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How do I deal with this bad feedback from a longstanding client?

(20 Posts)
Namechanger2015 Sat 18-Aug-18 10:53:22

I work freelance in a specialised field and have done so for the past 9 years (was in-house before that).

I have had this difficult client for over a year - it is very usual for them to book some time and then not give me work, or give me badly thought out briefs. I have managed to overcome this somewhat by speaking on the phone with them, sending them a small example/first draft before continuing etc but they are not my favourite clients by a long shot.

Three weeks ago I was given a very small project, 2-3 hours work max. Did this, had some specific feedback, tweaked it and all was fine. It was Jane’s project, I’ve worked with her in the past and all fine.

This week I was given the same project but as part of a bigger version by Sarah, because Jane was on holiday and the work needed doing. I read the brief and completed the work, it was complex and far bigger than they had lead me to believe (20hours instead of 6 hours).

Then Jane came back and was not happy. I had redrawn some complex figures, I had asked for a colour pallete to use which Sarah had supplied, but it was wrong. So all needed to be redone with Jane’s pallete. Then it turns out Janes pallete is ever so slightly wrong, so I recolour a third time. Going over my hours allocated to them that week.

Yesterday Jane called and said I’d done a bad job, errors in my work and not finished to a high standard. I explained the situation. She said all fine, let’s draw a line under it.

I emailed her my end of week hours and as a gesture of goodwill to maintain good relationship I knocked off 8h (full working day) costs and said I value the relationship etc etc. No response.

Last night at 9pm I was out and got an email from Jane listing an error and copying in big bosses. It’s a fairly minor error in the scale Of things given how much work they threw at me in a haphazard manner, but an error nonetheless. Jane could be stressed as she is back from holiday and this project is going belly up and she was having to fix it at 9pm on a Friday night.

But equally I feel aggrieved that I had a shit brief and could not reasonably work to it. But I accept I am the freelancer and the scapegoat for this, and I did make a few minor errors.

But I have apologised, knocked off some of my costs and now how else can I appease her? As it stands I’m sure I will have lost this client but copying in the bosses gives me a bad rep in a small industry.

My other work with them as always been up to scratch, and in fact also on yesterday I had another, more stable client telling me “you’ve done a great job as you always do”

How can I best put a stop to it? If Sarah had told me the bigger picture I definitely would have worked differently, and if Jane had been in we would have spoken on the phone lots and worked it out.

I don’t want to offer the full 23h free but equally I don’t want to list the faults of the project as that would make me look defensive and terrible.

Any ideas? Just apologise gracefully, but not do anything else?

OP’s posts: |
WorkingItOutAsIGo Sat 18-Aug-18 11:01:22

Do you have to keep them? I would be tempted to very politely fire them as a client, explaining that poor briefing on their part led to an impossible project; I had done many extra hours to meet their stated needs; I had discounted my bill - and they are not acting in good faith, publicly blaming you for minor errors has destroyed the mutual trust that is so important to an ongoing relationship. Don’t be a doormat.

flumpybear Sat 18-Aug-18 11:07:10

I agree with @WorkingItOutAsIGo

flumpybear Sat 18-Aug-18 11:08:07

I'd also copy in the big bosses and give her full barrels the. Charge for the full time and walk away

Namechanger2015 Sat 18-Aug-18 11:09:03

I had already been thinking I didn’t want to keep them as a client before this happened as I find them too erratic and their briefs consistently poor. But was also wondering if I am just not good at what I do, but that doesn’t make sense - I have lots of good lonstanding clients and my work as always come through word of mouth recommendations. It’s thrown me a bit and I don’t know if I am being unreasonable especially as I did make the minor error, but under what I think was a very difficult brief.

OP’s posts: |
dinosaurkisses Sat 18-Aug-18 11:10:42

It sounds like Jane is trying to throw you under the bus after the Big Bosses have asked questions on why things have over run etc.

WorkingIt has the right of it- I’d email back a note around her outline professionally but firmly stating my point of view and stepping back from the relationship.

Namechanger2015 Sat 18-Aug-18 11:14:19

It sounds like Jane is trying to throw you under the bus after the Big Bosses have asked questions on why things have over run etc.

Yes, Jane is lovely otherwise, so it’s quite a shitty thing for her to have done. She has copied in big boss including Sarah, who briefed me to begin with but is also a big boss, who I have worked with for years (before this client at her old place). It’s very much a professional relationship with Sarah though, nothing social, and all via email. So I’m quite embarrassed that this debacle involves Sarah at all.

I’m also annoyed for being very worked up about this over my weekend!

OP’s posts: |
MinaPaws Sat 18-Aug-18 11:16:53

Don't doubt yourself. Stand up to them. Explain that you were given inadequate briefing - that the teams gave opposing and incorrect information; that you actually worked 30 hours - above the booked allocation and that you only billed for 22 as a goodwill gesture (NEVER do that again!It devalues you in their eyes.)

I'd say if theyacknowledge and pay for the full hours you worked, you will correct the mistakes but you want them to recognise that slip ups occur when two sides demand different things and briefs aren't clear.
Then simply don't be free to work with them again.

Oldstyle Sat 18-Aug-18 11:17:50

Sound like the clients from hell. But yes the freelancer is a useful fall-guy in these circumstances. I wouldn't worry too much about the impact on your reputation - if it's a small industry you will already have a good reputation through your other clients and it's very likely that Jane & Sarah and co will be well known for their incompetence.
My own inclination would be to copy the bosses in to your reply, restate the issues that led to the additional hours (i.e. their errors), reiterate that you have not charged for a day of your time in acknowledgement of the fact that some of the errors were yours. But otherwise stick to your guns.
Two possible outcomes: either they will pay up and never work with you again or will pay up and continue to work with you. I'd probably prefer the former! In either case the bosses (who will likely be aware of J&S's failings) will be made aware of your professionalism in a difficult context.
But it does get to you doesn't it. Something similar happened to me 25 years ago and I still feel pissed off about it!

MinaPaws Sat 18-Aug-18 11:18:42

IME showing you tolerate zero bullshit from clients leads to them behaving themselves with you and not blaming you for their own cockups.

TwoBlueShoes Sat 18-Aug-18 11:24:53

I would email back with a polite and detailed explanation.

Don't blast them but explain the problems as diplomatically as you can.

I had a similar situation with a coworker once who utterly bad-mouthed me to the bosses and made everything out to be my fault, but I explained simply and calmly the issues I'd had and the boss was utterly shocked at how poorly my coworker had behaved. If I'd said nothing, they'd have believed that I was the problem.

Whether you want to keep them on as a client, I'd address separately later.

Namechanger2015 Tue 21-Aug-18 10:07:34

Thanks for your advice, I did email them back politely, and did accept responsibility for my error, but I also checked this through and it turned out this was because I had copied and pasted something from a source document that they had provided for me to cut and paste from, which was incorrect to begin with. So perhaps I should have spotted their document was incorrect, but I assumed it would be fine - I stated this to them, and also explained that yes, I did make an error due to their inaccurate source document and their constant change of brief. That was yesterday morning at 8.30am, and so far they haven't replied at all.

I'm glad to draw a line under it, I actually hope they don't respond now, but it has really shaken my confidence, which I will have to work up again. Thank you for your opinions on this, it's really useful to hear another freelancers pov.

OP’s posts: |
Namechanger2015 Tue 21-Aug-18 10:08:11

Something similar happened to me 25 years ago and I still feel pissed off about it!

This will be me, no doubt! It really does get under your skin, doesn't it! smile

OP’s posts: |
Namechanger2015 Tue 21-Aug-18 10:10:18

Twoblueshoes that's awesome, I am glad it worked out in the end, but must have been very stressful!

Whether you want to keep them on as a client, I'd address separately later. Hell, no. As lovely as they were as people, the way they had been treating me had grated for ages, it's just a shame it came to this. But my other clients are much more inclusive and respectful of freelancers, so off I go.

OP’s posts: |
Namechanger2015 Tue 21-Aug-18 10:11:45

Explain that you were given inadequate briefing - that the teams gave opposing and incorrect information; that you actually worked 30 hours - above the booked allocation and that you only billed for 22 as a goodwill gesture (NEVER do that again! It devalues you in their eyes.)

Thank you for this advice, I must admit I did consider removing more costs but you are right, it devalues me and it's like admitting I did something wrong. I will not do this again.

OP’s posts: |
WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 21-Aug-18 10:34:56

Glad you stood up for yourself. Don’t let this knock your confidence - it’s not you, it’s them. You did a great job most people would be grateful for: they are jerks.

TwoBlueShoes Tue 21-Aug-18 12:13:32

Glad you emailed them back. I think you’re right to avoid working with them in the future.

cobwebsinthebelfry Tue 21-Aug-18 12:31:45

It looks like Jane might have her own agenda here. If I'm giving feedback about our contractors I'm never anything less than diplomatic and constructive. It's pointless being anything else..... unless one has an interest in damaging the relationship.

Don't forget as a freelancer you are rendering services that might be less expensive and at a greater level of expertise than in-house. Stand your ground, keep meticulous records and be prepared to defend yourself robustly whenever needed.

SandAndSea Tue 21-Aug-18 12:49:56

I would also be upset about this - I think it's hard not to be when you care about your work and put your heart and soul into it. Overall, it sounds like you've handled it really well.

On the plus side (and trying to find a positive way to look at this because it feels better)... I have a theory from my own experiences, that things like this happen when we've ignored other, more subtle, signs. Perhaps you needed this to happen in order to be motivated to move away from them and develop much happier, more satisfying work relationships??

Clavender Thu 23-Aug-18 11:10:51

Sometimes it's great to have a reason to terminate a client relationship - sounds like you've handled it fine, just knock them off your Christmas card list and move on to better things, they'll have the same issues with poor briefing with the next freelancer they use.

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