You might or might not have chosen the freelance life for the flexibility it offers you, but you must admit – being your own boss has its perks. You can determine your own hours, wear whatever you want and take your projects in whatever direction you feel is best.
On the other hand, you aren’t your only boss. While employees at companies usually report to one or two superiors, you’ve got several – at least one for each client. Freelance success is dependent on making your clients happy, too, which means that you need to be flexible in how you do things and listen to what your clients want from you. And without the cues available via a company’s “office culture,” you can’t depend on reading people’s emotional reactions or gathering intelligence at the water cooler.
You need proactive, dependable ways to communicate with your clients about the nitty gritty. Yes, you’re likely to encounter situations where you simply need to walk away from a client whose demands are unreasonable, but more often than not, you will find that there is great value in bending to your clients’ requests.
After all, landing new clients is far more costly than keeping the ones you already have, which means that renewals, long-term service contracts and referrals are crucial for your long-term success. To truly stay on top of meeting your clients’ needs, you’ll need to set up a system for receiving useful feedback on the service you provide.
Unfortunately, freelancers are often inclined to avoid feedback. You might have strong attachments to your output, or maybe you’ve gotten burned by unfair criticism in the past. All too often, feedback is subjective, non-constructive, insensitive and lacking actionable advice. The good news is that feedback doesn’t have to be like that, and if you play your cards right, you can ensure that you get useful feedback.
Here’s how to do it.
- Set Up a Feedback Form
In any work relationship, setting clear expectations is a key ingredient for success. This rule is all the more important when it comes to contract work, where the relationship often involves distances and lacks context. One killer workaround is to publish a web-based data collection form that addresses specific issues with required fields (for clients to elaborate on what’s working well, what needs adjustments and why) that help keep feedback constructive.
When you set the agenda for the type of feedback you want, you’re setting yourself up to be open to it. Even just the act of asking for feedback via a form can go a long way, putting you in the mindset to desire criticism as an opportunity for growth. This psychological leap isn’t always easy, as we’re often prone to feeling attacked and/or insulted by criticism, especially those of us in the creative fields.
There are many tools that can help you create forms and keep them organized. Google Forms is a personal favorite, as it’s free, embeddable, and you can set it to automatically create a spreadsheet to track the feedback from all your clients. But there are many fancier form builders available as well.
- Include Feedback in Your Workflow Templates
Different types of feedback may be required at different stages of the projects you take on. Before you onboard each new client, it’s a good idea to include a rough roadmap of your workflow process in your proposals. This will impress your prospects, as it gives the good impression that you’re organized and have solid systems in place, but it also helps set the tone for how the relationship will operate once the project is underway.
When preparing these roadmap bullet notes for your proposals, make sure they explain how and when you plan to receive feedback from your clients. This can be done in a form, as mentioned above, or via more conventional channels like scheduled in-person meetings, phone or video calls. The main point is that you set up the framework to include useful feedback at each key phase of your work relationship.
It’s important to emphasize to your clients that their participation is a pivotal factor to building a successful work relationship. Assure them that you are interested in what they have to say, even if it’s not all roses and chocolates.
- Make It a Flowing Dialogue
It’s not uncommon for clients to have a hard time expressing exactly what they want changed and why. Often, a large portion of a freelancer’s job is helping clients figure out what precisely it is that they want. And once you do help them figure that out, they might not know why they like or dislike something you’ve produced.
Asking follow-up questions can help them (and you) determine if it’s a matter of taste, performance, clarifying ideas and so on. Engaging them in this kind of dialogue will help both of you to clarify underlying motivations and actionable changes. Open dialogue also advances your relationships by fostering feelings of a cooperative partnership.
The Feedback You’re Looking For
Not all feedback is going to land you a deeper and more workable relationship. There isn’t anything you can do about that. But even situations where feedback isn’t getting you any closer to delighting your customer can be viewed as victories, since these are likely to be business relationships you’re better off walking away from. So you still come out ahead, having revealed the mismatch as quickly as possible and putting you in a better position to provide killer value to the next guy.
There is much you can learn from each and every client you work with, and it’s the extent to which you manage to put that knowledge into action that determines your chances for independent business success.