5 Reasons you MUST have a cancellation policy (and what it should say)

If there is anything that 20 years experience as both a personal trainer and endurance sports coach has taught me is that having and adhering to a cancellation policy (CP) is a must! Notice that I wrote, ‘adhere to’ and not just ‘have.’ I know a lot of coaches and trainers that have cancellation policies but they either don’t enforce them or they randomly decide when to enforce them.

Cancellation Policy

Assuming you want to run a professional and sustainable coaching business, adhering to a cancellation policy is an absolute requirement. Below are five reasons why having and adhering to a cancellation policy is critical to your success as a coach:

Mutual Respect: Having a client that respects not only your expertise but your time is very important. Having a CP in place signifies to a client or potential client that your time is valuable. While unfortunate, some clients don’t respect coaching as a profession and view it more as a side hustle or as something that you’re doing for fun. Just as you value your client’s time, the client must value yours. For a coaching relationship to work, it must be a two-way street!

Accountability: For many clients, knowing that they are financially responsible for missed sessions often helps them stay accountable and on-track. Conversely, if a client knows that there is no financial repercussion for missing a session, the littlest thing such as being a bit tired after work often results in a cancellation.

Revenue: Things come up – Sickness, work commitments, fatigue, unexpected family issues, etc… It’s been my personal experience that during any given week, I can expect at least 25% of my clients to either cancel or request to move their scheduled time due to a conflict. While it’s up to you to determine exactly what your cancellation policy will cover, what I want to get across to you is that if you have no policy, you can expect to lose a significant portion of revenue. Of course, there are clients that never cancel (I call them ‘unicorns’) and then there are the ones that cancel all the time.

Scheduling: If you don’t have a CP, you will constantly be trying to plug the holes in your schedule that result from cancellations. This is near impossible, especially if a client cancels with very little notice. This ties into revenue because having an enforced CP won’t require you to hustle to fill canceled training slots to make up lost revenue.

Vetting Process: An enforced CP will either prevent likely repeat cancellation offenders from signing up with you or if they are currently training with you, they will likely stop training. This relates directly to the ‘mutual respect’ section denoted above. If a prospective or current client does not value your time, you do not want them as a client.

WHAT SHOULD THE IDEAL POLICY CONSIST OF?

First and foremost, the CP must be fair and equitable. Far too often the CP’s of trainers, coaches and fitness/sport facilities are one-sided. Meaning, a client gets charged if they late cancel a session however, there is no penalty for the fitness/sport professional if they do the same. This is one of many reasons why the fitness industry has a poor reputation.

RECIPROCAL

As noted above, the CP must be fair. Therefore, whatever policy you put in place for a client, it must be the same for you. For example, if you require 12 hours cancellation notice on the part of a client, should you cancel a client’s session within 12 hours, you must provide them with a complimentary session. Fair is fair!

ALL ENCOMPASSING

Disclaimer: You’re likely going to think I’m a heartless POS – but keep reading, it makes sense, I promise!

I encourage your policy to have no exceptions – not sickness, not transit issues, not work issues… none! Hate me yet? No? Good, keep reading. Here’s why I advocate for this. If you have a flexible CP that allows for things out of your client’s control such as sickness or transit issues, these issues will be the overriding reasons for cancellations. Think about it, if you have an exception-based CP, how deep do you drill down? For example, if your CP states that if a client is sick, they won’t get charged, what constitutes being ‘sick?’ Is it a mild headache or is it a full-blown flu? As you cannot stipulate or enforce this sort of policy, why have it in the first place?

As noted above, this policy MUST be reciprocal.

HOW MANY HOURS?

Clock

Most cancellation policies are 12 or 24 hours. You can make yours whatever you want but I would encourage you not to go below 6 hours or above 24.

MUST DISCUSS BEFORE TRAINING!

An effective CP only works if it’s discussed from the outset. While you can change a CP after a client has started, it’s not advised as it looks like you’re taking advantage of them and that you’re changing the rules based on what was originally agreed upon.

So, be sure to state the specifics of your CP before you start working with a client. To be 100% sure a client understands my ‘all encompassing’ CP, I often spell it out for them. It goes something like this:

“I have a 12-hour, no exception cancellation policy. Meaning, if you’re sick, stuck in traffic, or called into a late day work meeting that will require you to miss our session, you will be charged. Conversely, I hold myself to the same standard. So if I get sick or get stuck in traffic and have to miss a session within 12 hours of the start time, I will comp you a session. Fair?”

By stating it this way, it makes it hard for a client to argue that it’s not fair and more importantly, you verbally asked that they understand and do not object to the policy when given the specifics of it.

Be aware that some clients will balk at this. This is a good thing! While you want and need clients, you want and need GOOD clients! As mentioned earlier, stating this policy should be considered part of your vetting process. It’s much better to find out before taking on a client that they do not respect your time or policies and as a result don’t want to work with you than beginning to train them and running into issues down the road.

AVOID THE ‘MAKE-UP POLICY’

A fairly common policy amongst trainers and coaches is the make-up CP. It goes something like this: If you miss a session, you have a set number of days to make it up before you’re charged. I encourage you not to adopt this policy. First, if you have even a relatively busy schedule, this will quickly turn into an administrative nightmare. Secondly, what if your client wants to make up a session on a day/time that you cannot do? Third, this CP doesn’t value your time.

I can appreciate wanting to be nice and fair, but this isn’t the answer.

GIVE AN INCH – TAKE A MILE

Not all, but some clients will take advantage of a poorly constructed CP. For example, if you allow sickness as one of the reasons for not being charged for a missed session, you can fully expect that some of your clients will take advantage of this. I mean really, is it even possible to get eye conjunctivitis six times in a month (true story!)?

SUMMARY

Having a CP is critical to your success as a coach. Having one that is firm, transparent and clearly explained to prospective and current clients is even better!


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To get a $50 discount on the Running Coach Certification, click here!

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