I’m not a fan of business policies mainly because enforcing them usually leads to an uncomfortable conversation where I feel bad standing up for myself. For whatever reason, compromising my boundaries seems preferable to upsetting, or worse, losing clients. Several same-day cancellations and no-shows recently were an obvious sign that I needed to revisit my cancellation policy.
When I started my practice, I wanted to be the cool provider who got that life happens and gave my clients latitude. Honestly, I was more concerned about having my time wasted than collecting missed income, which reflected my priorities at the beginning of my business. Basically, I didn’t want to drive all the way to my office just to be stood up since I was working two jobs and had precious little time to tend to my personal life. This was my original policy:
I kindly ask that you give as much notice as possible if you must cancel your appointment so I have the opportunity to book another client or tend to my own affairs. After two last-minute cancellations or no-shows, I may not be able to accommodate you.
For the first two and a half years, this policy was fine overall. I didn’t have many cancellations and figured if new clients were flaky, I simply wouldn’t book them anymore. Then an established client who has had a standing appointment every other week for over a year cancelled the same day as his appointment twice in a row. It didn’t make sense for me to remove him from the schedule, but I needed to change something because those appointments had been booked for months and the likelihood of filling them within a few hours (or in one case, fifteen minutes) of start time was minimal to nonexistent. That was money I had been counting on that I wouldn’t be getting, a serious problem now that I don’t have any other sources of income. I also have less time available on my schedule, so every unfilled slot is a wasted opportunity to serve someone who benefits from my massages.
I knew I needed a new policy, but was reluctant to go with the standard charging for appointments cancelled with less than twenty-four hours notice. I wanted to allow some leniency for unforeseen events and sudden illness, so I considered giving all clients one exemption per year. But what about those who didn’t use their exemption? Shouldn’t they be rewarded or compensated somehow? I thought about giving a discount of one dollar per appointment kept without any same-day cancellations each year. This quickly became too complicated, so I’ve decided on the following:
Cancellations less than 24 hours prior to a scheduled appointment are subject to payment in full. If the cancelled slot gets booked, canceling client is responsible for any difference in fees rather than the full amount.
This sounds reasonable, but any policy is pointless if it isn’t enforced. If a client cancels without adequate notice, will I even see them again to collect any fees? Those who value what I offer and want me to remain in business will understand. The client who inspired this policy change actually cancelled a third appointment a few hours beforehand after I told him I would be reworking my policy. I was able to book another client in his place with a shorter appointment, so he’ll owe a difference in fees at his next session. I’m curious to see how this plays out. I know in my heart that maintaining this uncomfortable boundary will get easier and less frequent, ensuring that I have a practice that I love!
What is your cancellation policy and how successful have you been at implementing it? Please share in the comments. Thank you!