I made a lot of accountability mistakes when I first started my freelance journey in 2018. Something that I often retrospectively look back on and think “what the hell were you doing?”. The phrase ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ perfectly illustrates the situations I’d find myself in.
Below I talk about this experience candidly, summarising the silly mistake I had made and how it nearly cost me dearly.
How I nearly lost my biggest client
One situation that always comes to mind however, is how during a project that could have ended in tears, I recognised when I wasn’t holding myself accountable, quickly snapped out of it and was able to turn things around.
Early on in my career I had landed a big project, one of my highest paid at the time with a great client. They hired me to work on their logo which required quite a bit of concept creation and rounds of revisions.
Mid-way through the project a couple of wisdom teeth started to rear their ugly heads. Now I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the discomfort that I was feeling at the time, a lot of you reading this have probably gone through the swollen face stage that wisdom teeth so gracefully bestow upon us.
What I thought would be acceptable and reasonable because of this, which wasn’t at all, was to take time off during the project. Hoping that I would somehow make up for any time lost in the nick of time and everything would be dandy. Of course, this didn’t happen.
A well deserved kick up the…
The client soon recognised the pattern in communication had changed. I wasn’t responding to emails as frequently and the regular updates I should have been giving, were non existent. They started to question this and rightly so.
When they did, that’s when I finally came forward and told them about the whole wisdom teeth debacle. Supplying them with what was quite frankly, a bunch of excuses trying to cover up my lack of professionalism.
Now I want you to take a quick break and think of a time you questioned someone’s actions or behaviour and in their response, they supply you with a beautifully gift wrapped box of excuses. I’m assuming your reaction to this wouldn’t have been positive. In this instance, neither was the clients. They wrote me an email that wasn’t the most pleasant to read, but helped bring me back to reality.
My redemption arc
Instead of doubling down on my excuses after receiving this understandably frustrated response I knew that the right thing to do (although difficult given the hole I had dug for myself) was to take responsibility and be accountable for my actions.
In doing that I fessed up, apologised for my complete lack of professionalism and let them know that I understood this was not and never should be how business is conducted. I wanted to make things right and I was going to do everything in my power to make that happen.
After that, I received a response back fairly promptly that I was not expecting. I thought I had just lost one of my biggest clients down to complete idiocy. To my surprise, they respected the fact that I understood my wrongdoings and that I wasn’t willing to make any more excuses. It was time to move on in a more positive direction.
What I was expecting, which wouldn’t have come to any surprise to me, was for them to sack me, ask for a refund and leave a negative review for the world to see. Because I responded in the way that I had, I believe this elicited a more positive response and made it possible for me to turn things around.
No more excuses, understanding where I went wrong and being honest, open and truthful, is what saved me from what could have easily been a disastrous situation for everyone involved.
So what’s the message? It’s simple. Yes, you’re going to make mistakes, a lot probably. But, when you do make a mistake that’s going to affect your relationship with a client, your performance or outcome of a project, do not get caught up in your own excuses.
You aren’t always going to be able to turn things around, but the least you can do as a service provider is accept responsibility and do all you can to rectify any issues that are caused directly or indirectly by you. You owe that much to your clients.
Remember that trust is hard to gain, but can be lost at the flick of a switch.