How to tell good feedback from bad

Aug 08, 2019

You, the freelancer, get to decide which feedback you’ll take and which you won’t. Knowing how to decide is critical to your freelancing success.

Many freelancers fall into the “I don’t want to ruffle any feathers” category. And become skilled people pleasers. That was me. I had a dream client. Projects would go without any hitches. They liked working with me. It felt like the easiest project I could ever have. I could stay here forever. Then I was fired. What the heck happened?

Looking back at the relationship I noticed something odd. They never gave me feedback. And worse than not getting feedback is never asking for feedback. I just didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.

I realize now that a lack of feedback contributed to losing that client so unexpectedly. I wasn’t able to deliver because I didn’t push the client to give me feedback. It’s the freelancer’s job to get that feedback. You have to make getting feedback a requirement.

Feedback makes you better at what you do. Without it you’re just doing guesswork. But not all feedback is good. And not everyone can give you feedback.

What kind of feedback is this?

Question: Are the following examples good feedback or bad feedback?

“I love what you did!”

“Can you change the font from a sans serif to a font with a serif? Our main competitor is using sans serif on their website and I don’t want people to think we’re copying them.”

“I need it to be prettier.”

“You’re doing such a great job.”

“This isn’t working for me.”

Answer: None of these is an example of good feedback.

I’ve heard some version of all of those from that dream client who fired me. The worse one is “I love what you did!”

Any feedback you receive that’s based solely on someone’s personal taste is bad feedback. That’s feedback based on their likes and dislikes. Preference based feedback isn’t connected to business goals or outcomes. You should ignore these types of preference based feedback.

You were hired to solve a business problem. They need you to do something that will help their business. So feedback needs to be based on what’s good for business — not on someone’s personal tastes.

Most clients don’t know how to give good feedback. They react to their whims. Instead of taking the time to see if what you did will give them the business results they’re seeking. Make sure the feedback you’re getting circles back to business goals. Ignore feedback that’s personal. That’s bad feedback.

What good feedback actually looks like

Feedback that’s based on achieving business goals is good feedback. With good feedback you can make changes that will have a positive impact on the company.

Good feedback has the client pointing out what’s working and tells you why it’s working. Or the client points out what isn’t working and tells you why. Good feedback is also specific to the company’s customers, and addresses how to improve their experience.

To determine if the feedback is good, look for mentions business goals. Goals like if this will involve increasing revenue or generating new customers.

How to get feedback that helps you

Your clients will likely need training on how to give you good feedback. You need to help them to redirect their feedback to their business goals, and stay away from personal preferences. Your clients will appreciate your requirement for good feedback. You’ll appear as a team player who’s focused on getting business results.

To encourage your client to give good feedback you must …

  • Explain why you made the decisions you did. Provide reasons for every decision you made. And, of course, tie your reasons back to business goals.
  • Take the side of the customers. Ask your client, “Is this something your customers would want?”
  • Steer the conversation back to business goals, results, and outcomes.
  • Give the client your best solution. Never present work that you’re not 100% satisfied with.
  • Ignore bad feedback while explaining what good feedback looks like.

When to ignore feedback

You need to know who the key players are. Feedback by committee is where good ideas go to die. Generally there are four key players you deal with. And all of them can and will likely give you feedback. But you can ignore feedback from some of those key players.

The four key players are:

  1. The project manager or coordinator who keeps the project on track.
  2. The person who hired you or approved the project.
  3. Contributors who are also working on the project.
  4. Others who are informed about the project.


The person who approves the project oversees its results. And therefore has the final say. The approver is the highest ranking key player. When this person offers feedback you must respond to it. If their feedback is bad feedback, then train the approver to give you good feedback.

Contributors are folks who are working alongside you. They’re the second ranking key player. Contributors are working to make the project better. When a contributor offers feedback respond to it.

The project manager or coordinator keeps the project on schedule. They’re the third ranked key player. If they give feedback that isn’t about the schedule you don’t have to respond to it.

There will be people who’re informed about the project because they’ll be affected by it when it’s done. Because these key players aren’t actively participating, they’re ranked last. You don’t have to respond to their feedback.

In conclusion

If you want to be a successful freelancer, you must receive good feedback. Use it to make the work you’re doing more business results oriented. Remember: you won’t lose a client when you’re a freelancer who improves business.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Bridgett Gayle

Bridgett Gayle is a conversion copywriter, editor and the founder of Get Why Marketing (https://getwhymarketing.com/).