The Elephant in the Room: Asking for More Work After a Mistake


One of our readers posted this question in comments and has kindly agreed to my answering it in a post.

“I missed a deadline with a client once because I was moving and my ISP was giving me the run-around. It was the worst. I can tell my client is now standoffish, but I’m not sure about how I should approach him to ask for more work. Keep in mind assignments with this client has went well and I completed projects sometimes weeks before the deadline. Should I just let him go or try?”

The short answer to this question is that you should try. Building and maintaining good working relationships with clients is the key to a successful business. Does that mean that everything is going to run smoothly all the time? Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

When you do all the right things for your clients, they appreciate it. The fact that you have done what was expected of you and met your deadlines was what you were being paid to do. Missing a deadline is never good for business and I hope that you turned in the work as soon as you could once the ISP issues were resolved.

Your client may have concerns that something may prevent you from going back to your previously good record of being reliable. I know that it may seem tempting to just write the client off and slink off to lick your wounds, so to speak, but you have an opportunity to show this person the kind of freelancer you are. I can’t guarantee that you will be able to re-establish your working relationship, but it will help to resolve things so you know where you stand.

Dealing With the Elephant

I was working on a project once where my role was more of a personal assistant than a writer. There was a mistake made and to be honest I don’t remember now what it was. The client was not pleased and let me know in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t happy.

I read his e-mail a couple of times. The first time through I admit that my back went up and I got angry. My first thought was to quit and run (not necessarily in that order). Then I calmed down and tried to address the situation like a professional.

Here’s how I handled it:

I acknowledged the mistake without making excuses. Then I apologized. Those two actions diffused the situation. Then, I explained that while I can’t change what has happened, I would like the opportunity to rectify the situation and I offered a couple of suggestions. He chose one and we got our working relationship back on track.

In the situation the FWJ community member is asking about, I would contact the client and explain that the ISP problem was an isolated occurrence and that I now have backup arrangements (a friend’s computer, going to Starbucks, etc.) so that any inconvenience to my clients will be minimized if something similar happens in the future.

I would tell the client how much I have enjoyed working with them in the past and that I hope that the incident in question will not affect future projects. Then I would ask what I can do to help rectify the situation so that we can get back on track.

Then it’s up to the client to let you know what they need from you. There is the chance that they will tell you that they aren’t willing to work with you anymore. It’s more likely that they will appreciate your professionalism and will consider you for other projects. My guess is that not knowing is worse than hearing the word, “No” in this situation.

So, FWJ community: What do you think? Is this the right approach, or is it better to walk away from clients who may not be happy with your working relationship?






11 responses
  1. Cheril Vernon Avatar

    Love the title and elephant photo! I think it’s worth a try to explain to the client what happened and how you will try to rectify the situation now or in the future.

  2. Sam Avatar

    This actually happened to me very recently. I had a technical piece published in a journal and discovered there was an error in it. I told my editor immediately and the online version was changed but the print version had, well, gone to print so they had to print a correction the following week.

    As far as I was concerned, that was it, I had screwed it up and he would never let me darken the pages of his magazine again. And then I got tothinking that, given the fact that I assumed the worst, what did I have to lose by asking? I emailed and asked just how far in the doghouse I was, and after an agonisingly long (over the weekend) wait, he got back to me to say I wasn’t.

    Of course talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, so I was gratified when he asked me to submit a couple of extra (small) pieces the following day.

    Always worth asking- you can’t end up with less work!

  3. Jodee Avatar

    @ Cheril: Glad you liked the elephant! It is hard to ignore, isn’t it?

    @ Sam: I think most people would meet you at least halfway if you did what you could to rectify the situation. The flip side is whether you really want to work for someone who can’t understand that you are only human and that mistakes do happen from time to time.

  4. Camesha Avatar

    Hi Jodee,

    Thanks for the post and advice. My gut was telling me I should ask, but I was unsure about what approach I should take. Although I haven’t asked for more work yet, thanks to your post, I will be more prepared and confident when I do. Thanks again:)

  5. Floost Avatar

    I really like your blog and i respect your work. I’ll be a frequent visitor.

  6. Jodee Avatar

    @ Camesha: You are most welcome. 🙂

    @ Floost: Well thank you; you’re very kind.

  7. Clemento Avatar

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

  8. Ventego Avatar

    I liked it. So much useful material. I read with great interest.

  9. Tania Mara Avatar
    Tania Mara

    I feel the approach you described is the best one. After all, the reader had a good relationship with the client and even completed some projects weeks before the deadline. In this case, it would be a shame to let the client go before trying a reconciliation. Then again, I admit that having to deal with a client who may not be happy with you can be quite embarrassing.

  10. Camesha Avatar

    Good news Jodee! I followed your advice and my client had no problem taking me back! I also offered to complete a project at a lower rate. Now I suppose the next issue will be getting him to return me to my higher rate:) Thanks a bunch!!

  11. Jodee Avatar

    That is great news, Camesha! Glad to hear that everything worked out all right.

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