One of my regular publishing clients, X, recently gave me some constructive feedback on a proofreading job I’d done for them. The review was a positive one overall, but it did highlight the fact that I’d slipped into the habit of marking up in a way that was not the most efficient use of my time or the client's.
Client X puts great emphasis on the value of feeding back information to their editorial freelancers, which helps us to improve the job we do for them. Interestingly, however, they are the only one of my clients who works in such a constructive way. This made me realize that I should be more proactive about seeking feedback from other in-house production staff, because I benefit as much as they do. Here are a few points to consider.
Ask for feedback
If your clients don’t make a habit of feeding back information on how a job went, take the lead and ask them to. On the one hand, they may tell you they don’t have any problems with the way you work; on the other, they may use it as an opportunity to suggest how you could improve your service for them. Either way, it’s a win–win for both of you.
Avoiding the habit trap
Feedback can highlight bad habits that you’ve slipped into without even realizing it. Some years ago two clients asked me to mark up in a certain way in order to prevent their overseas typesetters becoming confused. I work for these publishers regularly and in a bid to be “kind” to all typesetters I’d extended this habit to the way I work more generally. However, Client X asked me to rethink this style in order to save myself time and reduce the number of margin marks I was making. Of course, I agreed – the customer is always king. More importantly, though, I’d fallen into the habit trap – I’d got so used to working in a particular way that I’d extended two clients’ requirements to all my clients, and in doing so was wasting both time and ink.
Continued professional development (CPD)
If you think you may have fallen into the habit trap, consider doing a refresher course. If you’ve been doing the job for a while, it’s easy to fall into particular ways of doing things. Conventions change and client requirements differ. Reacting to this is part of every freelance proofreader’s CPD. Responding directly to client feedback is critical but additional refresher training may be just the ticket to consolidate what you’ve learned from them.
Even negative feedback is positive
Even if your client has some criticisms of the way you’ve handled a job, see these in a positive light. When you find out what you’re doing wrong, you can ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Getting repeat work
If you make a complete pig’s ear of a job then a client won’t commission you again. But if the feedback concerns less serious issues that can be rectified (e.g. your mark-up is not as efficient as it could be; you’ve misunderstood minor style points that need to be adhered to more strictly; you’ve been over-zealous with mark-up), chances are that as long as you listen to the feedback, and implement the necessary changes, you’ll hear from them again. In other words, constructively critical feedback can improve the relationship as long as you carry out your part of the bargain and do what you’ve been asked.
Responding to feedback
Make sure your clients know you’ve taken their feedback on board. If they’ve gone to the trouble to help you improve your service, the least you can do is thank them. Your thank-you is an acknowledgement that you understand what they want and are prepared to implement their feedback in future jobs.
For the freelance proofreader, the client always knows best – don’t argue with them about their requirements. By all means clearly explain why you made the particular choices being discussed, then acknowledge their preferences and assure them you’ll follow through. No client wants to deal with a snarky proofreader and there are plenty more to choose from if you don’t come up to scratch.
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Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I'm a signatory to its code of practice as a professional editor.
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Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.