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THE INC. LIFE

Contently Reverses Course, Says ‘Sorry,’ and Tries to Rebuild Bridges with Freelancers

When you make a blatant mistake, the best thing to do is apologize and change course.

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BY Erik Sherman - 06 Mar 2019

contently ceo

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Last week, content marketing site Contently sent an email telling its freelancers that it was going to charge a 4.75% fee for them to get paid. The freelancers went nuts.

Today--just minutes ago--came another email from CEO Joe Coleman. The first words: "I'm sorry."

It was the smartest two words Coleman and the company could have sent. And the entire letter was a model of how you use emotional intelligence to realize where you went wrong, address it, and figure out how to make things right going forward.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

I'm sorry. Last Wednesday, I emailed you announcing a new mandatory service fee we'd soon be charging freelancers. That fee was a mistake. It will not go into effect, and as CEO, I guarantee one like it never will.
Here's what happened: I'm implementing a larger plan to turn Contently into a profitable business while continuing to increase the number of quality assignments we secure on behalf of freelance creatives. The move was intended to help us fund these initiatives and develop additional resources for the freelance community.
But during this process, I failed to consult the freelancers who contribute to Contently's success. As a result, I didn't truly consider how it would affect the people who are the backbone of our company. So we've decided to find other ways to fund improvements to our network.

The apology was crucial and something that so many companies totally miss. You have to admit that you did something wrong before talking about making it better.

Coleman goes on to note that he read every message from every freelancer (which had to take a fair amount of time) and realized that he needed to get back to values that helped make the company in the first place: "putting freelancers first and helping them earn a living doing work they can take pride in."

He further pledges not only to set things right, but to go beyond. A new freelance contract--really a set of promises because this isn't a contract that governs how the work itself is actually done--pledges never to charge fees to freelancers, let contributors review their bylined work before it gets published (smart because you can catch a lot of problems that way as well), create a freelancer advisory board, set up workshops, and more.

Coleman has to know that people may be reticent. How many businesses make promises and then break them? It brings to mind the types of companies that keep putting off payment while they promise that the check will be there the next week and then the next. (And a nod to Contently on how it has managed generally quick payments to people.)

But this is how you start moving back to where you need to be and where you'd like to go. Congratulations on some intelligent business.

And congratulations to all the freelancers who made themselves heard, pushed for being treated in a reasonable way, and who were willing to stand their ground. It's a good lesson for anyone running their own business. Be a path so your customers or clients can get to where they need to go without letting yourself become a doormat.

 

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