What happens if a Virtual Assistant makes a mistake?

Today I’m going to share a MASSIVE blunder that I made with one of my main clients just so you can see that it isn’t so much the mistake that’s the problem, it’s how you respond and deal with that mistake that matters to the client. And hold on to your hats and hide behind your fingers, because this was a pretty big and rather embarrassing error!

I know that one of a Virtual Assistant’s biggest fears is that they might make a mistake with one of their clients. They think the client will burn their house down, their world will implode, the sky will fall and it will be the end of days.

But that’s not what happens.

My biggest client mistake

My client and I had recently been sorting out her Gmail as there were a lot of messages and filters and we wanted to condense and refine her inbox.

She was on holiday and had decided to spend a few hours sorting some of it herself. After around three hours of work, she asked me via a Twitter Direct Message if she could delete a certain label and because I was busy working on something else, I gave it less than a minute thought and said yes.

The client deleted the label and 6000 emails went into the bin.

Yup – I’d ballsed it right up.

The client understandably immediately freaked out but had left it too long to ‘undo’ the action. I’m completely and utterly mortified but I told her I will fix it immediately.

(I was working in the cafe at the David Lloyd gym when this happened and my boyfriend at the time said I just stood up and loudly shouted “FUUUUUUCK!”. Apparently, some small children were rather startled.)

I spent the next three hours sorting it out by creating a new folder, moving nearly 10,000 emails from the bin into that folder and then re-filtering to get everything back where it was supposed to be with the right labels and in the right folders.

Although to be honest, I can barely remember what steps I took as I was so appalled by what I’d done.

But I fixed it, my client was extremely relieved and said the fact I attended to it so quickly was the most important thing.

My (now ex) boyfriend is a freelance programmer and he also hires contractors. He told me – when I had calmed down and stopped hyperventilating – that owning the problem is always the most important thing to a client – not that you messed up.

I’d never made a mistake like this before so I didn’t know this.

This is not the only mistake I’ve made in my freelance career either. I’ve messed up a few times – some mistakes were my own fault and some were misunderstandings because I hadn’t done my job properly and clarified the task with the client.

What happens when a Virtual Assistant makes a mistake?

You’re never going to be perfect and even the most experienced VA can still make a mistake. But when a Virtual Assistant makes a mistake, it’s what they do afterwards that matters.

Clients know you’re not perfect and, yes they might be annoyed at the time and you may even lose them, but unless you already have a shaky relationship, this is pretty unlikely.

They just want you to fix the error as quickly as you can.

You can’t turn back the clock, so it’s how you deal with your mistake that’s important.

Although you should always have insurance (this protects you from being sued or screwed if you really mess up), what may feel like a total disaster at the time usually isn’t that bad at all.

How to deal with the mistake

First, it’s vital that you own the mistake. Then what happens next depends on who spots the error first.

If the client spots the mistake first:

Before you rush to apologise, check that you really did make a mistake and that the client isn’t confused. Occasionally, the client is in error and they actually asked you to do the thing they think is incorrect.

This is why you should keep an email “paper trail” to refer back to and why it’s important to clarify the perimeters of each task before you start working on a project.

If it’s evident that you are the one who messed up, immediately apologise (without embarrassing yourself with copious excuses), and then fix the mistake free of charge.

There is a clause covering mistakes in my client contracts.

In the Freelancer Agreement I sell there is a Work Product Conformity clause that basically says that if the Client determines the work delivered does not conform to the outlined work specifications, they shall inform the Virtual Assistant, within 3 working days of delivery and the VA will fix it without extra charge.

If the Client does not voice concerns within 3 working days, the Virtual Assistant is not obligated to do any remedial work free of charge.

If the client’s request goes beyond the specifications they provided, the request will not be considered a remedial request and the Virtual Assistant will inform and bill the client with regards to the requested changes.

If you spot the mistake first:

If you realise that you’ve made an error then you either fix it then inform the client that you made a mistake but resolved it, or you inform the client of the mistake and ask how they would like you to proceed.

Generally, you just fix the mistake but sometimes, depending on the task and the mistake, you may need to defer to the client’s instructions instead.

Don’t over apologise or overcompensate

I’ve seen Virtual Assistants so mortified at making a mistake that they’d happily walk barefoot to Canterbury to be whipped by every monk of the priory in penance.

At the very least they consider ripping up that month’s invoice – which they most definitely should not do.

If you make a mistake and it’s covered by the 3 day Work Product Conformity clause in your contract then nothing else needs to be done. Just apologise, fix the mistake then move on with your dignity intact.

If you over apologise you’re in danger of damaging the dynamic of your relationship.

The client could start to see you as incompetent, a people-pleaser or as an underling instead of the professional business support service you are.

If 3 working days have passed then, even though your contract says you don’t need to fix the mistake free of charge, it’s usually the done thing to just fix it for free anyway.

Talk to your client

Your relationship with your clients is really important and any problems will be resolved faster and more easily if you pick up the phone and have a chat.

If you (or your client) is angry or upset, it’s far easier to say something you may later regret in an email than it is verbally.

Written messages are very easily misconstrued and if both parties are in a heightened state of stress, there is more scope for misunderstanding or for the situation to escalate if the issue is dealt with in writing.

You should have a pretty good relationship with your client anyway (and if you don’t then you should reconsider the client) so, while you may feel awkward and embarrassed, just call the client and sort it out.

It’s important to protect your relationship. A client will forgive a mistake but they will not forgive someone they have paid to do a job running away from a mistake. 

So even if you feel uncomfortable, you need to suck it up, pick up the phone and speak to your client.

Every Virtual Assistant makes a mistake at some point in their career

I’ve seen wannabe VAs in my Facebook group say they are anxious about setting up their own Virtual Assistant business because they’re scared they’re going to make a mistake.

Which is insane.

Show me a person who has never made a mistake in their life and I’ll show you… well, nobody because everyone makes mistakes.

Obviously, you’re going to try not to make a mistake, but they can and will happen.

However, you’re more likely to mess up if you don’t give your undivided attention to a task, you don’t properly read and understand client instructions, you take on work you don’t know how to do, and you assume you know what the client wants and fail to clarify the task before you rush headlong into it.

I can guarantee you’re going to make a mistake at some point in your Virtual Assistant career – but it’s not the mistake that matters, it’s how you deal with it that counts.

Over to you – have you ever made a colossal error with a client? What did you do and how did it turn out?

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Folu Akin-Taylor

This resonates with me . In my early days at a local authority, I goods receipted an invoice of £8,000 as £80,000. Upon l realising my huge error, few hours after it happened l contacted finance hoping payment could be halted. Unfortunately it was too late to block the payment . The only option was to let payment go through and the chase the vendor. My manager was not at work on the day . But l informed the vendor immediately by phone call and email . Then sent my manager an email and discussed one on one the day after .
I was so upset and angry with myself . But l was relieved and humbled by my manager’s reaction. She calmed me down and stated that she was impressed at how l handled it ,and particularly by being open and honest about it . I was on top of chasing the money with the company. As well as liaised with our legal department to explore legal options in case payment was permanently withheld .Well we recouped the excess paid amount of £72,000 after approximately 5 months

Joanne Munro

OMG! My heart was in my mouth when I read this! You sound calm but I bet you were beside yourself internally. Wow. Thank you for sharing your story and well done for sorting it all out so professionally.


The fear of making a mistake is what keeps stopping me. At my day job they know me and know that I am a good employee but a new person won’t know that.


Good to know that even experienced VA’s make mistakes too. Makes me feel less of a dimwit for messing up from time to time.

Janice Horner

I love your honesty because this is how most people would react to a big error on their part, and that word often spills out of my mouth at work (only quietly). You have a great style of writing, and I enjoyed your post very much; not to mention the big tip!

I am thinking of starting a virtual assistant biz, because I am retiring age, fed up of the traveling but still require an income. I will bookmark your blog.

Joanne Manville

Once again a very refreshing post and great that you’re willing to share this experience! I haven’t made any blunders yet, but I’ll remember your blog when I do – as it will happen!


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