Whatever happened to 'be kind?'

Bad feedback doesn't have to ruin your day

What a funny ol’ week it’s been. We are currently working towards taking a couple of weeks off at Christmas and New Year, which will be very exciting but also means there is a lot of front loading our work in December.

I am not sure if it’s the dark nights or a lack of access to the pubs, but it seems to me like there is a lot of rudeness going around at the moment. 90% of those I deal with on a daily basis are lovely, but I’m certainly not alone in noticing there is a minority out there who are giving The Grinch a run for his money.

I am very grateful to be part of the amazing content community on Twitter, and this week we were talking about how clients choose to give feedback. There is more than one way to give feedback to a freelancer, but this is always true: the recipient of your email is a human being and deserves to be treated as such.

One of my fellow freelancers shared her experience with clients giving rude feedback this week, and it got me thinking about the vast dichotomy of what people say and how they actually behave.

Remember ‘be kind?’

In December 2019, Caroline Flack wrote “Be Kind” on an Instagram post just a couple of months before taking her own life. After that, the whole world lit up with “be kind” memorabilia, which at the time I thought was pretty gross as it felt a bit like companies were profiting from a tragedy - but that’s a rant for another time.

Then the pandemic hit and we all withdrew to our homes, taking solace in the online world. The problem when the majority of your communication online is that it depersonalises conversation, gives people more room to flex their attitudes and, soon, you forget altogether that there’s always a human at the end of the keyboard/scrolling doom box.

A human who is having a bad day.

A human who hasn’t hugged their family for months.

A human who lost a client and didn’t qualify for government support

A human with small humans who rely on them to survive

Whatever it is, we’re all human and yet why are so many of us more than comfortable with saying something online that we wouldn’t dare in person?

Giving feedback

If you commission a freelancer to do work for you, be it a copywriter, web designer, videographer, illustrator or whatever, you are putting trust in them to provide value in return for your investment.

Often, and particularly when you start working with a new freelancer, the first draft isn’t perfect. It takes us a while to get to grips with your exact requirements (and it helps if you have a clear brief - see last week’s newsletter for more about that).

You’ll never really know that feeling of nervous dread when you press send on that first draft until you do it yourself. Even the most stalwart freelancers still get anxious when working with a new client, so you can see how that is only perpetuated by rude and unspecific client feedback.

To be clear, I am not talking about all critical feedback here. We all need criticism, and sometimes a freelancer might miss the mark or misunderstand the brief, what I am exploring here is the way in which you deliver that criticism which really matters.

Be specific

What is it exactly about the first draft that misses the mark for you? Is it tone, brand, colour, style… be very specific and try to highlight areas of the draft you love and those you don’t, so the freelancer can go away and adapt this into the next version.

Avoid overly emotive wording

If you don’t like something, then explain why. Instead of “HATE THIS” - explain why you HATE it, e.g. “This is too conversational in tone, and we tend to stray away from contractions and slang.”

Reflect back on your brief

Maybe the freelancer was doing the best with what they were given? Go back through your initial email chain and reflect on what you actually tasked them to do. As a freelancer, this is where it’s important that you are watertight with your communication and confirm everything in writing.

Give them another bash

It might seem tempting to pull the work away from your freelancer and try someone else, but when’s the last time you nailed something the first time? If you don’t give a contractor clear and specific criticism and the time to nail another draft, they will never improve, and you’ll probably never find what you’re looking for anyway.

Further reading

How to deal with copy critics like a boss by Dave Harland, The Word Man

Caroline Flack death: Will people now 'be kind' in the media and online?

📚 This week, I read:

What on earth was that all about?! I am still not sure I fully understand the whole mind-bending world of this psychological horror, and I have spent many hours reading “Explained” articles online. The Netflix film only confused me more.

This is a beautiful and realistic depiction of autism by a neurodivergent author backed by an amazing publishing house. Solid 5-star read for me.

My first time reading this American classic, and it was really fun - the perfect Winter evening companion.

This was a re-read for the Being Freelance Book Club. As a fellow introvert copywriter, Tom speaks to my soul.

Either next week or the week after the newsletter will be dedicated to my favourite reads of the year, so stay tuned for that.

That’s all from me this week - don’t forget to come and chat on Twitter about rude clients!

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

2 December: The best briefs are anything but

25 November: Welcome to the busy-ness Olympics

18 November: Too many cooks spoil the brother (and the marketing campaign)

11 November: Everything is different now, so why are you trying to live like before?

4 November: Lockdown Part II: Here's my manifesto 📜

28 October: Why business owners don't talk about depression

21 October: How to actually stick to something (and why it’s okay if you don’t)

14 October: Meet the bosses who shaped me

6 October: Running a business when you're sensitive AF

30 September - Let them eat lockdown layer cake 🍰