Handling Mistakes as a Freelancer Without Melting Down

If you are exchanging your services for revenue, you are going to make a mistake. It’s just a matter of time. When I ran into my first mistake, I felt like I betrayed my client. Even though I never felt this way as an employee, it felt different now that I was meant to be an expert. Here is my guide for handling mistakes as a freelancer.

Never Blame on a Knee-Jerk Reaction

It feels awful when something goes wrong with a company you care deeply about.

The natural reaction may feel like you should find someone else to blame.

Even if it isn’t your fault, this strategy never works out how you feel.

The blame game cuts both ways. As soon as you point a finger, there’s one pointing back at you.

You may find out later that you did have a role in the problem.

That will make it 10 times more embarrassing when you blamed someone else for something you had a part in.

Hold back any blame, no matter how much you want to take the eyes off of you.

Identify the Cause

You are now entering triage mode.

Remember that mistakes happen all the time and even if you weren’t there, something would have gone wrong eventually. Handling mistakes is a core part of being a freelancer.

As a freelancer, your job isn’t to be perfect but to use your experience and handle the 2% of mistakes reliably and in a manner that puts your client’s mind at rest.

Do some digging into what went wrong and come back with the core issue that is causing the symptom of the problem.

Gauge Its Impact

Next, you want to discover what the impact on the company will be from this mistake.

I know that alarms are running in your head asking “I MADE A MISTAKE?!”, but they won’t turn off until you understand the repercussions.

Think through how this mistake has impacted the revenue, profit, efficiency of your team, or their customer’s experience.

If it does not harm these four key pillars, you can calm down. Not every mistake is devastating and even when it is, all you can do is solve the problem.

Take a Deep Breath

When something goes wrong or I make a mistake, I want to crawl into bed and hide away from the world.

I’ve learned over time that this is an okay reaction for a moment.

It is very difficult to fix a problem when you’re in a bad headspace that is constantly self-degrading.

If the problem has been happening behind the scenes for the while and hasn’t had a massive impact, you can take some time to solve it correctly.

Let yourself calm down so that you can solve the problem faster and with greater certainty.

I’ve found that handling mistakes I felt that were devastating didn’t seem as terrifying when I gave it a day to cool off.

Take Responsibility, Don’t Apologize Needlessly

I made a habit early on to apologize for every single mistake that would happen as a freelancer.

I held myself to a gigantic standard that was simply unattainable.

I started to realize that my clients hated apologies.

Sometimes sincere, genuine apologies are needed, but usually, they all sound the same.

It often sounds more like you aren’t taking responsibility and are just trying to slap a bow on the problem.

Try this instead:

  1. Acknowledge the Problem
  2. Acknowledge the Perceived Impact
  3. Reassure the Client
  4. Set a Deadline
  5. Thank them

Understood. I take problems with fulfillment very seriously since they cause customers to refund more often. I will identify the problem and have a solution by [ due date ]. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Create an Action Plan for the Mistake

Next, you need to create a plan for the following:

  1. Solve the immediate problem
  2. Prevent it from happening again

Obviously, the most important step is to stop the bleeding. Whether this is a tech issue gone wrong or an error in code, patch it up and test it thoroughly to ensure the problem is truly solved.

Next, you need to take steps to prevent this from happening again.

Making a mistake is human, not preventing it again is foolish.

Outline the 3 to 5 steps that need to fix in the process so that these issues don’t happen again.

Add in one extra visibility step so that even if something does go wrong, someone will know early before it causes issues.

Follow Through on Your Word

Your word is your bond, so make sure you follow through on each step of your action plan as thoroughly as possible.

If you overcommitted on a step, communicate early and often to readjust the project. Make sure you are impeccable with your word as stated in the four agreements of freelancing.

Send back a percentage of progress on the action plan and reassure your client.

Deliver a Post Mortem

Finally, outline to your customer the following:

  1. What happened
  2. It’s Impact
  3. Why it happened
  4. What you did to fix it
  5. What you did to prevent it again
  6. The new visibility to catch it if it happens
  7. Reassurance that you will solve any problems related to this

At the end of the day, you can’t avoid making mistakes. Mistakes are how we grow and develop as professionals.

Even if you are a freelancer or an “expert”, you’re going to make a mistake. All you can do is be reliable when they occur and earn your client’s trust again while handling mistakes.

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