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How to recover when you completely blow it with a client

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We all make mistakes. And, if you are a creative freelancer and own a creative business, you have made — and will continue to make — a ton of them on projects for your clients. That’s a given.

The variable is what you are going to do after you make a mistake.

How are you going to react?  What are you going to do that makes you and your creative business different — in a better way — from all the other freelancers that screw up?

Here are the three steps you should take when you make a mistake:

Own up to it

Don’t compound your mistakes by making this one. If you’ve made a mistake, take a deep breath and take responsibility for it.

Don’t blame your subcontractors. Don’t blame technology. And whatever you do, don’t blame your clients in an attempt to justify what you did wrong. Claim the mistake as your own.

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You didn’t mean to make a mistake. You’re sorry it happened. You know that — but until you verbalize that sentiment or put it in writing, your clients really don’t.

So tell them. They need to hear from you that the error wasn’t intended and that you are very sorry that it happened. By apologizing, you’ll place yourself in a more humble (and forgivable) position with your clients.

Make it right

Lastly, you need to apply a little penance. If you can, absolutely take steps to right the wrong. Be transparent, and let the client know what happened and what you did (or plan to do) to fix the problem.

However, if you can’t undo what’s been done, you can probably at least do something to make the situation better for your client.

Don’t wait for them to ask. Instead, reach out to them first, and offer something to make up for the error. Some suggestions:

  • Offer to give them a discount on the current project.
  • Offer to give them a discount on a future project.
  • Give them a defined amount of service for free.
  • Send them a small gift, such as gift card to their favorite vendor.

Or if you aren’t sure what to do, ask your clients straight out, “How can I make this right?” Most clients will have their own ideas, and usually, those ideas will reasonable in proportion to the error that occurred.

However, any efforts to repent on your side are still up to you.

For example, if a client says that receiving your services for free are the only thing that can make the situation better, but you don’t believe that your mistake warrants that kind of retribution, then don’t do it.

In the end, the solution needs to feel and be right for both you and your client.

To err is human…

As you’ll recall, the saying ends, “to forgive, divine.” While there are hard-hearted people in this world that hang on to transgressions, most clients are willing to forgive.

What they need in return, however, is a sense of remorse and a willingness to repent on your part. Once they have that, they’ll not only forgive you, they will respect you— for your honesty, your sincerity, and your actions to improve the situation.

They’ll trust you all the more, and they’ll reward you with further business.

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments what you do when you make a mistake.

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About Patricia LaCroix

Patricia LaCroix has had a career in marketing and publishing for longer than she cares to admit. But, despite that it reveals her age, she’s willing to say that she’s been working a creative business from home in some way, shape, or form since 1986. Her creative skills run the gamut and include expertise in both visual and written forms of communication. Patricia’s entrepreneurial yet giving spirit drives her to help others learn how to work from home and create their own “lifestyle” careers.


More about Patricia’s business: LaCroix Creative is a full-service creative business in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Patricia leads a talented team of associates who assist her in creating effective graphic design and written content — in print and online. Decades of experience — partnered with caring, personal attention — make LaCroix Creative especially well equipped to serve solopreneurs, start-ups, educators, coaches, healthcare professionals, and self-publishing authors.

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