The sad fact is that most clients don’t really know what they want until you show them what they don’t want. That’s a pretty harrowing realisation for us freelancers, because it immediately tosses a great deal of our early efforts down the shit pan. And that can make us feel sad and defeatist sometimes.
Yet it’s an age old conundrum for any artisan. You try to interpret woolly requirements from someone you don’t know terribly well, then you shape them into something real, only to be told it’s not exactly like what they wanted in the first place (even when that doesn’t exist).
So that’s generally how it goes for the first few incarnations of whatever it is you produce until you get close enough to a client’s esoteric vision. Yet there is a way to cope with this soul-wearying process of trial and error and it doesn’t involve a hammer and your face.
Take this for an example. Right now I’m halfway through writing a case study (I’m a freelance copywriter) for a client I’ve never met, based on one short telephone conversation. I think that’s fairly outstanding so I sent them a draft expecting nothing short of wonder. They replied:
“It’s OK but it’s not what we were expecting it to look like. It needs more spark.”
I’ve been in the business of translating complex requests into simplified requirements for over ten years and I still don’t understand what this frustrating bile means. How does one add “more spark” to the intangible? Even with years of experience it’s still upsetting to hear someone poo-poo your work, especially if you pin a badge of self-esteem to your artefacts.
So it continues. I can only go on by grasping at whatever clues the client gives me. So I ask more and more questions and try to solicit more detailed description of what they do want. Alas I get that in the form of telling me more about everything that isn’t in what I’ve already produced.
Early revisions of your work are really just a starter. They’re an appetiser, not the main meal. In fact, if you get it right first time then something’s probably gone wrong because you’ve skipped the vital process of refinement.
Revisions are simply food for thought, to direct where your future efforts should go. So try not to get too offended when it seems like all the client does is complain. What they’re really doing is regurgitating your thought food and picking out the best bits to have another chew on. Eventually there’s limited nutritional value in going over what they’ve already digested and it’ll be time to move onto the mints.
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