How to handle last minute cancellations

Last minute cancellations as a personal trainer can be a pain, but it is something that can’t be avoided. A cancellation at short notice can mean a loss of revenue for you, as it can be difficult to find someone to replace the empty session.

Having a solid cancellation policy in place is critical to stop you missing out on valuable money. We’ve outlined how and why you should create a cancellation policy so that you can stop it happening in the future.

Outline your rules

When creating a cancellation policy, you need to decide on exactly what you’re willing to offer. Most personal trainers will create a 24-hour cancellation policy, which works well. If the client cancels less than 24 hours before their session then they will be charged the full amount of the missed session. This also applies to clients who do not show up to their session.

Make sure your last minute cancellations policy works for you. You might not feel comfortable charging people who cancel. Alternatively you could offer incentives not to cancel. For example, if a client goes 5 sessions without cancelling, then they get the 6th session at a discount price. This encourages clients not to cancel, without the need for an actual cancellation policy.

Instead of a cancellation policy that states the client will be charged, make it more flexible. Let clients know that if they cancel, it‘s up to you to decide if they get charged or not. You could also offer a ‘first time grace’, where the client isn’t charged for the first time they cancel.

Whatever your cancellation policy is, you need to make it clear to your clients. Having a cancellation policy in place that clients don’t know about will only result in unnecessary conflict. If you have a website, make sure the cancellation policy is clearly stated. On a clients first session, get them to read the policy or go through it with them, and get them to sign it to prove that they have read and understood the rules. This will stop any possible confusion further down the line.Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 11.04.10

Be fair

Just because you have a last minute cancellation policy in place, does not mean you have to, and should, stick to it. You need to be fair. A client might cancel because of a family emergency or an accident, and it wouldn’t be fair to charge them for that. Any last minute cancellation should be assessed on a case-on-case basis.

Not being flexible can make clients feel under pressure to come to the session, when, for example, they might not be well enough to train. If they’re sick, then that won’t be good for you (you could get sick too) or for them.  So keep in mind that in some cases these things can’t be avoided, and it’s better, and fairer, not to charge.

Repeat offenders

Clients who continue to cancel on you last minute are not respecting your time or you. It might be a good idea to start booking them in on a week-on-week basis so that they’re less likely going to cancel.

Ultimately, if they keep cancelling, you might just need to ‘fire’ them, and let them know you can no longer train them. Your time would be better spent with a client who isn’t going to keep wasting your time.

Give them respect too

If you have a 24-hour cancellation policy in place, then this should apply to you as well as your clients. If you have to cancel on a client with less than 24 hours notice, then give them their next session free. It shows that you respect them in the same way you expect respect from them, and will help to keep your clients happy.

Make use of the cancelled sessions

Just because you have a cancellation policy in place, doesn’t mean your clients are no longer going to cancel on you. When it’s less than 24 hours notice, it can be difficult to fill in that slot, but you can use it wisely.

For a last minute vacancy, offer it as a discounted rate. Let your other clients know there’s a free spot and give them a discount.  Your other clients are more likely to take up the offer if it’s at a discounted rate. You might not be getting as much money from the session as you originally had planned, but it’s better than getting no money for it at all.

Use that time wisely. If you can’t fill the session, then make use of it to help add value to your clients. Research something different that they’re interested in, make them a meal plan, email them a video. It all helps to show that you’re committed to their goals and are interested in helping them get there. It will help you to retain clients in the long run.

3 comments on “How to handle last minute cancellations
  1. Good article – it’s vital to have a 24 hour full fee cancellation policy. Otherwise clients will run rings round you, and you’ll lose thousands of pounds a year.

    Before even visiting a new client for the initial consultation, get them to agree (by email) to your cancellation policy. Yes, you need it on your website, but that’s not enough on its own. You have to expressly draw it to the client’s attention. If they say they’re not happy with the policy, don’t waste your time taking them on.

  2. Great article. We use a client management system on our personal trainer website that asks the client to agree to our T’s & C’s before even contacting us. It includes the whole ‘ we\re not doctors and don;t give medical advice” stuff too.

    In addition to the T’s and C’s on the personal trainer website we also go over them face to face…. Who reads T’s and C’s lol

  3. Rather than charging clients per session, consider charging per month. That way you can tell them that life can get in the way and a cancellation is not the end of the world. Ensure to advise that its a clean slate at the start of each month. If you have a good per month pricing structure in place then getting a last minute no show or cancellation is not going to raise your cortisol levels so much. ;-)

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