Last-Minute Cancellations: How to Deal with Personal Training Clients Who Cancel

It's 6am and you hauled yourself off from a deep sleep to make it to the gym in time to train your first client of the day. The only problem: She's not there.

Five minutes pass, so you send her a text message. No response.

Ten minutes - you call her. Voicemail.

Then, twenty minutes after you were supposed to have begun working with her, she sends you a text: 

Crazy morning. Not going to make it today, but I'll see you Thursday. So sorry 🙂

No real excuse. No emergency. And what exactly does that smiley face mean? 

last-minute cancellations

Client cancellations steal valuable time (and potentially revenues) from your business, so they can't be allowed to happen repeatedly. Here are the simple steps you can take to stop them once and for all.

3 Steps to Protect Yourself from the Pains of Last-Minute Client Cancellations

Before we dive in, it's important to note that there ARE times when a client cancellation is forgivable. All of us have real emergencies that are out of our control, so it's important to show grace to your clients in those situations. 

However, most cancellations do NOT fall into that category, regardless of what some clients might want us to believe. The following steps will help you deal with those preventable cancellations:

1. Set Expectations

It's YOUR job to set expectations from Day 1 with every new client you take on. This includes outlining your policy for dealing with cancellations.

Be sure that your new clients understand that you follow a policy - It's not a subjective decision you have to make in the case of a cancellation. You will simply be following a policy, one that your client has agreed to abide by.

Client Agreement Form

Check out the "Client Agreement" form found here. Instead of giving this to your client to read; walk him through it, explaining exactly what it means and how it will be enforced. Then, give him a chance to ask questions before signing it.

2. Make It a Formality

Now that your clients understand your cancellation policy, it's time to prepare them for it by implementing formal tracking systems. Here's my approach:

When a client shows up for a session, I have a simple tracking sheet ready that includes the date and time as well as a space for them to sign, indicating that they attended that session. 

At the end of the session, we agree upon the next date and time we'll meet and I add this to their tracking sheet in their presence. They see it on paper, so it makes it feel a lot more official than it would to just verbally agree on it.

Then, I book the session into my Google Calendar (as a meeting) and include them in this booking. Google will send them a meeting request; they will accept, and both of us will then have it booked into our respective calendars.

Google Calendar Booking

In a Google Calendar booking, include the name of your client, the time and date, the location, and add their email to the guest list

Taking these steps ensures that there are no, "I didn't realize we were on for today" cancellations that could possibly come up.

3. Build It into Your Price Structure

The above steps are very helpful in preventing cancellations, but this last one is the most fool-proof: Don't let clients pay for sessions one at a time.

If they pay this way, every cancelled session puts you in the awkward position of having to ask them to pay for something that they didn't use. It's awkward enough that you likely won't do it, therefore you just lost your time and money.

Instead, there are two pricing options that you should consider:

1) Sell Pre-Paid Bulk Packages

If you sell packages of sessions, say 10 or 20 at a time, you are shifting responsibility to your clients. If they miss a session that they've already paid for, it's their loss, not yours. 

If doing this, be sure the details are clearly outlined in your client agreement form so that expectations are clear from the start.

Also, after missing a session, be sure to have your client sign for that session on her tracking form. This forces her to acknowledge her last-minute cancellation AND that the session is now used up. She's not getting that session back.

It doesn't take long for clients to realize that you are running a tight ship - they will stop cancelling when they realize that doing so hurts them, not you.

2) Sell Subscription Packages

Before I shifted into online coaching, I adopted a subscription model with all of my in-person clients. 

Switching to a subscription-based payment model was the best business move I ever made!

In this model, clients sign up for a recurring subscription that entitles them to a set number of sessions per week. For example, they might pay $500 per month in exchange for 2 sessions per week, which works out to $62.50 per session.

This pricing makes sense if your per-session rate is around $75. You're giving clients a discount when they subscribe to your services.

If you've never set up subscription payments before, here's a tutorial that shows how to do it in Paypal within a matter of minutes.

Once subscribed, your client will have access to 2 sessions per week. If those sessions are used, great. If not, they are gone forever. It doesn't matter if the client cancels last-minute, goes on holidays, or simply decides to take a week off because that client is too busy. 

That might sound harsh at first: "How can you take sessions away from a client just because the client goes on holidays?"

Here's how I explain it:

In the subscription model a client pays $62.50 per session. At 2 sessions per week, this equates to $6,500 per year. In contrast, my typical session price of $75 equates to $7,800 per year. 

The $1,300 savings more than makes up for a few sessions that a client might miss, plus it will help the client stay consistent with the workouts. It's a win-win!


Cancelled sessions are bad for your business and they can make for awkward relationships with your clients. By taking control of cancellations from the beginning, you can eliminate the problem altogether.

Just be sure to explain your policies in way that shows your clients how it benefits them. Show them that cancelled sessions hurt their progress, so as their coach it's you duty to make sure they make it to every scheduled session.

Have any other tips on how to deal with client cancellations? Tell us in the comments below!

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.