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Making the switch from scientist to business owner was daunting for Karen Woolley, and her husband Mark. But after rewriting a medical report Karen’s company had paid someone to write, they realised there was a gap in the market for a medical communications business, and it suddenly became a natural step.

Active ImageWorking for different pharmaceutical companies, both Karen and Mark Woolley were responsible for sending jobs out for medical writing. They were outsourcing to companies overseas because there was no specialist writing group in Australia to do the job.

"I remember paying two or three hundred dollars an hour to have something come back that we had to rewrite," she says. "We thought: why pay when you can do a better job yourself?"

So, as Karen jokes, the pair became "entreprenerds". Their medical communications company prepares documents for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and academic clients needing drugs approved or to educate about new drugs on the market.

What makes the Woolleys’ business even more unusual is, they exported it before they launched it on the Australian market. "We broke the rules," Karen explains straightforwardly.

Launching an untested product into the global marketplace may be a risky prospect, but it was a calculated risk for ProScribe. Ethically motivated, they didn’t want to make Australian clients guinea pigs; they wanted to deliver a first-rate product to the Australian market—and become the market leader—and chose to make the international arena their test market.

They were also driven by confidence. "We wanted to make sure any service or product delivered from ProScribe would meet global standards, and that the concept could be internationally competitive for the Australian market."

Because the market in Australia was very young, Karen realised if demand for their medical writing was well-known internationally, it would help to grow the Australian market. "And whether that helps our competitors or not, it doesn’t matter if you’re a leader in the field, they’re always one step behind you."

Leading Edge

Karen puts their success down to their approach to the business from its inception. "It’s that old saying … start as you mean to go on," she says. And rather than pour money into glossy advertising and marketing campaigns, ProScribe concentrate on research and development to improve their business and maintain their commitment to being a leader in the industry. "To be a leader in the field, you need to create not just possess knowledge," she says. "It takes much more passion and vision to come up with a question that’s really important in your industry and try to answer it. And if you have the answers, then people come to you."

This research is fuelled by their passion for international benchmarking, which was recently recognised when they were selected among peers to present at a worldwide conference. "Research that our team did this year has been accepted through the world’s most prestigious conference on medical writing in the US," she says. "And not only was it accepted, but they’ve given us the podium presentation on day one." This shows, she says, that Australians can be global leaders in their field.

Hitting the international market first has worked for ProScribe. After their launch in 2000, their entry into the Australian market was a "slow trickle" one to two years later. Now there is more demand than they can handle. This approach has given them confidence in their service as well as their fundamental belief of offering the best service possible.

Champion Strategy

To get into the market initially, the team of writers—all have PhDs—relied on their network of contacts in the industry as well as developing "champions" to spread the word. "All you need is a handful. Deliver what you say you’re going to deliver and do it well and have them spread the word." It’s about not being afraid to go to those networks, she adds, and ask for help in getting the word out. Even now, all of ProScribe’s international business has come through word of mouth, not advertising.

When getting into the Japanese market, ProScribe enlisted the help of the Queensland government’s QIDS (Queensland Industry Development Scheme) funding initiative. "That was a very focused project. Our application was researched, we wanted to partner with the university in an academic partnership, rather than a purely commercial venture, and thought this would be something that would interest the government and be worthwhile to the local economy."

In dealing with different cultures, they’ve learned that professional diplomacy goes a long way. "All our clients from different countries come with a different cultural background but the barriers are less obvious," Karen says of maintaining a professional level of courtesy. And in deference to the importance of taking the time to establish relationships with potential clients in Japan, they placed an employee on the ground in Tokyo, whether or not that ends up being commercially viable.

Because a lot of contact is made via email, Karen is conscious of taking extra care and time to ensure correspondence is clear and concise so things can’t be taken out of context across the world. "The extra effort you put into email contact can help to mitigate some of the cultural faux pas that you might encounter."

Being based at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland didn’t prove to be a problem for Karen and her team. In fact, their aim was to live in a lifestyle destination, deliver a top quality service and achieve the elusive work/life balance. "With a business model that relies on technology, you no longer have to be living in a big city or near a big hospital."

With an airport nearby, interstate and international trips are easy. And having clients visit them on their piece of paradise tends to put them in an amenable mood, she quips.

In fact, the biggest challenge ProScribe faces is remaining a specialised, boutique business. "I still feel that intense commitment to quality customer service really thrives in a small to medium enterprise. Our biggest challenge has been to stop people trying to supersize us!" she muses. "Why would you want to recreate the very environment you left in the first place?"

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