3 Steps To Avert Disaster When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes, no matter how carefully you plan and prepare to execute a client engagement, things just go wrong. Big things, small things, crazy things, ridiculous things. Things just go wrong.

I know because ALL of the following have happened to me at some point over the last four years:

  • An irreplaceable file was accidentally deleted by an associate
  • An unrevised and horribly incorrect draft was sent out to 13 executives at a client site
  • The WebEx link refused to work during a major sales presentation
  • My server was hacked by internet terrorists and my site was replaced by a picture of a squirrel holding a gun on the day of an e-book product release

I’m willing to bet that you have had experiences like this in the past. Why? Because in any business – whether you sell goods online, offer a service, or build a product – there will be things, both outside your control and within your control, that just don’t go according to plan.

But savvy entrepreneurs know there are a set of simple steps that can be taken in just about any gone-wrong scenario to help get – whatever disaster has befallen – back on track. Let’s explore those steps together.

Step 1: Let Common Sense Prevail

The biggest mistake people make when something important goes wrong with a client is to panic.  And while panicking is often the most natural response, it is also the most counter-intuitive because panic clouds commonsense, and commonsense is usually the way to get whatever is wrong back to good.

Last year, I was coordinating a coaching presentation for one of my clients. I had built the slide deck, organized the meeting, prepared their talking points, and set up a WebEx link for easy use.  Not two minutes after the presentation was supposed to start did I get a call from my client, irate because the presentation link wouldn’t connect.

My first instinct was panic. My client was yelling at me, something that I had checked had failed to work, and all seemed totally lost. I put the call on hold and desperately clicked around on the WebEx website trying to figure out what had gone wrong. As I frantically tried the link over and over, only one blinding thought went through my mind: I was going to lose my client over this.

Then, a surprising thing happened – a little bit of common sense peaked through my panic.

I realized that what looks even more bush league than having a broken WebEx link is keeping the client on hold for ten minutes whilst trying to fix it. What made more sense was to simply send all parties on the meeting a copy of the slide deck via email, apologize for the issue, and let the meeting continue as scheduled.

I took a deep breath, took the call off hold, and proceeded to compose my email.

If you happen to be on the receiving end of some evil twist of fate, common sense prevailing is also a wise idea. Instead of becoming enraged or upset, it behooves you to realize that whoever you are dealing with:

  1. might not be responsible (think customer service rep, etc.) OR
  2. is responsible, but acted without malice.

In either situation, you will likely need the offending party to rectify the wrong, and you catch more flies (aka: get to the bottom of your problem) with honey rather than vinegar.

Step 2: Maintain The Appearance Of Calm

I took dance lessons all through my childhood and early teens, and never realized that they were teaching me an important business skill: people only notice mistakes if you act like a mistake has happened.

I can remember being up on the stage for the final performance of the year, staring into the dark auditorium looking for my parents during my ballet routine and feeling absolute dread crawl over me as I realized I had no idea what the next steps were.

I had two choices: freeze like a deer in the headlights or improvise until I could think of what to do next.

So I improvised.

After a few tense seconds of moving across stage with the music, I remembered my place in the routine and burst with confidence into the final minute of performance. I finished, took my bow, and walked off stage wondering if anyone noticed my cover-up. It shocked me to realize that no one knew I had missed a chunk of choreographed steps.

Lesson learned.

I had the same experience ten years later when WebEx was down… after I improvised and sent a professional email with the slides attached, the meeting carried on without issue and by the end of the call, all participants – including my client – had forgotten about the link-blunder.

If you’ve been dealt a bad-luck blow (think about how I felt when a well-meaning associate deleted a vital client file permanently), then maintaining calm – even if you don’t feel calm – is key for maintaining business relationships and not burning bridges in a state of upset or alarm.

Step 3: Don’t Focus On Apologies, Focus On Correction

There is a time for apologies, and a time for moving on. When something goes wrong with clients, many of us default into apologetic mode. We want to share how sorry we are, how embarrassed we are, how upset we are, on behalf of the outrage done to the client. The only problem is that nine times out of ten, the client doesn’t want an obsequious apology, and they certainly don’t want to hear whose fault it is – they want the problem corrected competently and to move on.

If you’ve ever had someone hack into your site and replace it with pictures of violent rodents, you’ll understand that this step applies to both sides of the coin. My initial instinct was to demand apologies from every member of the server support team, until I realized that all the time I would insist they spend grovelling at my feet would be better used restoring my site. Focusing on correction, not seeking apologies, was what helped get the site restored in under ten minutes.

I’ve found there are a couple of key phrases that can be used in a variety of situations to get things back to good and forward-looking when things go wrong. If you tackle their issue right off the bat with one of these, you can keep yourself from panicking, maintain the appearance of calm, and let common sense prevail:

  • “I am sorry to hear about this, how can I help?”
  • “Thank you for sharing that feedback, what do you see as the next steps?”
  • “I apologize for this inconvenience, why don’t we do this instead?”

Sometimes, stuff just happens. We get overworked and make mistakes, or the people we work with get overworked and make mistakes. Technology will fail. Clients will cause issues due to user error. And things that are completely impersonal to you or your work will cause disruptions, distractions, and deletions that can be critical. Such is the nature of life and the nature of the entrepreneurial path.

We all need to know how to get it right when things going wrong not only for our success, but also for our peace of mind.

How do you get back on track when things go wrong?

Here’s to your Entrepreneur’s Journey,


About Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a freelance writer and founder of The Life Uncommon, a career evolution and entrepreneurship community.
Her work on careers and authenticity have been featured in over 200 media outlets, including Portfolio.com, WalletPop, and two editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Nacie's first book on career "fitness" will be in stores in April 2012. You can contact her via nacie(@)TheLifeUncommon.Net

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  • Interesting stuff. Staying calm focused, and re assuring your customers will put them to ease. I normally tell them, “anyone can make a mistake, we are humans, even large corporate organisations mess up at times, but what I can assure you if things do hit the fan, we will get them fixed and corrected.”

    • Nacie Carson

      That’s an interesting idea, to give them the heads up ahead of time..do you worry it might alarm them, thinking “is he preparing me for something to go wrong?”

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      • The complex I live in has that mentality. They told us when we moved in that they can’t promise nothing on the property will go wrong, but they will fix whatever does.

        It’s really refreshing to deal with these kind of people.

  • You have to get to a center ground and not panic in situation. Its just shows your growth as a marketer.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Nacie Carson

      Absolutely…what have you found works well to do that?

  • nice article especially Don’t Focus On Apologies, Focus On Correction and solving the problems..thank

  • Mistakes and problems are part of life and of course part of any business for that reason you should just get over them and keep going!

  • Excellent advice! Even if everything is falling apart, remain calm in front of your client and figure things out logically!


  • I wish more people knew to focus on correcting problems. Like when my kid apologizes for coloring on the wall…fine, be sorry, whatever, but do it again.

  • Oddly enough, 2 out of the 4 things listed actually happened to me this week. I learned a while ago to always have a backup plan. If the backup plan doesn’t work, pickup the phone and work with the client to establish some kind compromise.

  • I usually just pray and read the bible.

  • Definitely some interesting stories, especially the one about the internet hackers leaving the squirrel as their call sign… that’s just bad luck. This article makes some great points and I feel maintaining the appearance of being calm is probably the most crucial because that will directly influence everyone’s reaction to the disaster at hand. Good advice without a doubt!

  • […] 3 Steps To Avert Disaster When Things Go Wrong […]

  • […] 3 Steps To Avert Disaster When Things Go Wrong […]

  • Excellent ideas! I like the maintaining the appearance of calm because I used to get panic every time there’s something wrong’s going on. Thanks for your article.

  • Wow, it’s amazing how these things happen. My recommendation (which is according to common sense as well) is to make sure you have tech support online for the entire launch day. If possible, make sure they are on call as well for evening support. And I don’t mean support at the hosting level, I mean your own, paid technical support to ensure quick resolution to issues.

  • 😉 Excellent advice! Great article.

  • My experience in situations where things go rong is that there are people at the other side of the table for whom other things went wrong. It is amazing how understanding some clients were as long as I was genuinely ready to fix the problem.

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