Horrors Behind The Scenes – Negative Feedback

How To Deal With Negative Feedback in your Beautiful Business – Janet Hill


Thank you to Janet for being our Guest Team Blogger


There are so many positive aspects to running your own business: choosing your own hours, a better work/life balance, the opportunity to generate an income from your passion, deciding on new creative directions – the list goes on. It’s the reason we ended up in this crazy world of self-employment, isn’t it?


However, claiming that running your own enterprise is a bed of roses 24/7 would be worse than inaccurate – it would be irresponsible. Heading up your own business takes determination, guts and a lot of resilience, particularly when faced with criticism or negative feedback; the rather unpleasant – but necessary – subject of today’s post.


Your business is your baby. You’ve built it from the ground up and any criticism, well-meaning or otherwise, can sting. Frankly, you wouldn’t be doing it right if it didn’t. But the problem with criticism or bad feedback is that it really hits you where it hurts; it can make you emotional, defensive or just plain old angry, and you can find yourself struggling to be stoical and professional just at the moment when you really need to be.


So what to do when the unthinkable happens and someone steps in to give negative feedback or – heavens forbid – make a complaint about your product or service? Never fear, here are my top tips for dealing with criticism as a small business owner:


  • First of all, respond. Sometimes emotions can paralyse us – we don’t trust ourselves to reply without sarcasm or anger, and so we leave a nasty email or review languishing in our inbox. Respond, respond, respond – even if it’s a short and sweet ‘Sorry to hear this – leave it with us and we’ll get back to you within the week’ while you plan a more considered response. If a customer complains in person, listen, take a breath and grab whatever time you can – even a moment – to order your thoughts. Engage your brain before you speak unthinkingly.


  • Ask yourself if the feedback or criticism has any grain of validity in it. Sometimes this is obvious – “This bread is mouldy!” – but sometimes it’s less so – “You need to stock a wider range of x”, for example. Perhaps that isn’t feasible, or perhaps it goes against your business ethics – maybe broadening the range would mean increasing your carbon footprint, or compromise your relationship with other retailers, for example. Those sorts of decisions are up to you and only you, so take the feedback with a smile and move on.


  • Hard as it might be, don’t take it personally. The reason criticism of our business hurts is because we care. But people on the outside looking in see things differently, and one of the (very few) downsides of running your own business is that you sometimes have to suck up bad feedback for the sake of being professional and preserving your good reputation. Grit your teeth, smile and apologise if necessary.


  • Listen carefully and get the facts. Record the details – times, places, communication, promises made and services/products delivered. Was there a gap between the customer’s expectations and reality? Could this have been communicated more clearly or earlier? Crucially, if you find anything lacking on your side, what have you learned and what can you implement so that a similar situation doesn’t arise again?


  • Finally, offer a solution. Sometimes this involves a financial implication – more of your product, service or time – and you’ll need to weigh up the ‘real’ cost of this. Ultimately, however, the question should be: ‘Will my reputation take a hit?’ If the answer is yes, my advice is apologise, make a peace offering (sometimes you need to offer more than one!), learn any lessons that need to be learned and, most importantly, move on. Don’t dwell. Remember what I said about resilience in the introduction? That.


And last but not least, remember that there’s a huge network of business owners and freelancers out there to tap into for support and advice. Head out of your front door occasionally and make friends – get to a networking event or start your own – and use the likes of WiRE and The Hills to build up the contacts that you can call upon in times of crisis and beyond. Believe me, we’ve all been there, and we’re more than willing to help!



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  • Sonia Goulding says:

    Great article with some very good advice, thank you.

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