Shorten Your Document Edit Cycle

It is a wonder that documents actually get completed and signed. They start out as a lone text document, get duplicated and passed out to multiple people, each version gets its own edits and life cycle, and somehow they get back to the original document owner who, magically, reconciles these versions. Few know if the final version includes their comments and edits or never made the final cut. And then the “draft” goes the client and the document multiplication starts all over again. I once had a document edit cycle that took nearly a year and a half to complete. If you’re a sales person who gets paid by the deals you close and not by the hour, this can delay or even kill your income stream. Here are four simple practices that can quickly reduce your document edit cycle to get your deals signed faster:

1. Never send or accept a PDF or protected text document as the initial draft.
2. If you send or accept a text document, be sure it can be freely edited and allows tracked changes.
3. Set a time limit or date certain when you must have your edits back.
4. Don’t sent text document for edit; send links to allow people to edit your document. Use a document collaboration tool.

PDFs Are Deal Killers

The problem with using PDF documents to start an editing cucle is that most people can’t edit them or have a difficult time making comments in them. Senders erroneously believe that if they send a PDF of their document, it will not get edited. That is incorrect on two points. First, receivers can purchase software that edits the PDF in its native form. Second, there is freely available software that can covert the PDF into an editable text document. Both of these methods are not reliable as these applications typically have a difficult time covering text, graphs, and pictures accurately if at all. So, if you start with a PDF and get something in return, there’s a good chance the response is (I) an email narrative that references sections and paragraphs in the PDF with comments such as “delete paragraph X in its entirety and replace it with the following paragraph” and a long list of comments and requests, (II) an edited PDF that rewrote sections in the document and there’s no way to determine what has changed, or (III) a converted PDF to text document that might not contain all the original words and may be missing sections. You end up in a worse place than you started. I call it a deal killer because this is the first impression your client has of how you do business. And it is not a pretty one. If your editing cycle starts with a PDF, stop. If you initiated the document, make it instead a freely editable document (see next section) or use documentation collaboration tools. If someone sent you a PDF, reply to them and explain that the edit process goes much faster if all participants can freely edit the document. I know everyone want to protect their documents, so read on.

Eliminate All Protections In Your Documents

If you send or receive a document that has edit protections build in, it only frustrates the person who has to edit it. Document protection and tracked changes do not work well together. Some document protection schemes allow recipients to add text but not delete text (strange). If the recipient needs to delete and replace text, the recipient must make a comment requesting the document owner to delete such text and refer to the inserted text. If you have multiple recipients who receive the document in sequence (not a copy), it now becomes more difficult for the second and third recipient to determine what the draft document looks like. Adding partial protection to a document merely extends the edit cycle. If you do send or receive a document, make sure you the recipients can freely edit the document – no protection. Zero. Let the recipients make all the edits they want. Tracking change is convenient but not a sure method of seeing changes to the document. The best way to track all the changes made to a freely edited document is to (I) get the finished freely edited document, (II) run a document compare (in MS Word – Track Changes, Compare Document menu; in LibreOffice – Edit, Track Changes – Compare Document menu) using your original document you sent and the freely edited document you received, and (III) create an output file that shows the differences between the documents. Name this your “First Comparison” document and share it with all editors. You can now see all the changes in First Comparison and accept or reject the changes as appropriate. First Comparison becomes your new benchmark document for the next iteration of edits. If you are sending documents between parties, this is the better method than sending a protected text document. It eliminates extra review iterations while maintaining final control over the document versions.

Sunset Your Documents

Nothing shortens an edit cycle like setting deadlines. Make sure you set specific timelines for your internal team members and your customers for getting your document completed and signed. Everyone has busy schedules, but professionals are usually goal-oriented. Set a document completion goal date and stick to it. In many businesses, work cannot start until a master service agreement and a work order are fully executed and a purchase order is issued. The work to be done usually has fixed deliverable dates and milestones. So, you cannot afford to have the final documentation holding up the work that needs to get started. Setting deadlines is especially important if you are trying to responding to a request for price or quote or writing a grant. For each document, plan these milestones dates: (I) when you will have the initial document to your team members, (II) when you expect your team members to return their first round of edits, (III) when you will send the first combined edits document back to your team members for a second review, (IV) when you will send the first combined edits to the client for their first reviews, (V) when you expect the first return edits from your client, (VI) when you expect to complete the second internal review (this should be a review en masse), (VII) when you expect the second round of edits from your client, (VIII) the date to schedule a conference call to finalize outstanding contract items and areas the parties still disagree on, (IX) date of final document reconciliation, and (X) date of signatures. Start from the date you need signatures and work you way back. A detailed schedule will keep you on track and avoid endless review cycles.

Document Collaboration Save Times

To get your documents reviewed, edited, and completed most efficiently, don’t send your documents to people to edit, send people a link to edit your document. Today’s document collaboration tools allow you to do file sharing and real-time document editing. Real-time editing is more than just editing a document at the same time. On some platforms you can share the document on a server and make it always available to recipients (by requiring password protected access to the document on the server). This kind of platform allows recipients to access the document anytime and make edits anytime before the due date. As review deadlines approach, if recipients have not kept up with their document edit responsibilities, they can cram in their edits before the review deadline. Since the document is on a server, all participants have a live view of the document with all its edits and comments. When your review deadline approaches, there is no document reconciliation needed (just remove any internal only comments please) and you can forward the draft version to your client. Better still, you can invite your client to edit the document in your document collaboration environment. Once both parties agree on the final document version, I recommend executing the document via an electronic signature platform (e.g., Yozon, DocuSign, E-sign).

Whether you process documents that traditional way (e.g., send text documents to recipients for edits) or the new way (e.g., send recipients links to edit your documents), these tips should help you reduce the document editing cycle time and close deals faster.

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About the Author.
Nat James is a practicing North Carolina attorney in the Research Triangle Park area. Mr. James has drafted, negotiated, and closed business contracts for clients since 1992. This material represent his observations from past experiences. It is not intended to provide you legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship between you and Mr. James. If you need legal assistance, seek independent legal counsel by contacting your State Bar or State Bar Association.