The People Know Best
Whether you are writing, creating, or selling, much of what we do involves putting ourselves out there in the world. There are times when we are praised for our work and there are also times when we have to put on our mental suit of armor to handle criticism. Either way, there are no shortage of opinions and its part of the job whether we signed up for it or not.
I find this especially true when I do events. There I am face to face with my customers touching, interacting, and a lot of the times vocally expressing what’s wrong and right about my work. Online I can choose to read a comment or not but in person there is no screen to hide behind. The press and the praise are great, but for me, the critical feedback is the most humbling. In those moments, I realize that sometimes I create in a bubble and not until I present it to the world do I realize how it will thrive. That’s how we grow as creators and as a business.
Whether you realized it or not, our work does not exist in a bubble. On one end there is you and your work and on the other are your customers, the media, and business relationships – the people. How you choose to receive and absorb information from your audience is a big part of how your business will grow.
How to receive feedback. They say be open to feedback, but that’s easier said than done. I went to art school and a designer by trade so I have a skin thicker than most, but believe me I can still bruise like no other. The best way to listen to feedback is to actually listen. It’s an immediate action that when we hear anything other than what we expect, we tend to tense up and shut down. In that moment, take a mental step back and try to be objective. Act as if you were another person listening in on the conversation. You might hear something that under duress you would shut out. Then try to be empathetic. Part of listening requires some sort of understanding. Within that feedback there is usually a lingering issue that person may have had that just got triggered for some reason or another. If you can help or relate to that person in some way or another, you’ll more likely gain a loyal follower.
When to see it as an opportunity. Usually feedback ends up being considered on an “If I feel like it” basis, putting filters on an opportunity that could pass you by. If you see all feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than outside opinions, the potential for opportunities are much larger. Last year at all my events, I kept a notebook for a emails and comments in case I wasn’t able to speak to everyone. I looked back and realized alot of people asked if I had laptop cases. I remember also hearing that feedback verbally and actually getting emails requesting custom laptop cases. At the time, I didn’t consider it because of lack of time and my own design interests. But recently it has hit me over the head, if I consider this as an opportunity instead of a hindrance I could fill a need that people are looking for and I already have a list of customers already willing to buy.
Stay True to yourself. On the other side of the spectrum, put on the filters that help you stay true to yourself and your brand. As you meet grow, you will get a lot of advice from experts or otherwise about the best way to do so. In considering feedback keep your overall vision in mind. Ask yourself if the feedback helps you reach your goals and will these changes reflect who you are?
Keep putting yourself out there. When I was in school I was a dork and went to a lot of portfolio reviews and did a lot of informational interviews. Yes, to try to land a gig, but mostly for practice. There are plenty of ways to get feedback before you put yourself out there cold turkey. Connecting with a mentor or group that are in your field or can understand your consumer base, can probably give valuable feedback ahead of time. Giving the motivation or feedback you need to move forward. Face to face interaction is the best way to put a face to that invisible crowd called your consumer. Being a part of more local events can help you get out of your bubble and help get your work and brand out there.
As the saying goes, “Our worst critic is ourselves.” Don’t beat yourself up over opinions too much, but do keep your mind open to constructive criticism. It’s a balance of trusting your gut and being open to others.