Why You Sometimes Must Fail Before You Can Succeed (and How to Recover)

I hate pain! When the doctor has to draw blood, I wince and look the other way. If I know something is going to hurt, I generally go out of my way to avoid it.

However, sometimes you must fail before you can succeed as a freelancer–and failure hurts.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating failure for failure’s sake. I definitely believe in working smart. That’s one reason I share my experiences and knowledge here on Freelance Folder–to help other freelancers

But sometimes, failure is the best teacher. Did you know that failing can sometimes make you a better freelancer in the long run? When failure happens to you, here’s how to make sure you learn from it.

Acknowledge Your Hurt

It doesn’t do any good to pretend you’re not upset that you failed, because you probably are. Immediately after a failure is also not the best time to analyze your mistake. You’re probably not thinking as clearly as you should be, anyway. Give yourself time to work through your natural emotional reaction.

For some freelancers a failure means getting angry, for others it means crying or even grieving over the mistake. It’s okay, though. Remember that nearly every freelancer has made a few mistakes.

Now, find a trusted friend who would understand your experience. (Beware of venting online, though. Angry or upset words on the Internet can come back to haunt you. Remember to protect your online reputation.) Or, if physical activity helps you, go the gym or run or whatever it is that you do.

Make Amends, If Necessary

Once you’ve worked through your emotion and feel relatively calm, it’s time to do some damage control. If the mistake was your fault and resulted in a loss to a client or colleague, you need to try–to the best of your ability–to fix it.
First off, contact whomever it is that was affected by your mistake and apologize. I know it’s hard, but just swallow your pride and do it. Next, offer to fix your mistake.

Fixing a mistake might mean redoing a project for free, refunding a client’s money (I told you this would be painful), or offering them something else that makes the situation right.

Your mistake may have cost you a client, but making amends can keep you from losing your reputation as a freelancer.

Conduct a Project Post-Mortem

Once you’ve made amends, it’s time to put your analytical hat on. You really need to figure out what went wrong. Here are a few questions you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Was there a miscommunication between myself and the client? If so, at what point did the miscommunication occur?
  • Did I allow enough time to adequately complete this project?
  • Was my knowledge and experience as a freelancer complete enough to do this project well?
  • Did I have the proper tools to work on this project?

(I’m sure you can think of other questions to ask yourself, as well.)

If you’re still on speaking terms with the client, you should ask them what they thought went wrong. They may have an entirely different viewpoint about what happened.

Once you’re armed with the knowledge of what caused your failure, you can put processes in place in your work habits and in your business to ensure that you avoid making the same mistake again. (This is the part where you recover and start to succeed.)

Some of the processes might include (but are not limited to):

  • Getting a project description in writing
  • Having the client review the work at crucial stages of the project
  • Buying additional tools for your freelancing business
  • Taking training classes to learn a new skill

Of course, take the remedial steps that best fit the cause that you discovered. Your remedial steps may be different than the ones I listed above.

When Needed, Ask for Advice

Sometimes, when we make a mistake, we really have no idea how to avoid it. If this happens to you, You have nothing to be ashamed of–you may still be able to work out a way to solve the problem.

This is where having a strong peer network and/or a freelancing mentor comes in handy. Often, your mentor or your peers have faced (and solved) a similar problem and can share what they did.

You can also look for articles, forums, and other online resources for freelancers (such as the Freelance Folder blog) where good advice is given. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the freelancing community for advice.

Your Turn

What processes do you have in place in your freelancing to avoid problems? Have you overcome a failure?

Let’s learn from each other! Share your answers in the comments.

Image by rocknroll_guitar