I use the baby analogy a lot when I’m talking about freelancing.
So often we freelancers forget that the project means a lot more to the client than it does to us. That’s because it’s their baby. They created--gave birth--to it. They nurtured it and put in the hard work to get it where it is today. And then they realized they could only do so much for it and handed it over to us to give it a push to get it to the next level.
If the project is the baby and the client is the mother, then you’re the nanny, tutor, or little league coach. I personally like to think of myself as the gymnastics coach that takes in your little one, trains her on the way on the road to the Olympics, and sends her back home with a gold medal and a book deal.
And sometimes I find that when I’m working on someone else’s baby, it has a face only a mother could love.
Yes, Virginia, there are ugly babies. . . lots of ‘em.
There is a saying that there are no ugly babies. This saying is a lie. In fact, it is a lie probably first told while looking at an ugly baby. There are plenty of ugly babies in the world.
Don’t get me wrong here. That makes them no less lovable and precious. But let’s call an ugly spade an ugly spade here
As a freelancer, there will come a time when you are working with someone else’s baby and suddenly realize that it’s pretty ugly.
Maybe you are writing copy for a website that is using some really, really terrible design. Another example could be a gig where you’re supposed to put together a newsletter but the client insists on writing techniques that went out of style back when they still let you smoke on planes.
So what do you do?
Step 1: Remember that this isn’t your baby.
Guess what? No matter how hard you worked on this project, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the person who hired you to complete the project. That’s hard to remember because you’ve put so much time and effort into it. You may feel a sense of ownership but that’s false. Your client is the one who makes the decision on what happens with this project.
Step 2: Remember that ugly is in the eye of the beholder.
Much like porn, ugly is something that you may not be able to put into words but you definitely know it when you see it. Just remember that what you think is ugly may be the most beautiful thing your client has ever seen. They’re looking at it with a different perception. Your “ugly” may be their (or their customer’s) “absolutely stunning.”
Step 3: Express your concerns appropriately.
Ok so at this point, you’ve taken into account that this is not your baby and that you could possibly be reacting to nothing. But you feel like you need to forge on. Ok, fine. Go tell your client that his baby is ugly. . . carefully. Keep in mind that it may be a shock to find out that your baby is ugly. In fact, most people take it as an insult. You want to approach this subject with as much as respect and tact as you can.
Start with the good. Avoid accusatory language. Make sure that the client understands that you’re coming from a place of wanting to help. List some actionable ideas that you want to implement and why you think it would be in your client’s best interests. Listen carefully to how they respond because that will tell you whether they are open to your input.
Step 4: Remind yourself again that it’s not your baby.
Check the birth certificate one more time. Still not your baby, right? Ok.
Step 5: Move on
Now it’s time to decide what you want to do. You have some choices. The first is to get over it. Perhaps your writing will be the best thing that ever happened to this project. You can be proud of what you brought to table without necessarily cosigning on anything else there.
Secondly, you can gracefully bow out of the project. Explain why you don’t feel comfortable moving forward. If you can bring yourself to do it and know someone who can handle it, you can recommend another freelancer that could help.
Another choice is to move forward with the project without putting your name on it. If it’s something that you’d normally take a byline on, perhaps you can write under a pseudonym. If it’s something that you might normally put in your portfolio, you can leave this one out.
Have you ever been asked to work on a client's "ugly baby" of a project? How did you handle it?