The Importance of Feedback
We all need feedback, and we all need it regularly. It’s a great indicator of how we’re doing and what we need to do to improve. The trouble is, in the freelancer world, with its fast paced nature, it can be difficult to get your client to give it, or there may not even be processes in place to allow these lines of open communication. So, often as a freelancer, you’re left wondering ‘have I actually done a good job’?
If you are an employee of a company, then you hopefully get regular feedback from a manager at meetings, or at least in annual reviews where you can reflect on how you are performing and areas for improvement. Feedback is so important – as it helps us grow, it gives us realistic expectations of where we are heading and what can be achieved with the right guidance, and it can also be a great time to reflect on the good work you have done and where you should be congratulating yourself.
However, as a freelancer, this regular, formal type of feedback just doesn’t exist, and it’s down to you to either ask for it from your clients, the clients to voluntarily give it, or sit down with a cuppa and have an honest conversation with yourself. Even if you’re incredibly confident in your abilities, it’s still valuable, and in all honesty just lovely, to be told you’re doing great!
I am sure there are plenty of clients that willingly give feedback, especially when you’re doing a fantastic job. However, it’s when there’s slightly more nuanced feedback that needs some care and attention that clients either don’t have the time to feedback or might not have the skills to give an individual the structured feedback needed to improve performance for next time. What might often be the default, is just to not rebook a freelancer that isn’t quite up to scratch, or to only place them on less interesting projects.
Being open to feedback is another thing – open to it from all angles too; from your peers, your managers, friends and co-workers. Taking on feedback without taking it as criticism is actually a good skill to learn. Of course, it can be very much down to how it’s delivered, but if you can learn to take on feedback from others without feeling hurt, but seeing it as an opportunity to grow, people are also more likely to give it. However, if some perceived negative feedback results in a cold shoulder, then people become more reluctant to give it, and then those opportunities to grow and learn are minimised.
Quite rightly, delivery is key – this can determine whether someone takes the feedback and turns it into something useful and beneficial to you and themselves, vs fleeing from the scene never to return again, or worse, dig their heels in and fight back with all the things you’re also doing wrong.
No matter how big and burly, or confident someone might seem externally, we all have a little child within us still wanting those housepoints, gold stars or a pat on the back. Firm but fair is key, or fair but kind, gentle and useful, however you want to put it, you want to make sure your point comes across so it lands in the right way whilst also giving opportunity for the person receiving it to still feel valued.
Of course, if someone does a terrible job because they are plain rude or cause gross misconduct, then being direct is useful, and very much needed. It’s all about reading the circumstances, and then taking a breath before launching into feedback – asking yourself is this an immediate issue, does it need a formal meeting or would this be more appropriate over a coffee to help it become a conversation rather than an onslaught of criticism?
People can shy away from feedback too, often finding it easier to keep it to themselves and deal with the consequences. It can be hard to find courage to talk to someone candidly, and you need to find a way that is authentic to you if you are someone who avoids confrontation, but it can be so worth it – it might be the difference between delivering a project on time or not, having more freelancer options to choose from in your busiest times, or producing even better work than you imagined.
As a freelancer you might regularly jump on projects, meet new clients, put your all in to your work, and then….silence. You might be left wondering how you did, either not getting the praise you deserve, or the feedback you really needed to refine your skills even further. So don’t be afraid to ask your clients for feedback. The best time to get this feedback is whilst you’re still on the project, as we all know what it’s like when a project is over, we’re onto the next and often just don’t find the time to give someone the credit or feedback they deserved in the moment.
You can set the tone from the beginning by starting ‘I am open to feedback throughout this project’, this gives a kind of subconscious permission that people feel they can then share more easily. You could always ask half way through a project too, ‘I am keen to make sure we are all heading in the right direction, so could you spare 30 mins to talk through what’s gone right/wrong so far and if there could be any improvements for the remainder of the project’. And then finally, towards the end of the project asking your client for some constructive feedback, ‘I am always looking for ways to improve as a freelancer, so I’d love to get an understanding of any constructive feedback you could give me so I can improve or refine in areas to make sure I’m even better for the next project’.
If your client has time to schedule in a meeting, the here are some questions you could ask…
- What areas of my work and work ethic were you happy with?
- Were there any areas you think I could improve on, or any concerns you had?
- Did I fit in well with your team?
- Did I communicate enough, and in a way that was conducive to a productive workflow for you and the team?
- Would you hire me again? If yes, why? And if no, why not?
Of course, some of these questions might be difficult to answer face to face, and you might not want to know, but honesty and transparency is key to improving as a freelancer, and ultimately getting more work. If they can’t meet up, then implement your own process as a freelancer and send an email at the end of a project that helps give structured feedback.
If people are just asked for general feedback, they could potentially be more inclined to give a generic answer, so using structured questions that get to the nitty gritty might assist in getting constructive, real and valuable feedback.
‘[…] don’t be afraid to ask for and take on feedback, but also to give it too – just be open to it, and also find the most authentic ways to deliver feedback so it will be received in the most constructive way, and achieve the best results. We all love a gold star, but a gentle ‘this could have been better’ also has its value!’
On the flip side, there may be times that you, as a freelancer, did not enjoy your time with a client, or didn’t agree with their workflow, work ethics or culture. So this can absolutely work the other way around too, clients also need feedback.
It might have been that whilst you were working there you could see some areas of improvement, and you might genuinely want to help them improve. This reversed feedback is slightly more nuanced, as rightly or wrongly, there’s naturally some unsaid level of relationship here that means you might need to tread carefully.
You could choose to just walk away from the client and never go back, or if you felt it was right, with some careful thought, you could also feedback (usefully and fairly) on any processes you think they could use to improve workflow, internal culture or any observations you had that might have meant you didn’t feel welcome, or weren’t given the best support to help you perform at your best. However, be mindful to keep it professional and factual, and try to resist temptation to get into condemnation.
With feedback working both ways, it means that if a client gets enough similar feedback from freelancers, they might adjust workflows, processes and address unhealthy working cultures to improve as a company. After all, we should all be aiming for an inclusive industry where healthy relationships can cultivate and create.
In summary, don’t be afraid to ask for and take on feedback, but also to give it too – just be open to it, and also find the most authentic ways to deliver feedback so it will be received in the most constructive way, and achieve the best results. We all love a gold star, but a gentle ‘this could have been better’ also has its value!
By Laura Davis, Managing Director of TCC.