What To Do When You Make a Mistake as a Freelancer

Freelance writers make mistakes from time to time. We’re all human. It happens.
Maybe you forgot about part of an assignment. Maybe you missed a deadline. Maybe you embarrassed a client without even realizing it.
Regardless of the scope of the damage, there’s definitely a wrong and a right way to go about resolving an issue with a client. So let’s talk about how to do that.
My Bad
I recently had a little faux pas of my own, and while I’m not proud to admit it, I’ll share what happened for the sake of learning. We’re all friends here, right?
See, I primarily use Google Docs to write as it makes the editing process with clients so simple. However, this means that during the day I’m switching between documents and working on different projects for clients within this platform.
They all look the same. And as the subject matter I write about for clients tends to be pretty niche-focused and there’s overlap from time to time, things can get a little confusing…and one day, I messed up.
Here’s what happened:

  • I ghostwrote a guest post for a client.

  • They submitted the content to the guest site as branded content (per our agreement.)

  • The guest site editor made comments within the doc, which are automatically sent to me as an owner of the document. Once I get these, I know it’s time to go back and start editing.

  • I started working on edits in said document, and added my own bio at the bottom, as is common practice for guest posts I do as myself for other clients. The editor of the post I was working on earlier in the day asked me to add this section, so it was still fresh in my mind.

  • My bio (cringing here) included the fact that I write for one of the guest post site’s competitors.

  • The client emailed me, upset over my error.

  • I felt horrible, stupid, and careless.

This felt like a very big deal to me, and I apologized profusely to the client and explained what happened. Fortunately, in this instance, the client didn’t make a big fuss over the accident. The issue was resolved, and everything turned out okay.
But what if it hadn’t? What’s the protocol for handling major screw-ups?
Recognize & Apologize
The first step is to acknowledge the error and take responsibility for it. If you catch it early enough, you can just send over a quick message that says, “Whoops, wrong version here—please refer to this one instead.” If the client catches it, skip to the apology part.
You don’t need to give a narrative on why it happened—just take ownership of the mistake and let them know you’re working on fixing it right away. No matter what, don’t try to push the mistake off on someone or something else. No one wants your excuses.
Prioritize & Notify
Fixing a mistake should jump to the top of your to-do list, as a quick repair shows that you’re sorry for what’s happened and you’re working hard to make it right. Give the client an ETA on when they can expect the issue to be resolved, and if you find it’s taking longer than expected, keep them posted. If the client is angry, presenting a solution and timeline should help them feel a teensy bit better.
If the client is still fuming and unhappy at this point and your reputation is at stake, you may need to compromise. Offer to discount the project or, if it’s a big mistake on your part, offer a refund for the particular assignment in conjunction with the fixed end product. Money talks, so this option lets your client know how serious you are about making things right.

Just keep in mind this is only necessary in the most serious of situations. You shouldn’t be willing to discount at the drop of a hat.
Move On

Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ve done all you can to resolve the issue—so you’ve got to move on and let it go. Sure, your confidence might be a little rattled, but, guess what? IT HAPPENS. You’re all right, buddy. Hang in there, and learn from the experience. You can bet you won’t make the same mistake twice.
The bottom line: Accidents are unavoidable and unintentional 99.9% of the time. Don’t beat yourself up over it—just follow the steps here and repair the situation ASAP.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.