Your Usual Quality of Work and What to Do About It

Have you ever had a day like this? Your client says, “This isn’t your usual quality of work,” and you get a bad feeling in your stomach.

Maybe you know he’s right. You know it wasn’t your best. You delivered anyways – because it was the best you could do for the moment. Quality has been dropping off because you don’t like the job, or you’re tired and overworked, or your heart’s just not in the gig anymore.

What do you do?

Or, maybe it was your usual quality of work, and you feel hot indignation. Does the client not see how well you wrote? Is he blind? Why, he wouldn’t know quality if it reared up and bit him with fangs!

What do you do?

In both cases, the answer is the same. Here’s what to do:

First, apologize. It doesn’t matter who is right – the client isn’t happy, and you need to convey that you heard his complaint. That doesn’t mean you have to tell him he’s right (because he could very well be wrong), but you need to show that you understand his disappointed and dissatisfaction.

Second, find a solution.

You’re going to have to offer to redo the work and do a better job, even if you did a pretty good one the first time around. It’s crucial to your reputation and it shows you care about your client. (Yes, even when you don’t care). Getting indignant or defensive doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t make you a better professional.

If you can’t redo the work because you’re just not up to it, you need to find someone who can. Fixing problems isn’t the client’s work – it’s yours. Ask someone to edit and polish what you’ve written. Hire another writer to start over from scratch. Do what it takes to replace the work more up to standards.

When it’s all said and done, you have a choice to make. You may decide to take a break for a little while. Maybe you’ve been struggling and need time to rest so that you can get back on track. Maybe you didn’t like the work or the customer anymore.

In either case, part ways politely. Announce that you’ll be taking a break (don’t mention whether it’s permanent or not). Tell the client that you’re sorry for having to leave at this time. (In truth, you are sorry. You don’t have to say what you’re sorry about.) Offer a brief explanation if you’d like, but keep it short and simple. Dramatic justifications are for divas, not writers.

Then offer a referral to another writer. You may be taking a break, but that doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t like the work or wouldn’t get along better with the client.

Also, a referral gives the client an option so that he’s not left high and dry, which means he’ll think better of you. You don’t want a bad reputation of being the writer who ditches customers.

Your turn: Have you ever had a client tell you that your work quality had dropped? What was causing the problem? What did you do about it, and did it work out in the end?

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8 responses
  1. Jennifer Avatar

    Good topic to write about here. I recently felt like I turned in a story that really was not up to my usual standard. I apologized to the editor, who told me she thought it was fine. But I made a vow to myself to do a much better job on my next assignment, and I did. So your advice to take responsibility, take a break and get back on track is right on…or at least, it worked for me.

  2. Esme Avatar

    This is SO where I am at today!!!!! I’m on my 5th (6th?) translation contract for a company…I love the work. Well, yesterday they pretty much told me that my work sucks this time round, and that I have all of 2 days to redo it all. Unfortunately, I can’t walk away from the money. And, as I’m working my way through it, it’s not actually just my work. Yes, there are a few mistakes, but the original is full of them too! I know, that’s not my problem, and that is an excuse. Really, it’s time for a break. I am overworked…But, unfortunately, I have to finish this contract. If there had been a bit more time, I definitely would have hired someone to do a quick proof, which is all it really needs…

    Hmmm…guess I had a little on my mind!! Thanks for listening!!

  3. Valencia Avatar

    A similar thing happened to me about four years ago. I worked for a mortgage and loan website – and for an entire year – I wrote copy on the same four topics: credit cards, debt consolidation, bad credit loans and refinances. After a while I hit a brick wall, and I couldn’t brainstorm fresh ideas. I didn’t get fired, but I suggested reducing my contribution to the website. This worked, and the qualify of my content improved.

  4. David Dittell Avatar


    Very pragmatic, practical advise, but I think you’re missing on key element — figure out what made the work subpar, and work to improve on that aspect.

    You get to it a little bit with taking a break, because maybe the issue isn’t specific to talent, but just to attitude or relationship, but these are always learning experiences.

    After you’re done getting yourself out of the jam, don’t forget to learn the lessons that keep you out of that same jam in the future.

  5. James Chartrand - Men with Pens Avatar

    @ Jennifer – Ahh, that’s something else – when you personally know it wasn’t your best, even if no one else notices. I’ve had a few of those in my day. The good thing is, they always pass!

    @ David – I assumed here that most people would know what made the work subpar. If you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach, you generally do know and don’t need to figure stuff out (unless in major denial, which does happen.)

    But you’re absolutely right – I shouldn’t assume that it’s clear, and you’re very right that learning from the lesson is the most important point of all.

  6. James Chartrand Avatar

    @ Valencia – Ah, good one! No need to quit, just a step back to get some breathing room. Well done!

  7. James Chartrand Avatar

    @ Esme – In this case, if you know you can’t hit the bar of standards, I’d propose a solution to your employer.

    “I’d really like to do a great job instead of a rushed job. Can I have until Monday?”


    “I just won’t be able to make it. I’m going to do my best, but how about I offer you a discount to compensate for not coming through?”

    Try to give something to the employer ahead of time to solve the problem or show good integrity. It softens the blow and may make them feel better.

  8. Tina Avatar

    Please tell me what would you do if you were a contractor

    I work for myself and was hired to blog, the blogging job graduated to data entry work, but the data entry job was changed near the ending of the project, and she wants me to redo the job and copy and paste thousands of addresses into a template, but it was work I already completed, per instruction. It really feels like a punishment should I be angry about this? or ask for more money since she is the one who changed the project? I’m not sure what to do but it’s very frustrating and with all the copy and pasting its less than an hour and I already feel that I could get corpal tunnel.

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