Among the harshest realities of being a freelance web designer (and a human) is that we’re bound to make mistakes. None of us can escape that fact. Therefore, we may as well accept it.
Still, there are major differences in the severity of the mistakes we make. A small misspelling isn’t quite the same as bringing down an entire website with a buggy piece of code. The same goes for the construction worker who merely forgot to install a light bulb, rather than failed to shore up that wall. Some are easier to correct and, thus, more easily forgiven.
Then there is the way we handle a given faux pas. Do we own up to it? Do we pretend it never happened? How do we react when a client calls us out?
Learning to deal with mistakes is part of the secret to long-term success for web designers. And, as someone who has made more than their fair share of mess-ups, I can attest to what works and what doesn’t.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about making things right again.
First, Understand What Happened
The funny thing about mistakes is that we don’t always immediately recognize them. It may be hours, days, weeks or months before one makes itself known to you. Therefore, its origins may be difficult to figure out.
When it’s something simple like a misspelled word, you’ll likely be able to track down what happened (Side Note: It’s always a good idea to proofread what a client sends you). But other issues can be much harder to trace. You may have to pore over code or user logs to get the necessary clues.
Why is it important to gain an understanding of what happened? For one, this information can help prevent a similar event in the future. That’s why we talk about learning from our mistakes, after all.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also worth knowing just whose mistake it was. In some instances, you may be the culprit. But clients and software vendors may also be to blame.
To be clear, it’s not really about assigning blame to someone. Rather, the idea is to simply understand the problem. That way, you can take preventative measures. It’s also useful in the event you have to defend yourself against an accusation.
Best of all, you’ll sleep better knowing exactly what went wrong. This type of knowledge is crucial for getting some peace of mind.
To Report a Mistake…or Not
Honesty is generally the best policy. And, let’s face it, there are certain mistakes that you couldn’t hide if you wanted to. A mishap that causes a site to go down isn’t so easy to sweep under the rug.
That aside, not every single mistake is worth reporting. This is particularly the case when the issue and impact are relatively small.
Consider an update to an eCommerce website where you’ve posted the wrong product image. If you immediately discovered the mix-up and rectified it, you probably don’t have to worry about letting your client know.
Of course, the bigger the impact, the more compelling a case for filing a report. If it’s something that a customer may have noticed or has the potential to hurt sales, that information should be shared.
It’s also worth considering both your own conscience and your client’s personality. Some people want to be informed about every step (good or bad), while others aren’t so concerned. At the same time, you might find yourself wanting to tell every detail just to make sure things are out in the open.
Ultimately, this is a judgement call – choose wisely!
Dealing with the Aftermath
Cleaning up after a mistake can be a multifaceted process. What’s involved really depends on the type of issue and the impact it has had on your project.
First and foremost is rectifying the design and technical aspects. Hopefully it’s something you can fix-up without too much trouble. At the very least, you should have backups of all key files on hand. This will allow you to revert to a previous version should the situation call for it.
The scariest part can often be discussing the issue with your client. No one likes to get called out. But, in my experience, most people are both understanding and forgiving. You just need to give them a chance.
The best approach is to calmly explain what happened in layman’s terms. You don’t have to go into every last detail unless your client asks. A general overview will usually be enough.
From there, mention any steps you can take to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again. Sometimes a client has a role to play as well. For example, if their request wasn’t immediately clear and you changed the wrong thing – let them know. Better communication (not to mention asking questions) is often the best way to avoid mishaps.
Overall, this is an area where a strong designer-client relationship can make a difference. Mutual respect and trust enable you to work through these inevitable ups and downs.
Take Charge of Your Mistakes
Perhaps the biggest lesson here is to take charge of whatever situation you find yourself in. This will demonstrate both character and competence. Clients will respect you for it and you’ll gain some inner peace as well.
When you’re in a position to impact a project (positively or otherwise), a certain amount of leadership is required. Therefore, stand up and take the appropriate actions when you make a mistake. By rising to the challenge, you’ll gain the confidence you need to keep moving forward.