Everybody makes mistakes, but the worst thing you can do is hide them. So, you need a strategy for handling mistakes and communicating them to clients so they don’t cause problems and damage your reputation.
Here, we’ll dive into why and how to own up to your mistakes, so you can build the best reputation possible and get plenty of repeat business.
Taking responsibility is the hallmark of successful people in life and business. Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national corporation or a solo freelancer, integrity is the key to great customer care.
Owning your mistakes means never hiding them or blaming others, and this takes confidence. This kind of confidence impresses clients when you own up to your mistakes, especially if you’re proactive in pointing them out.
Most of all, taking responsibility for your mistakes builds trust. Sure, it’s important to try to minimize errors by doing thorough work, but since they can’t be avoided entirely, clients will trust you more if you admit them. The quicker you do, the fewer problems a mistake will cause, and your clients will know you’re looking out for them.
There are plenty of mistakes you could make, but some are common among freelancers. Most of them come from taking on too much work, poor time management, or insufficient communication.
Missed deadlines are some of the most frustrating freelancer mistakes. Of course, it’s best to do everything in your power not to be late, but sometimes circumstances prevent finishing on time. Family emergencies, hospital stays, missing information from clients, or unexpected delays can all sabotage your best efforts to be on time. But most of the time, missed deadlines come from poor time management and taking on too much work.
No matter what the reason, it’s important to anticipate missed deadlines and communicate to clients ahead of time. Don’t expect a client to be happy about the news that a project will be late, but again, communicating this ahead of time shows integrity, which can engender trust.
If you’re late on a few occasions, communicating like this can help you build a strong bond. However, be careful. No matter how well you communicate, if you’re consistently late, clients will take note and may move on.
Copy errors and typos are probably the most common freelancer mistakes. We’ve all seen appalling mistakes in even the most reputable publications. This may seem ok to some since it’s normal, but it can wreak havoc on a business’s reputation, especially if they’re new. Some copy errors are worse than others — in one famous case from 1988, Banner Travel agency was the victim of an expensive typo by Pacific Bell, when their Yellow Pages ad for "exotic travel" options became "erotic travel" options. Banner lost 80% of its business and sued for $10 million.
Again, copy errors generally come from being in a hurry, which can come from being pressed for time. If you find yourself making a lot of errors and having clients send projects back too often, consider slowing down. If you need to, you may have to take on fewer projects and re-evaluate how long things take. You may even have to raise prices to make this work.
If you do let a copy error slip through, you may not notice it. There’s nothing you can do in that case. But if you happen to notice something after submitting, go ahead and communicate to the client and resubmit with the fix. They’ll appreciate your proactive approach, and they’ll love that you cared enough to fix the error after the fact.
Sometimes mistakes are bigger. Have you ever delivered a project to a client only to have it summarily rejected, the client saying, “this isn’t what I wanted at all”? This is frustrating for both sides, and some clients will look elsewhere to get the job done. You probably won’t get paid for your effort in this case, so it’s a good idea to avoid it.
Communication is key here. If this happens, you should immediately offer to start over. But don’t guess at the next version. Instead, set up a meeting to go over exactly what’s needed and get on the same page. For some projects, you may want to get feedback while in progress so they can help you get on track before it’s too locked in.
Pro tip: be careful with letting clients see early drafts. If work seems shoddy in the early stages, many clients will not recognize what it will become. How you gauge this depends on the type of client and project, but as an example, take web design. It’s a lot of work to build a fully functioning website for a client to proof, but you don’t want to send them to a half-functioning site with missing graphics or bad design. Instead, mockup the design with a graphics program like Photoshop so they can see a beautiful “end result” screenshot and give feedback – before you’ve programmed the backend. Learn more business tips from Fiverr experts.
In the end, you can all but eliminate outright rejections by communicating fully ahead of time. Go over the assignment, take notes, and ask plenty of questions. If everything seems clear, still reach out and summarize how you’re planning to approach the project, so they can feedback before you get started.
Owning up to mistakes is easy. There’s no trick, there’s nothing to figure out or manipulate. Simply tell the truth without any reason or excuse. “Sorry I’m late” is a power move. Adding a reason like "traffic was awful" places responsibility elsewhere, diminishing that power.
So, when it comes to communicating mistakes, stick to the facts and be proactive. If you know something has been done wrong, don’t wait for a client to point it out. Reach out first and let them know. Say something like, “Hello Jim, I just found an error in your document. I’m sending you a revised version now.”
If the project is more complex, you may have to ask for the client’s advice on how to proceed. If a client points out a mistake you didn’t notice, don’t take it personally or make an excuse. Another pro-tip: any reason for your mistake will be perceived as an excuse. Just leave that part off. Thank the client for telling you, and let them know when they can expect the fix.
Clients aren’t always friendly and nice when they point out mistakes. They may be irate or frustrated, and they may even blame you for things that were out of your hands. Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself frustrated or angry when you get a message about a mistake, don’t respond right away.
In fact, it’s a good idea to make a habit of never responding right away since when you’re upset, you may not have the judgment to decide to wait. Calm down first and consider your client’s perspective. Formulate the most generous response you can, and only respond when you’re sure your response is respectful and productive.
Some mistakes like typos are easy to fix. Some require some thought, and if the situation is complex, you’ll want to sit and brainstorm a bit before jumping in. It’s a good idea to do this by yourself a little so you’re prepared, but as mentioned above, make it a point to meet with the client to hash out the solution.
When you’re doing this, don’t think competitively. Instead, think like you’re on the same team hoping for the same outcomes, and look for a win-win. Make sure the client is happy and signs off on a solution before you implement it.
Mistakes cost time and money, especially if they aren’t caught early. In some cases, you may need to compensate the client in some way. This doesn’t necessarily mean a refund. It usually means giving more of your time. As a rule, if a mistake is your fault, you should fix it. This is a form of compensation because you’re adding time to the project. So that you can be generous about this, you should always build in time for fixes into your schedule. It’s wise also to define how many revisions come with the cost of a project.
If you’ve made a bad mistake you can’t completely fix, or if a mistake has caused a lot of headaches, you might consider offering a gesture of goodwill like a discount on the next project. Yes, this will cost you a little, but in the long run, it will help you grow a great reputation and build your business.
Mistakes will happen. There’s no way around that, but it’s how you conduct yourself when they happen that really shows clients what you’re made of. So, own up, communicate, and get things fixed!