There’s no such thing as perfect: how to handle it when your mistakes have a serious impact on your client

We’re all human. And while most freelancers want to do good work, there will always be software bugs, technical glitches and typos. So how do you handle it when something goes wrong and a client refuses to pay your invoice or pursues you for damages?

Human error is inevitable. No matter how tight your processes are, if you work in an industry for long enough then at some point you’ll get something wrong.

If your mistakes aren’t disastrous, and your clients are decent people, things will often turn out just fine. But what if you make a catastrophic error? Or what if your client isn’t cool with taking your misstep on the chin?

We’re not always talking about a human-led error – it could also be something that’s outside your control. Equipment failure in any industry could stop you working and mean you miss a key deadline. Or a photographer’s equipment malfunction could mean they lose all the images from a one-off event like a conference or (even worse) a wedding.

Your contract with your client (you do have a contract, don’t you?!) should cover most eventualities, but that won’t necessarily stop a client from pursuing you for damages or deciding not to pay your invoice if you make an error.

Both of these outcomes are stressful in different ways, but there’s one key preventative measure you might want to consider: taking out professional indemnity insurance.

Picture credit - Natilyn Hicks (Natilyn Photography) on Unsplash

Picture credit – Natilyn Hicks (Natilyn Photography) on Unsplash

How does professional indemnity insurance cover you for mistakes?

There are four categories of “mistake” that we see regularly:

  1. A genuine human error, like a typo that isn’t picked up before a huge print run, or a photographer failing to take a key shot, or a developer writing software with bugs that cause significant problems.
  2. Equipment failure, like a faulty SD card or hard drive, that leads to the loss of important photos or data.
  3. Inability to meet client expectations, which may be due to miscommunication, misunderstanding, or the client’s expectations being unrealistic.
  4. Missed deadlines, especially when those deadlines were critically important to the client’s business.

Dealing with unhappy clients in the above situations can be stressful. And if it escalates and the client goes after you for damages, you’re going to need to take legal advice. For sole traders this can be extra stressful, as it’s you they’ll be pursuing rather than your business.

When you have professional indemnity cover, you don’t have to handle your unhappy client, and you don’t need to find your own lawyer. Your insurer will have a legal team and they should handle things for you, taking some of the stress off your plate.

Insurance prevents “picking on the little guy”

Sometimes clients will back off once they know you’re insured. Going after an individual freelancer is one thing, but a freelancer with an insurer and legal team behind them is less of an easy win. That alone can be enough to stop your client from picking on the little guy.

We see this time and time again, where a client goes quiet once they realise the freelancer’s insurer has provided a world-class legal team to fight their corner.

Insurance protects your clients too

Most clients are decent people, and sometimes a mistake genuinely leaves a client out of pocket. In this case, while you’d rather not have the stress of a claim for damages, at least you know your client will get the compensation they deserve, without it coming directly out of your pocket.

In a recent example, a hardware failure meant a freelancer lost all the files from a photo shoot. Models and a venue had been hired for the shoot, so the client was out of pocket and pursued the freelancer for damages. The insurer paid £2,500 in this case.

It might be a cliche to say that insurance gives you peace of mind, but it’s also the reality. It stops bad clients taking advantage of you, and it means good clients get the compensation they deserve when things go wrong.

Plus it gives you the confidence to go out into the world and deliver great work, safe in the knowledge that you’re covered for the occasional screw-up!

Freelancing is stressful enough – do what you can to reduce that stress. At the very least, get an insurance quote so you know how much you’d need to spend to get a little more peace of mind in the face of an angry client.

We asked ourselves one important question…

What do we want out of an insurance provider?

With Jack is the answer