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Editorial Input: How to Handle Critiques Gracefully


harshcritiquesCrafting a well-written blog post, an informative business article, or catchy marketing copy serves as an important creative outlet for freelance writers. While I hesitate to categorize what I do as an art form, I recognize the important role my creative energy plays in my everyday work. When someone shares particularly harsh feedback regarding work I’ve taken the time to complete, it often proves difficult not to take it personally. After all, who wants a negative critique?

I previously spent several years living in Paris, where I was naturally exposed to a wide assortment of “creative types.” During that time, I counted fashion designers, marketers, and musicians among some of my closest friends, all of whom struggled with the same challenge: learning to accept criticism. Many artists seem to have very sensitive psyches, and even the most benign comments can be amplified to outlandish proportions. Some channel their emotions right back into their work, but it’s a bit trickier when you’re creating pieces on behalf of a client. After all, my clients don’t necessarily want ADAM reflected in the work I create—instead, they’re looking for authoritative content that reflects the identity of their brand.

In an ideal world, every one of my clients would love every single sentence I string together. In reality, almost every piece I create needs to undergo revisions of some sort before it’s ready for publication. Whether those revisions are extensive or relatively minor depends on a number of different factors, but ultimately, my competency isn’t one of the factors in question. As Hemingway once put it, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” Eloquent, I know, but it gets the point across. Written works, like any other creation, must be tweaked, tucked, and trimmed to fulfill their full potential.

Struggling to keep your own revision requests in perspective? I use the following simple strategies to effectively manage feedback from my clients.

Include Revision Times in Work Estimates

It’s one thing to understand that revisions are part of the job, but it’s entirely different to build time for edits into your quotes. Estimate how much time it will take you to create a particular piece for a client, and then take all of the additional administrative tasks into account. When you’re drawing up contracts, sending proposals, and invoicing your clients, you aren’t getting “paid” per se—but all of this work needs to be covered in the compensation you receive from clients. I prefer to work on a project basis, as opposed to an hourly rate, so I simply account for the time it will take to complete these tasks before I provide a project rate.

Guesstimates are a good starting point, but if you haven’t ever tracked the time you spend on your assignments, consider making this part of your workday. You might be surprised just how long it takes for you to complete a 600-word blog, for example. Let’s say you can write that content in about 30 minutes. How long will you spend researching? What about your correspondence with the client? Do you need to have a conference call to get on the same page? Before you can invoice, you’ll likely need approval on the final product, and you might have revisions to work in before you receive payment. Don’t cut it too close and underestimate your workload! Tracking all of the minutes you spend on these tasks can be an eye-opening experience.

At any rate, I find it way easier to consider feedback objectively when I’ve built time into my schedule and quotes to handle such requests.

Resist the Urge to Defend Yourself

I recently had a client give me some direct feedback that I felt was unfair. It’s only natural for wires to get crossed from time to time, after all, and there was a moment of miscommunication that clearly distorted my client’s expectations. My first response was to defend myself, but I realized it didn’t really matter to my client why the error had occurred. She simply wanted it fixed ASAP.

Before you engage in lengthy conversations regarding your revisions or rewrites, ask yourself if your comments are an important part of the bigger question. In the project I referenced, I took fifteen minutes to make the requested changes, thanked my client for her feedback, and moved on with my day. She was ultimately happy with the revision, the detour took very little time, and our relationship wasn’t strained by my ego.

Remember, you work FOR the client. The client is always right, and it’s your job to make sure your customers are happy with the final product. All of the excuses and explanations? They don’t really matter in the end.

Talk about Revisions Before You Sign a Contract

In a given day, I rarely have the time to spend hours working on rewrites of completed assignments. If every sentence I every wrote needed to be revised, I’d never hit my goals or manage to keep all of my clients satisfied. And yet, I truly want my clients to love what I produce on their behalf. You should view every client as a partner in your business endeavors. After all, without their backing you won’t be able to stay afloat.

Before I sign a new contract, I draft a long list of questions I need a potential client to answer for me. We talk about the voice of the content, the target audience, deadlines, methods of submission, and yes, revisions. Working with a new client always includes a learning curve, as you discover what the client does and doesn’t like and tailor your work to meet their specific needs. I explain that I’m happy to make adjustments as necessary, and I ask my client to provide me with as much information as possible. In the future, I’ll use these notes to draft my content.

Once I have as many specifics as possible, I place all of this information in my contract. It’s an easy way to make sure we’re on the same page.

Know When to Ask for More Money

Asking for more money certainly isn’t my favorite part of working as an entrepreneur, but ultimately, I have to protect my business interests. It’s certainly within a client’s rights to ask me to revise a piece I’ve created, and I will happily make the changes as suggested. Once I receive a second, third, and fourth revision request, however, I have to draw a line in the sand.

In the past, I’ve worked with clients who regularly provided me with a laundry list of rewrite requests. Once I completed the revisions, I would receive a second list of demands. I would begrudgingly complete those, only to find another email sitting in my inbox. At some point, the scope of the initial work would change entirely, but I’d be responsible for rolling with the punches, since I was the writer. I now address these in my contract, like I said above.

Think twice before you turn down a revision request, however, even if it goes outside the scope of your initial project.You see, clients often make revision requests simply because they get excited about the trajectory of the project and want to be involved. They get great ideas and want to see them fleshed out, or they decide to take a different direction and want you to accompany them. It’s natural for you to be thinking about how much time it will take to make the changes, but clients are often oblivious to the extra work a third list of requests entails.

Simply point it out, get approval to bill the client for the extra work, and move on. It’s not a bad thing!

“Hey Steve, I’d be happy to make these changes. As I’ve already completed the work and the revision process as outlined in our contract, I’ll need to invoice you $X/hr for the remaining changes. I estimate approximately an hour of additional work. Simply send me your written confirmation via email for my records and I’ll get started.”

A business client truly won’t blink twice. If you do get push back or you find that one of your clients regularly makes it a point to ask for revision after revision after revision, simply end your contract. Explain that you’re concerned you’re not meeting their expectations and invite them to find someone who will—hey, it’s one of the benefits of being your own boss, right?

How do you handle revision requests and negative feedback? Do you struggle not to take things personally? Any tips for handling excessive requests?


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