How to give useful project feedback to a freelancer

What does useful, constructive feedback look like to you? What qualities does it share? We’ve grabbed all the feedback, popped it in the broiler and cooked it down to some easy-to-follow steps.

For most freelancers, useful feedback is:

  1. a) Action-oriented – we can see what needs to happen as a result of receiving it
  2. b) Delivered in a constructive way – if there is shame, blame or frustration attached, it is difficult to isolate that from people projecting their problems or reacting to their own personal feelings
  3. c) Puts the work first – it’s objective, focusses on the good of the project, and is about improving the outcome.
  4. d) It’s free from company politics – it’s not about scoring points within an organisation or managing people. It’s objective enough to look after the good of the project.

What we want to do with feedback is:

  • Easily review the changes required.
  • Understand the reason the changes are needed.
  • Effortlessly apply the changes to the work.
  • Review it again to check everything’s on target.

In short, supplying feedback is an exercise in growing our understanding of the project’s direction and intentions through a shared understanding. We need you to help us understand your needs by limiting the guesswork.

Using drafts and revisions to grow a project

Feedback isn’t only what keeps a project on track. It’s also clarifying the project and growing it’s strength with each passing iteration.

When you view feedback as a way to refine a project over time, you gift yourself and the freelancer the opportunity to develop ideas in a collaborative way.

Here’s the truth about revisions and feedback: They are a necessary part of the project!

Very few people can write a number one hit from concept through to delivery in one sitting. Most seasoned professionals recognise the importance of the definition, design, development, and refinement process.

Building space, time and your expectations to allow the drafting and refinement process to be used to its best advantage helps create a working relationship that:

  • Thrives on discovery through promoting innovation, curiosity and testing the limits.
  • Helps make for an enjoyable exploration of a project’s potential.
  • Fosters collaboration by working side-by-side to improve the work.
  • Doesn’t trigger perfectionism or invite self-doubt and procrastination.

Creating the conditions where a freelancer is less concerned with making mistakes and more interested in making their best work helps both clients and freelancer alike!

Avoiding feedback clangers

Business professionals rely on a healthy exchange of feedback and a good relationship with criticism and critique. Yet most clients do not have the skills to provide useful and actionable feedback.

When providing feedback, it’s important to consider:

  • An opinion or an emotion is only useful if there is an action plan attached. Someone else cannot action your dislike or rejection. Guide where you want the work to land by deconstructing the problems, deficiencies and potentials you see in the work.
  • How you present the feedback matters. Writing helps you distil and ground your thoughts. Only through exploring why you have a reaction can you give actionable feedback that a freelancer can use.
  • It’s not about you – or the freelancer. It’s about the project. Unless you are your customer, what your preference may be can often carry less weight than you assume. Always consider a draft and deliver the feedback with your customers firmly in mind.
  • All projects have constraints. It would be wonderful to shoot for the moon with every single project. Time, budget, available resources, technology, dependencies, and practicalities all influence what we can and can’t achieve within a single project.

Some ways clients confuse freelancers with their feedback include:

  • It is too general or doesn’t show a clear insight. E.g. “I will know it when I see it”
  • It is emotional and/or personalised. E.g. “I don’t like it” without an explanation as to why.
  • It’s contradictory. E.g. when two staff members give differing opinions, or the direction of the work goes against the project’s intention or the company guidelines.
  • It doesn’t provide anything actionable. E.g. “You need to fix this” doesn’t give the level of detail required about the changes that need to be made to rectify a problem.

If you and your freelancer find you are out of synch while working on a project, stop.

  • Avoid the potential for email miscommunication. Take the time to book a meeting on the phone, Zoom or in person to talk.
  • Come prepared to direct the project with not only corrections but with powerful examples of what you want via examples within the drafts and/or from other sources.
  • Ask clarifying questions – and answer the ones we ask you, too. You or your freelancer may know technical requirements, industry guidelines or other constraints that are influencing the direction of the project. Only through investigating and listening to the rationale can you both find common ground.
  • Review the brief continuously. Some projects falter as they progress by losing touch with the initial brief. New ideas and new iterations should always be checked against the brief to ensure the direction of the project is maintained.

Ways you can support positive feedback processes include:

  • Managing your expectations. Developing a project takes time. Expecting a draft to be a finished product places too much pressure on the client-freelancer relationship at too early a stage. Revisions and drafts exist to support the evolution of a brief to a completed project. Don’t expect a finished product from a draft, sketch, or interim report.
  • Highlighting the positives alongside the corrections and critiques. Feedback sucks if it’s only negative. And not just because it is tough to hear. If the feedback focuses on corrections and ignores the positive aspects of the work, you’re missing half the equation. If you don’t point out the work that is on track, the project will continue to miss the mark. Telling someone where they are getting it right helps them focus on the positive and attempt to create more of the same.
  • Respecting the feedback process. If someone wants the feedback in Track Changes in a collated Word Document, don’t print the page out, use pen, and scan it to send via email as an image. Even less extreme versions of not following the feedback process create barriers to integrating the feedback into the next draft. And that increases the risk of problems and increases how long projects take to complete.
  • Honouring the deadlines to submit feedback. If a freelancer requests feedback by a certain date, make meeting that deadline a priority. You cannot ask someone to meet project milestones and delivery dates if you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.
  • Collating feedback internally before you send it. It’s your responsibility to solve any issues of conflict and disunity prior to handing draft feedback to the freelancer, and that means collating the feedback and getting rid of the contradictions before you send it back to us. Have one point of contact in your organisation that gathers everyone’s feedback together, resend the merged version of the feedback to the team for a last look through and approval. That way, we can make the changes knowing your organisation agrees on the direction of the work.

Want more help creating effective feedback processes for your freelancers and contractors? Contact me for training now.


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