Client Cancellations: Keep Clients Happy, Avoid Losing Money

Seeing as you're a personal trainer, I can almost guarantee this situation has happened to you at least once (likely many times)...

You wake up at an ungodly hour to make it to the gym for a scheduled workout with one of your clients. Time passes. Your client is 5 minutes late, then 10 minutes, and then you get that dreaded text message:

"I'm so sorry! I slept in and won't be able to make it in today. See you for our next workout."

So frustrating! Your next client isn't in for at least another hour, so you're just killing time when you could have been stocking up on some much-needed sleep.

Now what?

You obviously don't want to tick off the client who canceled last-minute, but you also want to value your time and avoid setting a bad precedent that allows clients to walk all over you. How can you handle client cancellations in a professional way?

Client cancellation

3 Keys to Handling Client Cancellations Professionally

Asking for a client to pay for services that technically weren't provided is a fine line to walk. Yes, it was their fault that they didn't get their training session in, but "the customer is always right" does carry some weight in this situation too. They pay your bills.

Here are 3 suggestions that can make client cancellations MUCH less awkward, keeping everyone happy and keeping money in your bank account:

1. Have Clients Sign a Clearly Defined Cancellation Policy

The first step to avoid awkward client cancellation situations is to set expectations from the very start. When you have your new clients sign their contract, waiver of liability, and other intake forms you use, be sure to include a very specific cancellation policy.

Your cancellation policy should at the very least include the following details so that expectations are crystal clear:

  • ​What time frame is needed to cancel a training session without charge?
  • What happens when a client cancels without giving the minimum notice?
  • Are there any "free passes" OR will the client be charged on the first offence?
  • What happens when YOU cancel a session (show your client that the cancellation policy works both ways!)
  • Your client's signature and date

Your client's memory may not last very long...

As I said, this is just the first step in avoiding awkward client cancellation conversations. If your client signs this document on day #1, you can bet that he will NOT remember much about it a month or two later. Still, it's definitely worth broaching the subject right off the bat.

2. Make Cancelled Appointments More Tangible

When a last-minute cancellation happens, don't avoid the discussion or try to mention it simply in passing. If you downplay the importance of clients showing up on time for their sessions, you can bet that it will begin happening more and more.

Your time is your most valuable resource. You deserve to be paid when you invest it.

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Instead, make the missed appointment very tangible.

Personally, I always use a sign-in page for each of my clients. This page has 2 columns, one with the date of the session and another with the client's initials, indicating that he showed up.

When a client missed a session, I would simply write in the date, but leave the initial line empty. Then, when the client showed up for his next session, I would have him initial beside two sessions (i.e. the missed one and the one we were about to begin).

This sign-in form made the conversation much less awkward because it was already established as a routine. I'd simply say something like, "Hey John, I know we missed our session on Tuesday so I just need to get you to initial for that one as well as today's."

Notice that language: "I just need to get you to..."

Saying it in such a way makes it sound as if it's just procedure, which it is! I'm not trying to be a jerk - I'm just following the procedure we always use.

3. Create Payment Plans to Automate Collecting Payments

Even after having your client sign a cancellation agreement, and having him acknowledge a skipped appointment by initialing for it, there is still the issue of getting paid.

If you let your clients pay on a session-by-session basis, then you'll have to decide. Are you going to request payment for that missed session?

Personally, I hate that "give me money" conversation, which is why I did away with session-by-session payments in favour of monthly billing (better) and automatic payments (best).

Monthly Billing - At the end of each month, simply add up all the sessions that your client has initialled for. This INCLUDES any last-minute cancellations.

Don't chase down payments for skipped sessions! Establish a monthly billing routine.

There is no awkward conversation about payment for the missed session because you are just following standard protocol. Your client expects to be billed at the end of the month, so there should be no questions asked.

Automatic Payments - I wish I had switched to this system a LONG time ago. It's just that awesome (for me AND for my clients). Here's how it works:

  1. Create Packages: My clients choose a weekly package based on how many times per week they want to train with me (e.g. 1x per week, 2x, etc.).
  2. Use Online Recurring Payments: I create a weekly payment subscription using Paypal, but you can use one of these other payment processors as well.
  3. Offer a Discount: The price of the weekly package is cheaper than the cost of individual sessions. For example, if I charge $100 per session, then a client who signs up for 1x per week might pay $85 for a subscription. This gives my clients financial incentive to sign up for automatic payments.
  4. Get Paid: Each week Paypal sends me the agreed upon subscription payment EVEN IF MY CLIENT MISSES SESSIONS. How is this fair? Well, I explain to my clients that they get a discounted rate (i.e. $85 vs. $100), so even if they miss a few appointments throughout the year, they still come out ahead.
  5. The Result: I get paid every week. I never have to ask for money. I don't worry about skipped sessions because my clients know they're paying for it. My clients don't have to worry about writing cheques, and they feel like they're getting a better deal.

One more suggestion: You may want to set up monthly subscriptions (instead of weekly ones) so that your client isn't bombarded with payment notices from PayPal. Weekly payments might make it seem as if your client is paying more money, even though they really are just smaller, more frequent payments. 

About the author

Dave Smith

Dave Smith was chosen as Canada's Top Fitness Professional for his innovative online fitness coaching found at Make Your Body Work. He now teaches other fitness professionals how to build their own profitable online businesses. Learn more at the Online Trainers Federation.