“It’s great… exactly what I was looking for,” said my client. “I’ll just ask my friends and family what they think, and I’ll let you know if they suggest any changes.”
I hate it when clients say things like that, because I’ve noticed that certain “friends and family” suddenly morph into Simon Cowell when it comes to commenting on other people’s creative work.
Don’t get me wrong; on the odd occasion someone will offer up a specific, insightful opinion that makes the work better, and I always appreciate it when they do.
But more often than not, “friends and family” comments will include hazy and unhelpful opinions like, “hmmm… something’s not quite right, but I don’t know what”, or, “I’m not sure if that word is in the right place.”
“We love it, but can you get rid of the red duck?”
Comments like these remind me of a story I once heard about an advertising agency, who would put a small cartoon picture of a red duck in the corner of every client presentation they made.
They did this because they knew the client would always want to suggest at least one change, so they could (consciously or unconsciously) stamp their authority on the work.
Nine times out of ten the client would say, “we love it, but can you get rid of the red duck?” The presentation would end happily, because the work would remain un-tampered with, and the client could feel satisfied about having had the final say.
So, the first problem with asking people for feedback is that some of them will only provide it either because they think you want them to say something rather than nothing, or to make themselves look a bit clever.
Drowning in the stormy sea of opinions
Then, there’s the problem of having too much feedback. You see a lot of this with social media posts, for example when someone launches a new business and they share two different logo designs.
“Which one do you like best?” they’ll ask innocently, only to choke and drown in the ensuing rush of contrasting opinions.
(I once had a client email me every single, wildly different, comment each of his many friends and family members had made about a piece of copy I’d written for him, and that he’d been happy with. “Do what you think is best with these,” he wrote.
So I did, and that was… absolutely nothing.)
The answer? Don’t ask too many people, be specific, and check for consistency.
I often quote Stephen King’s approach to asking people for feedback on his finished manuscripts, because it’s clear, sensible, and entirely useful.
He chooses five trusted people that he knows will be completely honest about the work, and then he checks their feedback for consistency. If most of them have criticised the same part then it needs changing, but if there’s a general mix of comments, it’s simply their opinion.
It also helps if you’re specific about the kind of feedback you’re looking for, so don’t just ask a blanket, “what do you think?”
Think about what you most want to know. For example, if you're after feedback on your profile, or a piece of web copy, you could ask people if it sounds like you, or if they’d be tempted to contact you after reading it (and if not, why not?) When they look at this or that logo design, what are the first thoughts that spring to mind?
Sometimes, you just know…
As someone who has received all kinds of feedback on their writing work for the best part of two decades, I would add that you tend to know, deep down, if a piece of critical feedback needs action. It’ll resonate in a seriously irritating way; not just because someone has dared to criticise, but because they’re right.
When that happens, let that initial voice of indignation (“who do they think they are!”) die down, then get on and do something about it.
You’ll not only feel better, your work will improve so much that people will have to try a lot harder to impress you with their next lot of feedback.
And that has to be a good thing.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
There's a lot of vague career advice out there, so if you're looking for insight that goes beyond "be yourself and follow your passion" you may have to leap before you look!Read more
Standing up and presenting to a group of people is something that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most confident people - so if you're an introvert like me, it can really be the stuff of nightmares! Here's how I tackle my nerves head-on, with some careful preparation and relatable content.Read more
Creating a schedule can be a difficult task, especially when you're planning for work you're not being paid for - or that nobody is expecting! Here's how to get started on crafting a time plan that will work for you.Read more
You don't have to be a professional writer to discover a unique writing voice that speaks to its readers. Finding your own voice is often easier than you might think, and it all starts when you write from the heart.Read more
Did you know that so-called 'job-hopping' can be an asset to your career search? Whether you prefer stability or excitement in your career, planning your next move is all about packaging your skills and making the right kind of approach.Read more
Going freelance doesn't mean you have to accept every piece of work that comes your way. Being discerning with your time and effort will help you reap the rewards of being your own boss...and you'll get to work with some great people too!Read more
Writing a recruitment ad is often a rushed activity, with the words used ones you've read many times before ("dynamic" anyone?) Here's how the Banks children managed to recruit their ideal candidate - Mary Poppins! - by using clear and creative words that stood out.Read more
'Greatest Hits' countdowns are rife at this time of year - so now, here's one featuring the best CV advice. This list will give you the ultimate steer if you're looking to get your CV on track for the new year job hunt. Wishing you a very happy 2017!Read more
If you're stuck in a job you don't particularly like, mindlessly searching job boards for something else, it can be hard to dredge up any enthusiasm to make a change. But that little bit of rest time between Christmas and a brand new year beginning is perfect for considering exactly what you want, and how to take the very first step towards making 2017 your happy work year!Read more
With a new year on the horizon, why not make a resolution to tell your life story? Committing your personal tales to paper can be a rich and rewarding experience for you to write and others to read...for generations to come. Here's how to get started.Read more
Have you ever thought that making a few tweaks to your working life would help make living it much easier? Harness the power of well-chosen words to state your case and win better work-life balance in the process.Read more
Are you often left with the feeling that you don't quite know enough about all the online tools you can use to promote your business? How about website analytics...shouldn't you be checking them every five minutes just like the experts say? Relax - here's how to take advantage of all the advice available online, by defining exactly what YOU want to know.Read more
Is time getting the better of you? With a growing business, several passion projects on the go, books to read and friends I'd quite like to see, I was starting to feel overwhelmed...until I decided to take a closer look at planning my time more effectively. Here's how you can do the same.Read more
BOO! Like a ripe pumpkin Hallowe'en has rolled around yet again, so what better time to extol the benefits of ghostwriting, definitely not just the province of bargain-bin bound celebrities.Read more
An encounter with a corporate headhunter made me question my career - why was I still doing something I didn't love? Here's how I formulated my corporate escape plan and found a career I truly enjoy.Read more
Everybody's busy these days - far too busy to read all the words that come their way. Get the right people to read YOURS by honing in on your ideal audience and creating compelling copy that will get them hooked.Read more
Are your online profiles a bit lacklustre? Don't waste a perfect opportunity to speak directly to the boss or partner of your dreams - use the power of personal copywriting to describe what makes you, you - and get ready to reap the rewards!Read more
Going it alone, releasing yourself from the shackles of a traditional nine-to-five, is exhilarating. It's also incredibly scary! To celebrate my first quarter-year in business, here are some of the most important lessons I've learned from the front line.Read more
Regular blog posts - especially if you run a business - can drastically increase your following, as well as helping you beat the competition by describing how you do things your way. Read on for a few more great reasons why you should join the blogging revolution!Read more
Speaking up in networking groups used to bring me out in a cold sweat. So I sought out the people I really wanted to talk to and introduced myself in the way I'm best at - in writing.Read more
Getting the tone of a letter right - especially when you're writing to someone you don't know - can be difficult. No matter whom you're writing to, here's how to get started on a letter that's relevant, informative and authentic.Read more