4 Steps for Dealing with Mistakes

For freelancers and solopreneurs, making a mistake on a task compares to a corporate employee receiving bad performance review. Facing mistakes — no matter how small — as a freelancer comes harder than those made as a corporate employee — and I’ve worked on the other side. The other side includes working for the U.S. government for three years and for corporations for all but the last 2 1/2 years.
Maybe it’s my perfectionist (not as bad as it used to be, however — busier personal and professional lives will do that) nature coupled with wanting to provide the best services for clients. But freelancers know clients can drop a contractor in a jiff and over the smaller things while a company has to jump through more hoops to fire an employee over bigger issues. Corporate employees also usually receive a warning, counseling, regular reviews, or whatever the company’s policies dictate.
We (especially me) have to remember we’re human not machines. We tire, we forget, we slip, we fall. I believe that how a person handles the mistake speaks louder than the mistake.

  1. Apologize: I avoid making excuses. They don’t mean a thing. The mistake happened. Apologize. Move on and work so it doesn’t happen again.
  2. Rectify the situation: Get a refund, fix the error for no extra charge, add a discount on the invoice.
  3. Go the extra mile next time.
  4. Request feedback: After I’ve worked with a new client for a reasonable time, I request a check up. I care about providing high quality services and improving.

Here are two cases where I blundered and how I handled them.
The case of the complicated PR service
I submitted a press release for a client through a service. I had done it before without a problem. The client e-mailed me and asked why I added an extra, which added charges. What extra charges??
In reviewing the receipt, I saw what happened and it was an honest mistake because of the way the site sets up its form. OK, this sounds like I’m blaming the form, but it’s confusing and I thought I filled it out correctly. Anyway, the site makes it hard to tell what you’re getting and doesn’t bother providing a page with the totals before confirming the order. Had I seen the extra charge, I would’ve looked closer and fixed it before confirming.
Rather than pouting and praying the client doesn’t drop me, I contacted the site’s representative and had the extra charges removed. I also asked for documentation that wasn’t available online. Now when I use the site, I remember the experience (and feel my heart thump a few extra beats during the tricky process) to avoid extra charges.
The case of the forgotten information
A client asked me to contact editors and provided specific details for one editor. I didn’t start with that editor, so by the time I e-mailed the editor… I forgot about the special instructions. Eep!
E-mailing the editor again was out of the question as I didn’t want to turn off the editor from contacting him more times than necessary. Since I couldn’t rectify the situation the way I would’ve liked, I included a discount on my invoice to that client and apologized without making excuses.
Got a story of dealing with a mistake? We’d like to hear it — remember, you don’t have to use your real name.

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