Tagged: consulting

A Tale of Two Editors Part 1

So I’m back into the actual writing schtick. My book previously published under the title “Der Sternvolker” (which, by the way, is terribly improper German grammar; Es tut mir leid) went through a major edit last year, and is going through another one as we speak.

My experience with the two different editors I’ve used has been like night and day. One barely communicated at all, the other communicates a lot. One had a very definitive vision of where they wanted to go, the other looks to me for more guidance.

I’m sure other new writers are going, or will go through similar experiences. Here I will describe my experiences, and welcome input from other just starting authors who working with their first or second editor.

Part One covers my first editor. NOTE: This isn’t a positive or negative, and I attempt to simply relate things as they occurred. I do, however, write several lessons learned at the end.

Editor One

I won’t use names in this article. So the first editor I used shall be dubbed: Editor One.

Editor One was an experienced editor with quite a few titles under her belt, as well as a few titles she wrote herself. I was excited to work with her as she seemed to generally understand the more sci-fi sort of things I was trying to get through, such as Cowboy Bebop and Firefly references. I was in geek heaven. She also had a firm grasp of the Turkey City Lexicon which has become the standard in a lot of writing circles, specifically in sci-fi/fantasy writing.

When I solicited her editing services she sent me a sample edit of the first few pages of my manuscript, and upon receipt of her edits confirmed I wanted her to edit my work.

It was the price tag that hit me: $2,400.

I had just received my tax return back, and instead of paying off some more debt, I decided to take the leap and pay her for her services.

And so the editing began.

I heard nothing for about four weeks.

And then, one day, my edited manuscript appeared in my inbox! I was ecstatic.

I went through the manuscript to see what she had done. It was diced, chopped, sliced, and beaten. And it needed to be. There was so much in my old manuscript that needed work, and that was just downright bad.

But, most of her notes were comments or recommendations. No hard “change this” or “move this here and it will really pop” or “delete this garbage and rewrite it.”

Included in her fee was a 1 hour consultation on her edits. I sought further information on many of her comments, and where things should go and how I should rewrite certain parts. She didn’t offer much. One of the recommendations I remember after asking if I should write a certain part a certain way was, “Really that’s up to you.”

At the end of our conversation I made the comment that I had a lot of deleting and rewriting to do, and she responded with, “And that’s one of the great parts of writing. You get your edits, and then you get to rewrite, sometimes the entire book!”

And that was that. My hour was up and I had exhausted my services with her.

I delved into the task of rewriting my manuscript – again. And then I re-rewrote it, and eventually stumbled upon my current editor…

Lessons Learned

First and foremost I felt some confusion with the process, especially at the end. My thought was that, while the editor can’t tell me exactly what to write, shouldn’t they at least be able to help with how to write it?

And that is where clearer communication would come in. I should have asked more questions about exactly what more of her editing looked like, maybe have check-ins throughout the process to get a feel for what she was saying and recommending, and get clarity on the details of the 1-hour consultation at the end. Maybe ask how such conversations went over with her other clients, what they covered, and what she absolutely would not/could not do.

I did look into other editors before I chose the one that edited my MS. Pricing for the length of my book (110k words) was about the same, give or take $50. With my contracts/procurement background I definitely got a wide selection of pricing and compare their editing styles and what they offered in their services (ie. post-edit consultation). Ultimately she was the best bang for my buck.

Perhaps I should have looked harder for editors, maybe there were veteran editors out there who could have offered better pricing for the same/similar services. And I would recommend to any readers to absolutely do so. Solicit examples and pricing from at least seven (7) different editors, and I recommend going all the way up to ten (10). Understand their editing style, personality, what they will do, and what they won’t do in the editing process.

Make sure everything is clear, and preferably in writing so there are no questions, disagreements, or misunderstandings down the road.

To Be Continued

I am currently working with my latest editor. Part 2 will be posted upon completion of her editing services, upon which time I will write about the experience, and lessons learned.

I hope this is helpful for new writers like me. If you’re a new writer, or even a veteran writer, tell me about some of your experiences – good, bad, and indifferent, and the lessons you learned. Are there any editors you would recommend to others?

Until next time. . .

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Supply Chain – Finding Savings in Sourcing Before Cutting Headcount

The Office Space Effect

Many remember (and chuckle, and seethe) at the scenes in the movie “Office Space” when the consultants are grilling the employees of the company to determine what they do to see if they are needed. Many in today’s workforce can relate to this. When companies need to save money or are trying to find efficiencies, where is the first place they look to cut?

Headcount.

The men and women that do the actual work in the company.

I am not advocating that executives cut their pay (though, that may help image-wise). I am a firm believer in free market capitalism and the freedom of people to amass as much wealth as they see fit. If the executives’ pay is the thing hurting the company though…

But cut the people that are making the company operate every day? Especially if those people are effective at their job? That makes no sense to me. (Note: I said if the people were effective at doing their job. If they’re not: fire them.)

Rarely do companies look at their sourcing activities, as well as other internal processes within the company, to cut the budget.

Developing more effective sourcing techniques and improving processes, and reducing total cost ownership will do more for a company, both up front and long term, than slashing headcount.

NOTE: I use the following terms here interchangeably.

  • RFP/RFQ/Solicitation for Bids
  • Supplier/Vendor/Contractor

Developing More Effective Sourcing Techniques and Improving Processes

This is anecdotal and I don’t have any hard data to back it up, but I am finding that many medium and even larger companies don’t have a central procurement/sourcing department, or a department within their organization that leads and monitors that function. Purchase orders are done as lists on excel spreadsheets, or over the phone. Many times supervisors or crew leaders simply go to the vendor with a credit card. This is an ineffective way of sourcing the company’s needs.

How do these companies know they’re getting the best price? Because the vendor tells them? Unfortunately, “Our supplier tells us we are getting the best price.” is the answer I hear time and time again, both in other companies and in the company I work for.

Developing effective sourcing techniques can help reduce costs almost immediately. Just a simple RFP can produce lower purchase prices. (We’ll talk more about purchase pricing below under reducing total cost ownership.)

The company I work for did this with their MRO. They discovered on some items which suppliers were telling us we were getting the best price we were being charged a 400% mark-up. When we asked the supplier why, the supplier’s response was, “You never asked.” It was no wonder these suppliers “loved us” so much – we took them at their word when they said we were getting the best price, and were able to overcharge us exponentially.

Control of bidding, purchase orders, and contracts – everything that goes into sourcing – with a central sourcing department, or at least one department within the organization that is given responsibility and accountability for this function, helps, too. They can work to set company policies, processes, and procedures around sourcing and, with upper management support, enforce it.

This is where your Lean and Six Sigma ninjas come in, too. Perhaps there are already procurement processes within the company, but there is clearly room for improvement. Mapping the processes and their sub-steps, and leaning them out by removing steps and/or red tape will save in work hours alone – and time is money. It doesn’t take spending millions on a consultant like McKinsey and Company, or Accenture to do this. Companies can do this themselves.

Developing better negotiating tactics and techniques can help, too. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) includes many techniques for negotiations in their CPSM Study Guide. And there are lower cost consultants and webinars out there that can help your company hone their negotiating skills. (Yes, I do have a bias against the bigger supply chain consultants. There might be some bitterness there. (There’s definitely bitterness.))

Finally, control of the procurement process, and by extension payment of suppliers, helps save. While there are some instances where parts or services are needed in less than 24 hours – I emphasize some – 95% of the time this is due to poor planning on the part of the Project Manager, the sourcing department, and the warehouses. (Note my use of and not or. It’s a team effort, and if one fails, they all fail.)

The company should limit who can input requests for orders, who can approve and issue these requests and orders, and then keep a close eye on invoices to ensure they match quoted pricing.

Working closely with the company’s warehouses can help set minimums and maximums (min/max) on materials so that what is needed most is in stock when it’s needed, while working estimates and forecasts on past spend and usage and upcoming project earlier can ensure that if additional materials or services are needed they are sourced well in advance. Having pre-negotiated agreements across the company with a handful of suppliers can ensure that support is provided when needed, and new one-off contracts aren’t being constantly issued.

Reducing Total Cost Ownership

So your company has a handle on its sourcing of materials and services. Controls are in place, and the processes have been made lean, mean, sourcing machines. Money is being saved.

But not enough.

The next thing a company should look at is the total cost ownership of the materials and services they are sourcing.

Here’s an example:

Lean Corp wants to go out for bid for buying and installing widgets. (Very original, I know.) They send out a RFP to five vendors. The bids come back, and Lean Corp short lists two of the vendors: Cheapo Co, and Quality Co.

Cheapo  Co can provide the widgets for $10, and charge $10/hour for installation.

Quality Co can also provide the widgets for $10 (widgets are probably a commodity, like steel), and charge $20/hour for installation.

At face value, Cheapo Co is the low bidder.

But there’s a catch.

Cheapo Co takes 3 hours to install each widget! That’s $30 of installation per widget!

Quality Co, on the other hand, only takes an hour to install each widget; $20 of installation per widget. And the equipment is up and running faster, meaning less downtime, meaning Lean Corp can produce more, sooner.

Lean Corp brings both vendors in for negotiations.

Cheapo Co won’t budge on their pricing, and offer very little extra for their services. C’mon, they’re clearly the low bid! They know it! They’ve been working with Lean Corp for over a decade and the working relationship is great. And Cheapo Co’s owner is golfing buddies with two of the VPs of Lean Corp. Why would Lean Corp want to award to anyone else?

Quality Co, on the other hand, offers extended warranties on the widgets they install, and they offer up to 10 business days of training per year at no charge, a value of $15,000.

That training has downstream effects in Lean Corp: the training which Quality Co provides increases the knowledge of Lean Corp mechanics and reduces rework they have to do, and reduces downtime of the equipment by dozens of hours per year – remember time is money. The additional cost reduction is compounded by the value added services Quality Co provides.

This is an extremely simplified example, but it gets the point across well.

Total Cost Ownership is a pricing model that takes into account everything before, during, and after the sourcing of a material or service. This includes (but is not limited to) materials that go into producing the thing being bought, labor hours that go into producing the material/service, overhead, freight, mark-up, how long it takes to provide the material or service, number of deliveries per week/month, estimated downtime, and inventory holding costs, to name a few.

Reducing the total cost ownership of the materials and services sourced, while working to increase the value added services the supplier provides, should be the goal of the organization trying to cut its costs, especially when trying to not cut overhead.

This can be done through negotiations with suppliers, or through internal efficiencies within the company itself.

Conclusion

Companies looking to reduce costs should develop more effective sourcing techniques and processes, and reduce their total cost ownership of materials and services before slashing headcount. This will not only create short-term wins, but a long-term, sustainable model of keeping costs low. It is up to senior and middle management of companies to enforce this so that it takes hold in the company’s culture.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not advocating for never cutting headcount. If positions are completely outdated and unneeded, then they need to go. No need having the ten Accounts Payable clerks that were kept because that’s how many they had in the time before computers and now everything is automated so six of those clerks are being paid to check social media. And if individuals are truly underperforming, even after corrective actions, then they need to go.

Improving sourcing is where companies should start to cut their costs.