Let’s face it—constructive criticism isn’t always easy to hear, but it is always helpful.
Getting feedback is one of the best ways you can learn, adjust, improve, and—perhaps most importantly—stay competitive as a freelancer.
When you work in a traditional role, there are plenty of formal and structured ways you can get your hands on your manager’s thoughts. From one-on-one check-ins to your annual performance review, you’re not often left wondering what your boss is thinking.
When you’re a freelancer, however? Gathering feedback from your clients can present more of a challenge. “Many clients are afraid to give feedback,” says freelance writer Laura Spencer, in her post for Writing Thoughts, “Basically, they’re afraid of how we, as freelance writers will respond.” So, they avoid the confrontation altogether.Feedback is a key part of how you learn and improve as a freelancer. Click To Tweet
Maybe you’re met with a vague, “Looks great!” whenever you turn something in. Perhaps you submit your work and then hear nothing but those dreaded inbox crickets in return. Or, maybe you crank out project after project for your client—without ever having a frank conversation about how the arrangement is working for the both of you, and if there’s anything you could do to make things better.
Regardless of your specific circumstances, the problem remains the same: How can you consistently get feedback on your freelance work?
Rest assured, it’s definitely possible—as long as you follow a few steps.
1. Establish a process
Sure, you work for yourself. But, why should that stop you from having a formal feedback process in place? This is something that you can (and should!) implement for your freelance clients.
This doesn’t need to be anything overly complex and involved. Instead, just take a few minutes to jot down what you think an ideal freelance project should look like for you.
For example, maybe you’ll start with an initial phone call or meeting in order to get on the same page about the deliverables and the expectations. Then, halfway through the project, you’ll have an update call to make sure you both have a shared understanding of how things are working. Once you submit the project, you’ll wrap things up with a feedback conversation.
Or, maybe you want to keep things simple and just want to send out a quick survey following each project.
What your process will look like is up to you. But, once you’ve outlined that and included slots that are specifically meant for gathering feedback, loop your clients (new and old!) in on that flow. You can even promote how your process works on your website or other marketing materials so that prospective clients can quickly glean what working with you is like.
The more structured, predictable, and easy you can make the feedback process, the higher your likelihood of actually getting the information you need.
2. Set the precedent early
As mentioned earlier, many clients are nervous to provide feedback, for fear of insulting your work or damaging the relationship. But, as a freelancer, you know that constructive criticism is an incredibly helpful tool. It’s your responsibility to make that clear to your clients from the onset.
Right from your initial phone call, reiterate that you’re always open to their suggestions and feedback. Reassure them that you won’t be offended at the first sight of criticism. Instead, you’ll use and implement those tweaks to continuously improve moving forward.
It’s imperative that you emphasize to your clients how much you value their feedback on your work. Once they understand that they’re actually helping—and not hurting—you, they’re much more likely to be a little more generous with their constructive criticism.
3. Explicitly ask for thoughts
Even with those steps in place, clients could still be a little reserved or tight-lipped with their feedback. It’s in these circumstances when you should plan to explicitly ask them for their suggestions and expertise.
Is there a piece of the project that you’re feeling stuck on? Loop in your client, tell them to take a look, and then ask what tips or thoughts they have. Is there a part that you think is especially awesome and want to ensure they agree? Make a note of that when you turn the project in.
You’re great at what you do. But, ultimately, your client still has a better understanding of their own business and what they’re trying to accomplish with your work—you rely on their insights and expertise. Specifically ask for their thoughts or opinions, and they’ll begin to understand that too.Freelance clients can often be tight-lipped with feedback. Click To Tweet
4. Get out of your inbox
Email is convenient. But, being that it’s pretty impersonal, it can also make it a little tricky to have those tough conversations.
If you’re truly eager to soak up some helpful feedback, you need to be prepared to step away from your inbox and have an actual discussion with your client—whether that’s through a video conference, an in-person meeting, or a phone call.
Email will never be able to pick up on the intended tone and delivery of a message, meaning that your client will be able to more adequately share his or her thoughts through a more personal conversation. Additionally, this gives your client the time and ability to talk things through in detail, and allows you to immediately ask any follow-up questions for clarity.
5. Establish a network
Of course, you want feedback from the people who are hiring you and forking over your paychecks. But, are your clients the only resource you can turn to when you’re looking for constructive criticism? Absolutely not.
“Mentors and other freelancers are in many cases a better source of constructive criticism,” says Steve King in his piece for Harvard Business Review.
Build yourself a network of fellow freelancers, advisors, or even other people who frequently work with freelancers like you that you can turn to when you need some feedback. Oftentimes, these people are far more willing to give you some harsher insight, as they aren’t as invested in the project or the relationship as your client is.
The feedback they offer might not always be easy to hear. But, having that outside perspective will ultimately help you create a stronger end result.
Over to you
As a freelancer, it’s important to get feedback to continuously improve, keep your clients happy, and stay competitive. Follow these steps to make the feedback process a more predictable part of your work process. Start by outlining what you’d like your client arrangements to look like and then go from there. You’ll soon have a streamlined and reliable system in place that will help you consistently get the feedback you need.
What does your feedback process look like? Be sure to drop us a line in the comments below!