Feedback is an inevitable part of a copywriter’s role.
When I submit a quote, I include two rounds of revisions for a project (in reality, this means as many revisions as necessary, as long as you don’t take advantage). Feedback is central to every project I take on – I anticipate it, but dread it too.
I’ve heard it said that you need a thick-skin to be a freelance copywriter. True to an extent, but if you care about your work and take pride in it; inevitably you will feel some pain when you receive constructive criticism. It shows you care.
Having said that, you need to cope too, so here are my tips on dealing with client feedback:
Put your business head on
Ever see the film ‘You’ve got mail’? There’s a classic scene where Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan, “It’s not personal, it’s business” (if you haven’t seen it, he’s just put her book-store out of business and she’s not happy).
I still don’t fully understand why Meg falls in love with the guy who put her out of business, but Tom is right – it is business.
Although I’m essentially a one-man-band, trading under a business name gives me some emotional distance from my work. Okay, it’s my work that’s being reviewed, but I’m a representative of MK Word Studio.
So I need to consider the overall good of the business and take a professional approach. In my case, this involves putting my ‘business owner’ head on and working out what my team (that’s me) should do to ensure the best outcome.
So, if you’ve just received feedback for your first draft and you’re feeling slightly faint at the amount of edits, take a step back. Breathe. Picture Tom and repeat to yourself, “It’s not personal, it’s business”.
Then close the document down. Work on something else. Walk the dog. Engage in mindfulness activities. Have a drink, if that helps (obviously I mean tea).
The choice of activity is yours, but do take some time to reflect. When you come back to the project, you will almost certainly notice more positive feedback, alongside the negative, and you can review the changes with a calm head.
Don’t respond to the client at this stage. Give yourself time to read through everything, and plan your strategy.
Be analytical (and honest with yourself)
Once you’re in the right frame of mind read the feedback slowly and try to be analytical. Ask yourself some questions:
- Did I interpret the brief correctly?
- Have I mastered the tone of voice?
- Do I agree with the feedback?
- How can I work with client to bring this project to a satisfactory conclusion?
The final bullet-point is important if you want to work with the client again (and get paid!) My primary goal is to collaborate with the client, so they’re satisfied with the final draft and give me repeat business.
Remember it’s a two-way process – nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong; you’re a team working to a common goal. If there’s co-operation on both sides, you’ll get there.
Communicate with your client
Once you’ve had time to consider the feedback, it’s time to respond.
This may take the form of a phone call or email. Personally, I prefer email, purely because I tend to talk too much. A written response from me is more concise. Whichever method you prefer, thank them for the feedback, show that you’ve taken time to consider it and give an indication of when you will have the amends to them. If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.
Remember, they may feel uncomfortable about giving feedback. It might even be the first time they’ve been required to do so in their role. So cut them some slack – they may be feeling insecure too.
Give the people what they want (my take on the customer is always right)
This view is controversial, but it works for me.
The way I see it, the client is paying you for a service. You’re charging for that service. So give them what they want. They may want more corporate language than you would like. You might think their approach is too safe, when you want to shake things up a bit. Or they may want something wild and wacky. Ultimately, the choice is theirs.
If you work for them long enough, you may feel more comfortable questioning their decision, but that comes with time, and trust. In the early days, work to their agenda, as long as it doesn’t go too far against your principles and you don’t feel too strongly that they are taking the wrong path.
You can learn a lot from your client; particularly if you are working on something outside your comfort zone. Seek their guidance, and take it on board. That’s knowledge you can apply to other projects; so don’t be too proud to learn.
There’s nothing wrong with putting forward ideas or suggestions of your own. It shows you’re fully engaged with the process and you may influence their decision, particularly as your knowledge grows.
Just know when to quit. Locking horns will prolong the project, and that’s not productive or cost-effective for you or your client.
Walk away if you have to (but only as a last resort)
It doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that you’re the boss of you. That’s the beauty of being a freelancer. If you are working for an unreasonable client, you can walk away; waiving payment if necessary.
But your goal is to build your client-base and secure further work. So I only include this option for those that are finding a client too difficult, a job too stressful, or the work too hard. Trust your instincts, and act accordingly.
Wherever possible, see it through. If it helps, visual the invoice payment hitting your account and what you will spend it on (this works better if you imagine a holiday or luxury item, rather than the weekly food shop).
Managing client feedback constructively and bringing a project to a close is very satisfying, so stick with it if you can. Nobody said it would be easy!
Give the client feedback
Assuming you want to work with the client again, once a project has been signed-off, giving them feedback is a constructive way of agreeing the way forward.
I suggest you approach it like this:
- Thank them for working with you
- Tell them you would love to work with them again
- Suggest some working practices that may work well in future
- Tell them what you’ve gained from the project
- Thank them some more
Everybody’s time-poor these days, but if you have time to meet face-to-face for a ‘wash-up’ session, this gives you an opportunity to discuss any issues in person and hopefully, pave the way for future projects.
If you don’t want to work with them again, be polite. Thank them. Find something positive to say. Submit your invoice, and make sure they pay up. Then, move on.
Over to you
Do you dread receiving feedback? Have you ever walked away from a project? And what coping mechanism and tips can you recommend?
I’d love to hear from you.
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter in Milton Keynes offering a range of services, including blogging for small businesses. For further information visit www.mkwordstudio.co.uk