In a recent interview with Ryan Robinson came one of my favorite quotes:
“If you can bring some of your own humility to the table and know that you cannot be omnipotent on anything, that’s going to help you just be so much more harmonious with the people that you’re working with.”
It got me thinking about horror stories I’ve had with giving and receiving feedback.
One, in particular, came to mind. I was working with a new, big client–my biggest at that point. When I turned in a draft, they ripped it to shreds. (We’re talking 50+ suggestions in a 2,000-word Google Doc.)
I wanted to slam my computer screen shut and never open it again.
But I pushed through that awkward (read: uncomfortable) feeling of taking feedback. Because the truth is:
Feedback isn’t always scary. And it’s definitely not a personal attack.
Editors have style guides they need to meet. Brands want their content to be consistent. People just have different preferences on ways to phrase a sentence.
There are literally hundreds of reasons for an editor to give feedback. While it feels uncomfortable to accept it, looking back, I saw the biggest improvements in my writing over the months I worked with that client.
So, how do you take writing feedback without hurting your own feelings or bruising your ego? Here are my best tips.
How to take writing feedback
1. Actively ask for it
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Feedback is scary…so you shouldn’t ask for it.
That’s not the case.
Some content managers take your writing and do their own edits just before publishing. Ask if it’s possible to see the edits they’ve made (tracked changes in Google Docs is good here).
It’s a win-win for both sides: the more you learn, the more you improve–and the better content your client gets.
2. Clarify comments you don’t understand
Never accept the changes, nor resolve comments, without understanding what they actually mean. If you do, you’ll probably get the same feedback over and over again. That’s no good for anyone.
3. Create style guides for each client
If you get lots of individual edits on small things like grammar, make a DIY style guide for that client.
- Client A likes headings to be capitalized
- Client B points out when I use too many em-dashes (guilty)
- Client C doesn’t add introductory copy between a H2 and H3
You can push back on feedback you don’t agree with
“The client is always right” is phrase I hear time and time again–and most people think it applies to freelancing, too.
But, truth is: I don’t always agree.
A client (or boss) hires you because you’re an expert in your field. They’re paying you do to something because they can’t do it themselves–either in a time or skill capacity.
That’s especially true for writers with subject-matter expertise. Sure, the client is the expert in their business. They’ll know what products/services they offer, who their customers are, and what their website needs to communicate. Take suggestions relating to that on the chin.
But you’re the writer.
By pushing back, your client’s changes don’t sabotage the results of your content.
Let’s say they want to change the headline of your landing page, for example… But you wrote the initial headline based on your A/B tests.
They made the changes to that high-converting headline, and you didn’t pushback to explain why you did what you did.
They think you’re to blame for poor results. When in reality, they changed a proven headline template to something previously untested (and subsequently didn’t work.)
The same goes for any other type of content you create. For example: you use slang because their audience does. You include external links because they’re good for SEO. Every decision you’ve made with your content was based on an actual reason. Changes to that can affect its performance without your client realizing.
Plus, some clients appreciate pushbacks. They acknowledge that they’re the product expert and you’re the writing expert. They’ll start to trust, respect, and repeatedly hire you if you’re pushing back on edits they’re wrong about.
When should I push back?
There are times where pushing back might not be sensible. As we mentioned, your client is the product expert. Anything relating to their features, capabilities, or brand should be taken into consideration.
But clients that come back with suggestions on your copy–such as your grammar, sentence choices, or wording–shouldn’t always be taken as gospel.
…Especially when they aren’t an editor themselves, and you have a solid reason behind why you did what you did.
Let’s say you’re a freelance copywriter, for example. A client comes to you because they don’t know how to write their website copy.
Notice how I said “don’t know”?
You’re the expert, and chances are, you’ve written that content as it is for a reason (be that it’s proven to get conversions, or fits in with their editorial guidelines.)
Here’s what that looked like for me.
A client wanted a piece to rank for a specific keyword. I sent a draft that hit secondary keywords, but they replied to the draft with “why isn’t the main keyword in here more often?”
Replying with “that’s not how I work” (or even worse, “you’re wrong”) gets your clients’ back up.
That leads me to…
How to push back on edits (without sounding like an asshole)
The key is to explain why you’ve done what you’ve done–and why their suggestion isn’t the best idea.
Case in point:
“I didn’t include the primary keyword too many times because the density was too high. Yes, the keyword is important, but search engines prefer content written for humans. The secondary keywords, which I found using Google autosuggest, proves the content is in-line with search intent.”
That’s a much better way to pushback on revisions you don’t agree with than just screaming YOU’RE WRONG.
(My freelancing pal Mike even suggested to frame this as a “have you tried this?” question. So, for the example above: “Have you tried adding more secondary keywords to see if that improves search results?”)
Regardless of how you’re pushing back, don’t be afraid to do it.
Pushing back means you educate your client. They’ll reinforce the idea of you being the expert.
Writing feedback ≠ personal attack
It can feel like a personal attack when editors rip your writing apart. Clients can be blunt with their changes.
Learn to separate your work and your writing. Your editor is there to make you better… not put you down. (If they do, find a new one.)
Much like the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”, it takes a team of people to create a truly remarkable piece of content.
Accept that you can’t always take your blog post to the finish line. Editor’s feedback will get you there, helping you get the results you want for your clients and creating kick-ass content you’re proud to put in your portfolio. 🚀