with me. I think she’s a smart cookie, though, so I think she’s going to figure it out here before too long. That, wait a minute, there’s no fireplace. How does Santa deliver these things? All of a sudden the facts aren’t making sense anymore, but things like Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, whatever, why not let kids believe that for as long as they want to so they have enough time to be adults and have jobs and lose that kind of magic later in life.

Podcast Transition – 01.00.22

Baskar Sundaram: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Kati. Who are the people who have been the most influential in your life and career?

Kati Stutsman: I think my grandmother has been one of the most influential people. So this is my mom’s mom. She sadly passed away when I was in college, so I haven’t really gotten, I never got the chance to talk things like career with her. I have a feeling that my career trajectory would have been very different if I would have gotten to leverage her business networks and her perspective and advice over the years. She was a woman ahead of her time in terms of corporate career women. So when she was raising my mom and aunt in the early sixty s, it was not common for women to hold executive business positions or to climb a corporate ladder. Yet a lot of people who are receptionist and support roles and not really taking any sort of or being offered leadership positions and my grandma was one of those people who no one had to offer it to her, she was going to take it whether you liked it or not and was a very tenacious person. So she really imposed or imparted a lot of wisdom on me when I was growing up as a kid and in high school. The education is so much more than just what you learn in school. It is travel, it is learning about other people and cultures and food. And she really wanted to try and take me out of the small town that I grew up in to expose me to a larger world. And she was my biggest advocate and biggest champion in terms of if there’s something you want bad enough, nothing will stop you. You have the willpower, the smarts, the talent to go after and do whatever you want. The world is your oyster type of cheerleader and I wish everybody had that type of person in their life, especially in your formative years where you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want to be. Yeah, she was a super important person to me, so I regret that she passed away before I really entered like the workforce and could talk about career. She works for a company called Honeywell. On their government side of things, she was involved in a lot of grant writing and she does a lot of top secret type of government work. So I feel like in a little tiny, small way by doing proposals and proposal writing for civil engineering, which does a lot of work in the government sector in some small ways, I kind of have like an offshoot of what she did for her career just by accident, which is kind of fun. But I would say she and the other women in my family, everybody’s very creative driven, everyone kind of charted their own path a little bit, but as a whole, all of the women my family went on to pursue interesting things and very different things. But I think it’s just a testament to the type of family that I grew up in that people felt like they had those opportunities and had the encouragement and support from their family to move away and to go to school. And I think that my generation of kids in my family were the first ones to not necessarily be a stay at home moms. People went off and pursued higher education and got degrees and professional jobs and in health care. We’ve got a couple of nurses and teachers in my family, and my sister is the director of a tutoring company out of the Bay Area. So people went on to do like, really cool things. So it was the women in my family, but most specifically my grandma, I would say, that made the biggest impression.

Baskar Sundaram: There is so much abundance in your life, Kati, and I’m sure everybody whom you touched from your grandma and the lessons and the insights that she gave you, values, I’m sure you’re going to pass on to others. Beautiful. That is the goal.

01.04.10 – Baskar Sundaram: Okay, Kati. I think I know as a proposal professional, there’s lots of myths that we kind of go through. What’s the one common myth about a profession that you want to debunk?

Kati Stutsman: I think the myth that if you follow a process, it’s going to result in a win. I think that’s a big myth. We talk a lot about win rates and how you measure success in this industry. So, for example, a win or a capture rate. Are you winning 100% of the things that you’re going after? No. Are you winning the high value ones, aka. Your capture rate versus your win rate? Maybe a more applicable measure of success there. But I think proposal professionals need to get away from the win and capture rates as measures of success. Because I can tell you, there have been so many proposals that have gone flawlessly. I mean, just solid winning proposals where we did everything absolutely right in terms of win themes and client focused messaging and strong visuals, really informed by the client. And for some reason or another, we just didn’t win that one. Maybe there’s something politically happening or there was a wild card out there that we just didn’t know about or a competitor came with just something slightly different than us that tipped the scale. And I think that it’s important to realize that even when we don’t win, those things can be a success. I take it so personally when we lose because you do put so much into a proposal and you care about it so much, you want it to be a win. Being able to take it a step back and say that, okay, well, even if it didn’t result in revenue for the company, this can still be a personal and a professional success for us for a variety of reasons. And having the space to talk about that and to celebrate those things and not be too bummed out. I think it’s really important. So I hate when people ask me what my win rate is or the couple of times I’ve had to job hunt or have thought about switching careers and things like that. That’s a common question that recruiters will ask, what is your winner? Talk to me about that. And I don’t feel at all that that’s a measure of success in this industry. You’d want it to be. Ideally, the goal is to win everything that you submit, but that’s not possible. So being able to find what is a win about the other things that don’t result in a financial income or revenue back to the company. So. I don’t know if that’s a myth or not, but yeah, not every loss is a true loss. It’s a succinct way to say it.

01.07.23 – Baskar Sundaram: Kati, what advice will you give fellow brilliant professionals who are looking to pursue a carrier similar to yours?

Kati Stutsman: I think the biggest piece of advice I could give is that this profession is not for everybody. I think that it’s important to become certified because it gives some legitimacy to your role. It gives you a little bit of a life to stand on and a whole network to fall back on. And when you’re out there looking for jobs or trying to advocate a raise for yourself with your boss, et cetera, having the letters behind your name does help that a little bit. I would also say learn how to say no. It’s something that I wish I learned to do much earlier in my career, and that no doesn’t have to be no, I’m not doing it. That no can be. I don’t understand why we’re doing that. Let’s talk about this rather than just say yes because you want to please somebody or be a good team player. Sometimes being a good team player means challenging the status quo a little bit, or at least asking intelligent questions to figure out, hey, are we spending our time, resources, energy in the right locations and in the right efforts? So I wish that I would have learned to say no much earlier in helpful ways. Did that answer your question?

Baskar Sundaram: Yes, you did. Okay, thanks. Thank you, Kati. Kati, is there any part of your life or career or is there anything else that we missed in the last one or two minutes of an episode that you would like to make the listeners aware of?

Kati Stutsman: I don’t think so. Selfishly, I would probably suggest APMP. Get involved with your local chapters as much as you can. It is a volunteer only effort on the chapter level. So we are sometimes getting sick of our own company if we’re the only ones trying to push new content, resources, thoughts, opinions, perspectives, et cetera, out to our member community. We know that we’re not an exhaustive list of committee members of, like, I think there’s five or six marketing people on my team for a Greater Midwest chapter. We’re only five or six out of 700 plus people in our chapter, so it’d be really great to hear from people. I think that even for people’s own professional networking, I think there’s a lot of value out there just having a robust network to tap into. I get recruiters reaching out to me on a weekly basis, and even though I’m not looking to move from my company, I’m able to point those recruiters to other people in my network who are people who are taking this opportunity to kind of step back, reflect, and maybe make a job change. I have resources that I can connect people to, so I would encourage everybody to leverage their networks as much as possible and get involved in your local chapters because I think there are so many things out there that people just don’t know about. We obviously try to push content information out but doesn’t always happen. And then I think the other thing I would offer this is more on a personal note than a professional note. It’s just like I always encourage and I try and take the time for myself and for my team members to take a step back and really evaluate what’s important to you in your life. We care about our jobs, we care about work. There are some people who love to work and other people who work to supplement their lives and to be able to afford the things that they want to do with their friends and family. And we’re going through a lot of weird stuff in the world right now in terms of politics, current events, the economy, covet, et cetera. Take a minute to step back once a week, once a day, just to step away from your desk and what you’re doing and just like recenter yourself and realize that at the end of the day it’s all going to be okay. And it may not feel like it in the moment. Surround yourself with people and things, activities, hobbies, et cetera, that actually bring you joy. Life shouldn’t all just be the daily grind of working and winning work. There’s a lot more to it than that. And when you introduce happy positive things to your life, that has a trickle effect into your work products and into the attitude that you bring to your co-workers and things like that. So take a minute for mental health. That would be my big piece of advice. Nice advice, Kati, When you were just about to say there is one personal request from me, I was just thinking maybe you are inviting the listeners to your wedding or something. That would be nice of me. We don’t have the budget for that though. Exactly. But it’s good, I think. I think you’re right. I think fine is available for you and there are a lot of people beyond apmpmp, there are lots of people. And even if you don’t want to volunteer, at least reach out to few people like hey, please share what you are doing, how you are doing, et cetera, and then you can go from there. Because ideally step up, join the local chapters, give your time for the local chapters that will inspire others to join and collectively you can shape future generations, but at least in a very simple way, to say hello, find out who your local chapter members are. At least have this one to one conversation. Yes, even if you aren’t looking to make a career move or you’re not necessarily looking to volunteer hours of time to anything, you might run into somebody who lives on the street from you or you’re part of the same gym or have a similar hobby and want to start a side business. There’s so many different things that may be out there for you until you put yourself out there to start meeting and talking with people you just don’t know.

Baskar Sundaram: Totally, Kati. Thank you so much for taking your time to join the forest. Kati, on behalf of me and Ashley, wish you, your family, all the good health and happiness. Congratulations again for your wedding. If you all will be well, enjoy the moment, enjoy the day and please do continue to inspire bid and proposal people, friends, colleagues and everybody around you. Stay healthy, stay happy and I’ll speak to you very soon, Kati.

Kati Stutsman: Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it. I’m within.

Scribble Talk Outro Music.

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Scribble Talk 2.0 Episode 161 with Kati Stutsman
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