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Self Employed - How to Deal With Mistakes and Mishaps

Updated on June 23, 2013

Starting Up A Small Business?

Self-employment doesn't suit everyone, but I've found that it suits me best. I've based this blog on my own experience.

After 25 years working locally for myself, I'm aware that reputation is priority. It's an investment for building and maintaining a long-term career.

There are many different 'business models' out there, each no doubt, with differing ways of dealing with the subject. This is just my way of dealing with what we, in the UK, call ‘cock-ups’.

I hope this will be helpful, particularly to those starting up their own small businesses. I imagine that one of the most daunting aspects of starting up, for many, is the thought of having to deal with these costly and embarrassing mistakes and mishaps. Don't let it put you off; being your own boss is worth all the extra effort and, depending on the way you deal with it you can even use such incidents as part of your reputation building process.

Competent In A Crisis

A healthy concern for avoiding mistakes isn't a bad thing. If we keep these things in perspective and deal with them wisely, we can even turn them to our advantage. It's often a chance to demonstrate how we cope with such crises - showing a side to our character that customers might never otherwise have seen. We can use these opportunities to garner trust and respect - helping to build and strengthen our life-long customer or client relationships and expand our customer base.

Anticipate the Pitfalls

Although we need to avoid mishaps as much as possible, most people accept that things go wrong at times. Experienced and conscientious workers know how to anticipate the pitfalls, but if or when it all 'hits the fan', we need to focus and deal with the situation in a positive and resourceful manner. It helps if we can slow down and give the matter our full attention.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

I don’t suggest that it pays to broadcast unnecessarily, every little imperfection or personal dissatisfaction in the work we do. Honesty might be ‘the best policy’, but customers don’t need a running commentary of trivial concerns. There’s a point at which honesty and stupidity merge and at that point, customers' patience and workers' credibility tends to wear a bit thin. However, it's best to be straight with people if we want their long-term confidence and trust. Customers mightn't challenge deceitfulness when they discover it, but they're unlikely to forget it long-term. In that regard, our best customers are often those who complain, for they give us the opportunity to sharpen up our act; those who don’t complain are effectively denying us that opportunity and might never give us such an opportunity again.

People simply want conscientious workers who deliver to the best of their ability the product or service they need. If there's a problem, they want an honest appraisal of the situation and they want things put right with the least amount of fuss. Above all, we need to show genuine concern about the way that the incident is affecting our clients/customers. We need to empathise, or, to use the vernacular, put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and treat them, as we would wish others to treat us in such circumstances.

For Peace of Mind - Get Insured

There's a difference between a mistake and a calamity and different people might have different ideas about what that difference might be. Self-employment covers a wide range of career choices, so with my own experience naturally limited to my own line of work, I don't intend to delve into the specifics. Some occupations will obviously be more hazardous than others will, but for both your customers' and your own peace of mind, it's always best to insure your business.

Many small businesses, no doubt, will go their entire career never needing to claim. However, let’s look, for example, at what most people would call, a minor mishap. If you drill a hole in someone's wall, and then discover it’s in the wrong place, that’s a mistake. You can fill the hole in and smooth things over, both aesthetically and diplomatically. Most customers are reasonable, some might get a bit irate; others might even sympathise with you. On the other hand, if you hit a water pipe and flood the place, you'll probably need to claim from your public liability insurance.

Minimise Customer's Inconvenience

There are many minor difficulties to deal with, like suppliers letting us down, where we miss deadlines; not keeping up to date with trends, which means we don't always give our customers best advice. When we get measurements wrong we might have forgotten the well known saying, 'measure twice, fit once'.

However, whatever the scenario, there's an opportunity for us to redeem ourselves by demonstrating an efficient, considerate and even cheerful disposition.

Recognising and dealing with such matters in a way that minimises a customer or client's inconvenience will generally work well in the favour of anyone who wants to build on his/her customer or client base. Truculence, deceit or undue dramatics, tend to have the opposite effect and, customers will judge our characters accordingly.

Customer Confidence

We might ask ourselves how we’d expect others to behave if the tables were turned and we were the customers. Then we can work our way through the problem in a more considered way. Having a positive and confident disposition puts others at ease too, defusing a possibly difficult situation - often building, rather than diminishing customer confidence.

Most people are amenable in such an atmosphere - especially if we show strength of character. Obviously, our customers or clients won’t appreciate arrogant overconfidence. Nor should we make light of the situation. It’s seldom a joke from the customers’ point of view, but we should aim to make the whole experience as stress-free and reassuring as possible.

Focus On Solutions Not Blame

Even, as is often the case, when the fault lies with other workers or suppliers, if you maintain a positive, non-judgemental air, you'll enhance your reputation. If you focus too much on blame and not enough on solutions, your customers will tend to remember you rather for your negative disposition than your skill, diplomacy and efficiency.

Although you have to take into account the inconvenience and costs to yourself, you should always show greater and genuine understanding of the customers’ concerns - remembering too that each individual’s concerns might differ. That brings us back to empathising and listening for the customers’ concerns; let them do most of the talking, if that helps.

Tommorrow's Another Day

It often helps when assessing a difficult situation, to ask ourselves, 'Will this still be a problem tomorrow? What about a week from now - or even six months?' Stepping back and looking at the situation objectively helps us to put things into perspective.

Look After Your Customers and They'll Look After You

'Look after your business and your business will look after you', goes the old maxim - and your customers are your business. However, there are those who’ll try to take advantage and ‘milk’ an unfortunate situation. It’s not a perfect world whatever we do. There will always be opportunists and predators. However, in most cases, if you have a measured and confident demeanour, that sort will tend to back-off in face of your skilful handling of the situation.

Give your customers the confidence that you'll stick with them until the matter is resolved and most people will give you the benefit of the doubt, and often the matter will result in a customer relationship lasting for the rest of your career.

Promptness and the Right Attitude

We should always avoid mistakes and mishaps, especially when it means lost income for us and inconvenience to customers, but when things do go wrong, promptness and efficiency, with the right attitude dealing with the situation, usually strengthens rather than weakens customer relations.

So, when you have a mishap, slow down, calmly assess the situation, identify the difficulties and work out to the best of your ability how to proceed. Stay in control of the situation. You don’t have to make any promises, especially if you’re not sure how to proceed. Say you’ll get back to the customer/client as soon as you’re in a position to assess the situation clearly. You have a right to ‘sleep on it’ in most cases - and it pays to do so - for things often look clearer and brighter in the morning; you won’t be the first to discover that.

When you have your solution, deal with the matter promptly! However, be sure to explain what you’re doing candidly, to the customer/client. If you’re fair, honest and supportive, then generally things will pan out well and often you’ll benefit long-term by winning customer confidence and loyalty for the rest of your career.

Good luck.


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    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hello Jackie from The Beautiful South. Your life seems idyllic; I hope your chickens lay lots of whoppers (but not without anaesthetic).

      My little business is doing fine, better than expected, but I'm not looking for too much because I have my pensions and the state pension now. I'll see how things work out in April when I do my tax returns whether it's worthwhile putting more or less hours in. But it's not just about money; I think it's good for the soul, as you put it, to have something useful to do.

      Thanks for dropping by and keeping in touch. I have a couple of recipes I intend to upload sometime soon, so there's life in the old hubbing dog yet.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Hi, just ran across this hub floating by - thought I would see what you are up to. Hope that business is doing great. I have three chickens (hens) I am trying my hand at, no farmer for sure haha but getting close to getting some fresh eggs! Always been a dream of mine before I die so thought why not? They have been so much work and expense I am sure it is not worth it unless they out live me! Yet something for the soul, to look forward to. I remember warm eggs in my hands somewhere back in my childhood and the first I gather will be a wish come true to relive it.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Thanks for reading Jed, and for the encouraging comment. It makes it all worth while.

    • Jed Fisher profile image

      Jed Fisher 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      This article offers excellent advice, not just for self-employment but life in general. Thanks for sharing!

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      You're lucky Jackie from The Beautiful South. Planting flowers and taking pictures seems idyllic; I'll have to try it some time - when, and if, the weather permits.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Being self-employed doesn't suit everyone Angela Kane. Whatever we do to earn a living is likely to have some element of stress, yet we need money to survive. Personally, I found that the public was fine to work to, and I did best when I could do things my own way without any bosses breathing down my neck, always pressuring for more productivity and profit that they didn't want to share with me. Now I'm drawing my pensions, I'm a sole trader and I do things my own way. I hope things work out well for you. Maybe you could find a more suitable niche.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am in and out, not a lot of time for Hp myself. Mostly post something old about once a week. Summer means planting flowers and taking pictures to me, so I just put in as much time as I can, when I can. You should show us some of your part of the world if you haven't. Would love to see it.

    • Angela Kane profile image

      Angela Kane 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Starting your own business can be the most challenging and stressful thing a person can do. I started my own business over 10 years ago and it still a struggle trying to keep afloat and learning from new mistakes.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      I'm fine Jackie. How about you? I've been a bit lazy with my writing recently. Too busy working on a small business venture to set me into retirement. But I'll be back from time to time - making a nuisance of myself.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      ha ha...well I am not trying to sell you on isn't in a building anyway. How are you doing? I have missed you and wondered if you would be back!

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      You make a very good point here drbj. I don't know if big business will ever come back to what we once called the 'developed world'. In this area, which was once booming with knitwear industry, I've noticed increasingly in recent years, signs of a return to cottage industry. But I don’t see it as a shift back in time. Ultimately, all wealth comes from the grass roots; we might as well cut out the 'middlemen' - with all their guises and echelons. Since they sold off the means of production, we can’t afford them any more.

      It’s nice to see you again BTW.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Thank you for reading and for your encouraging comment, Jackie. There’s a lot of benefits being your own boss. And the characters we meet are often the best thing about it. A call from a previous customer is often as uplifting as a comment from an old friend - like you.

      There are some words I’d use in hubs, or in public that I wouldn’t use in church, but they probably wouldn’t be as bad as the ones I’d use were I invited to church in the first place.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      Excellent and realistic advice, amillar, for those who are or plan to be self-employed. And based on the slowdown in manufacturing over the last two decades, and the increase in the service industry, more and more folks in the future will be self-employed ... whether they want to go that route or not.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Good to see you old friend! This is very good. I ran my own business for several years. It was hard work and seemed to never be a day off but I loved it and many of my customers. They were some characters I will never forget and enjoy remembering. Uh, ladies don't use that word in America, we might just get kicked out of church. haha But I love the UK and am sure it is a nice word there. I trust you.


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