Feedback. We need it as freelancers, but after a few too many run-ins with it, there’s a small part of us that persistently fears it.
(Yes, that’s the ‘f’ word I’m referring to above…)
Feedback on our design. On our writing. On our choice of marketing tactics. Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s very little in our lives that isn’t subject to it. But just because it’s earned a somewhat negative reputation doesn’t mean we should shun feedback altogether.
In fact, when handled correctly, feedback is one of the most valuable tools you have as a solo business owner building a freelance business. After all, going it alone can often feel like the pressure is all on us, making it all too easy to get stuck in routines that just might not be working.
Solopreneurship in a silo never works, and we all need to get out of our own heads sometimes. Enter: feedback.
How to give feedback
Let’s start with the potentially less emotional side of things (for you, at least): giving feedback.
Truth: As a lifelong writer, I’ve always read the newspaper with a red pen. (That’s no joke.) And you wouldn’t believe how many errors a Sunday paper can harbor. Let’s just say I’ve went through my fair share of red pens.
But it doesn’t mean I’m writing a letter to the editor each week detailing out what went wrong. Likewise, when I land on a website or blog post and spot an error, I don’t automatically line up the firing squad. Instead, I’ve learned how (and when) to provide feedback in a way that’s helpful rather than hurtful. To illustrate:
Suppose that you’ve landed on the brand new website of someone in your online circle. It’s a very exciting day in their neck of the woods, and you couldn’t be happier for them — except that there’s a glaring error in the main banner on their new home page.
(Yes, I’m speaking from experience here.)
Before you set your trigger-happy fingers into motion, know these two rules for giving feedback:
1 – Feedback is not just negative, critical, or constructive
Everyone’s quick to reach out when they’ve found something wrong (just look at Yelp reviews)…but they’re less likely to jump as quick when they’ve found something right. It’s human nature.
I want you to be different. Don’t make offering feedback commonplace only when you’ve identified what someone could be doing better. But when that is the case, remember that one error doesn’t typically define the overall mission of the piece. With that in mind, start with what’s working.
For our example above, I began the email like so:
“CONGRATS on the beautiful new site! So excited to see you making moves that better align with where you want to go. Just signed up for [free offering name] — boy, do I need it!”
I was quick to identify what’s working, because it truly is, and I’d hate for my feedback to stand in the way of her realizing that. (Note: This is not the time to say “It looks great, but…” — that can easily be misconstrued as a back-handed compliment used as a means to an end for giving criticism.)
Sometimes you just want to reach out to share positive compliments — that’s great. (Please do more of that.) But if you’ve also got constructive criticism to go along with it, start with what’s working.
2 – Make your why clear
There are far too many “drive-by editors”, as Coach Jennie refers to them, who need to let out some steam and happen to make you the lucky recipient. Don’t be that for other people. You can alleviate that concern by making your why clear.
If it’s “I just want you to know you’re not perfect”, stop right there. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
But if you’re coming from a place of truly wanting that person to succeed, make that known. Here’s how I completed the email to my biz friend:
“Just one quick piece of feedback (apologies in advance for the built-in red pen in my eyes) — the word “boundaries” is misspelled on your homepage in the image to click. I hope that feedback is helpful…I know it’s part of your key message, and how hard it can be to catch stuff like that when you’re so close to it!”
This was a main banner on her page, and a key message she talks about. I know she wants the best for it, and I want the best for her. I wasn’t looking to knock her down a peg.
Finally, end on a positive note. We don’t need to be all Pollyanna, but we do need to respect that others likely put a lot of time and effort into the work that you’re peeling apart.
And if you’re truly not sure if it’s your place to reach out? Ask. A congrats on the site launch and a mention that I found something, would she like to know? would’ve been my course of action had I not already had her in my circles.
The table’s turned: How to receive feedback
And now, the part where the fear creeps in: receiving feedback.
Before the gloves come up in defense, know this: everyone who’s putting themselves out there is subject to unsolicited — and unwanted — feedback. It’s true.
Not only that, but there are times when you truly do need to ask for feedback, because you simply can’t do everything yourself.
From now on, you’re going to be ready to take both solicited and unsolicited feedback so that you can use it to better your biz. Here’s what you need to know:
Who has a stake in the game?
There are only a handful of people who truly have a stake in your game. They’re the people in your corner — your business coach, your mastermind peeps, your significant other, your mom — whose opinion truly does make a difference because you know they’re coming from a place of caring. Those drive-by editors? They’re part of the cheap seats. They didn’t pay for prime viewing; they don’t get to take up the limited mental room you have for feedback.
Remove the emotion
You’ve heard this before, and it’s always easier said than done, but this is a time to jack up that stone-cold wall because your progress depends on it. Eliminating the emotion out of feedback and taking what’s useful (see below) is key to making the most of feedback. With those unsolicited, drive-by editors, know this: it’s not you; it’s them.
(A tip: If you truly are too close to something to remove the emotion, put a barrier in place. For example, my business coach recently released a book, and had a launch team member screening the feedback emails from beta readers based on what she knew my biz coach needed.)
Take what you can and leave the rest
This goes for the people within and outside of your circle, the times you’ve asked for feedback and gotten way more than you asked for, and the times you never made the ask. Ultimately, you are at the helm of your business for a reason, and too many cooks in the kitchen often leads to chaos.
For the people in your inner circle whose feedback you do value, there are going to be times when some just isn’t necessary. For those cheap seat attendees with no stake in the game? The beauty of it is that you can take everything they’ve said with a certain grain of salt, but still pull anything that might actually be useful. If there’s nothing there? Delete that email and onwards, you go.
Stop fearing the ‘f’ word
Constant improvement. That’s what we’re after as freelancers and solo business owners. When you learn how to give feedback, you’ll naturally build credibility within your community and learn along the way. And when you learn to graciously accept feedback — both solicited and unsolicited — your work and your sanity will be better for it.