Dealing with rejection as a freelancer
Whatever you do, don’t let rejection destroy your confidence. Here’s how to put bad feedback (or just an echoing silence) to good use and boost your potential.
You will be rejected occasionally, or told your work’s not up to scratch – because that’s just life for all freelancers. The trick is to work out what KIND of rejection you’re dealing with so you can take appropriate action.
The out of hand slap-down
Not hearing back or getting a blunt ‘no’ is the most frustrating form of knock-back. You put so much work into that pitch – and then nothing? It’s so unfair. And when you don’t hear back, your imagination goes into overdrive. “What was it they didn’t like? Did I use the wrong font? Was it my shirt??”
DO: Ask for feedback and be firm that you think you deserve a response.
DON’T: Waste your time wondering if you still don’t hear back. In reality, you have no idea why they went quiet – perhaps there’s been a staff change or budget cuts – whatever, it’s totally out of your control. Time to move on.
The ‘sorry, but you’re just not right for this project’
Because freelancers tend to work alone and take a lot of pride in their work – even seeing it as an extension of themselves - getting rejected can feel very personal.
DO: Ask for feedback and honesty. If you’re not right now, could you ever be right in future? That way, you’ll save yourself the trouble of constantly pitching and getting nowhere.
DO: Work on more than one pitch at a time – not having all your hopes riding on one success will make you more resilient.
DON'T: Take it personally. Sad to say, a lot of work goes to friends of friends and people who know people. Work on getting building your networks and focus your attention on ‘warm’ contacts instead.
The rude, negative client
When you’ve invested your time and emotions in a project, even the tiniest bit of negative feedback can be crushing. Take 10 deep breaths – you need to get some emotional distance before you respond.
DON’T: Get defensive – some clients will just want to push your buttons, or perhaps they have to look tough in front of the big boss. Bite your tongue, behave professionally and generally be the better person.
DO: Force them to be specific by asking questions. Play back their criticism to them using action-focused phrases like, ‘it sounds like you want me to change X, is that correct? You may find that when politely asked to go into detail, their sweeping criticism is diminished and manageable.
DO: Pick up the phone, or invite them for coffee. Most people find it much harder to be mean in person than by email. There are exceptions, of course. You may want to consider if you really want to work for these types at all.
Preparing yourself for future rejections
It’s going to happen, so here are some daily points to practice so you’re ready to embrace failure and move on quickly.
1. Spend as much time celebrating as you do feeling down
Many freelancers are perfectionists, meaning they dwell on failure and ignore praise. When you do well, recognise it and cheer yourself on. Won a pitch? Got approached for work without hustling? Well look at you, aren’t you awesome?
- Debrief – what went well, what should you do better or differently next time?
When you’re busy chasing cash, it’s easy to ricochet from job to job without spending any time reflecting. When you can, sit down and look over recent projects. Tear apart your successes and failures and write a list of five things to do differently in future.
- Educate your clients – write a blog, or a ‘how I like to work’ document
Your clients hire you because you’re better at what you do than they are. So they won’t necessarily have the right language to give good feedback and will probably say meaningless or silly things as a result. The more you can teach them, the better your working relationship will be.
- Take a break
Sitting at your desk feeling like a loser? There are other people out there who love you and your work and think you’re brilliant. Your mum. Your best friend. The dog. Go and spend time with them, then get back to it when you’re feeling better.