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This is actually a thing, a job title! And I have been employed as a Critical Friend consultant. You have to give your opinion on a product or service, and list ways in which the client could improve.

I was a Critical Friend recently for a company who’d made a series of video podcasts on different topics relating to their business. I gave pointers on all sorts of things: technical, editorial, stylistic – even down to what the participants were wearing and their zoom backgrounds. I had something to say about the graphics, the script, the order in which things were said, the hosting/interviewing skills of the presenter, the performance of the guests etc. Some were easy fixes, some were much more fundamental, such as: was the presenter even the right person for this programme?

So, don’t be afraid to ask for criticism – but not from just anyone (your mum, your friends, your employees*). Ask a professional in your industry whose judgement will probably be right. Because if you ask 10 people about your product (and I’ll take TV/podcasting as my example), 5 will say, “There aren’t enough jokes” and 5 will say, “There are too many jokes”. And you don’t know which one to believe. You can’t please everyone, everyone has their own agenda/slant/bias, and they might be wrong.

Be aware also, that you might decide not to take the advice. You might think, OK, that’s interesting, but I think I like it the way it is. I’m going to see how it develops naturally, and maybe revisit those criticisms later.

I am currently working on a project, kind of a vanity project/experiment for the people who are running it (not me), and they’re feeling their way. It’s not too expensive for them at the moment and they’re using it as a learning curve. I have my opinions about it, but they don’t really need my input yet because they haven’t yet solidified how they want to do it. They’re feeling their way, trying things out and rejecting things they don’t like along the way. So I am happy to go along for the ride: it’s a learning experience for all of us, I think.

Note: It can be OK to be a Critical Friend informally to people in your circle – or – it can go down like a lead balloon! Personally, I try not to wade in, unless I am asked. But I have had one friend tell me, for example, that a photo I used to have on my email signature was a bit too flirty (it wasn’t particularly but I changed it to be on the safe side) and she’s strongly suggested I try some health supplements (which I am now taking, and they’re great!) So, your suggestions might be welcome – but they might not. Bearing that in mind, tread carefully. You don’t want to get into the passive-aggressive bitch comments such as “You’ve got such lovely blonde hair – why do you dye your roots black?!”

*Or DO ask these people but be aware you’ll get conflicting advice and none of it may be right for your product.

The Business Channel filming, photo: Mike Allberry

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