Cancellation Policy for Personal Trainers: What’s Yours?

If there is one thing in the personal training business that will make you want to pull your hair out, it is without a doubt, cancellations.  Cancellations are an endless source of frustration for almost all personal trainers.  On one hand, the client feels they should not have to pay for services that were not rendered.  On the other hand, it is nearly impossible for you as a personal trainer to support yourself (or your family) on whether or not someone is in the mood to exercise that particular day.

A friend of mine once wisely posed the question, “Do you want to run a business or a charity?” Without hesitation I said, “A business of course!” He quite bluntly responded, “Then act like a business owner and not a charity owner.” Another friend with a similar view put it like this: Does the electric company care why your bill was not paid on time? Of course not. They expect payment, on time, every single month. Plain and simple.

Why is a cancellation policy for personal trainers so important?

If you are a new personal trainer you may be thinking, “Eh. Big deal. People won’t cancel that often.” The truth of the matter is, yes clients do cancel and they cancel very often! You will hear 1,001 excuses: They’re sick. Their kid is sick. Their grandma is sick. Their dog is sick. They had to suddenly go out of town on business.  They forgot they had a hair appointment. They have to take their car in for repairs.  The list is endless.

Do you want to know what the real truth is?  75% (or more) of the time the client just wasn’t in the mood to exercise.

So, do you want to run a personal training business or a charity?

Imagine this scenario. You are an in-home personal trainer and “Tom” calls you anxious to begin training with you Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 a.m. You accept the job and everything goes fine for the first few weeks until Tom calls you on a Monday morning as you are about to head to his home. He tells you he had to go out of town for an emergency business meeting and will miss the next two sessions.  ”No problem,” you say. You go back inside and wait until it is time to head to your next client’s home.  The following week on Friday morning Tom sends you a text message telling you that he was on an international phone call until the wee hours of the morning and needs to skip his workout because he is too tired.  Aggravated, you sit at home and wait until it is time to go to your next client.  While waiting you receive an email from a woman who has two friends who want to train with you Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 a.m.  As you get excited at the prospect of training three clients at once (and all the money you will make), you suddenly remember that Tom — who cancels all the time — has that time slot.  Here you are sitting at home making nothing when you could be training a small group and making a lot of money per hour.

So… now is it clear why a cancellation policy is so vital?!?

Four tips for minimizing clients cancellations

There are a few things you can do to avoid problems with cancellations.

1. State your cancellation policy on your website.

Place your cancellation policy on your personal training business website within plain view.  When prospective clients are reading about your services they will see that you expect payment whether or not they decide to train.

2. State your cancellation policy in your email signature.

If clients find you via the web and email you, make sure that your email signature, contains your name, credentials, phone number AND your cancellation policy.

3. Verbally state your cancellation policy when you talk to a prospective client on the telephone.

Although it won’t legally protect you, make sure you tell your prospective client your cancellation policy when you speak to them on the phone for the first time. The initial conversation is the time to let the client know what they can expect of you as their trainer and what you expect of them as your client.

4. Have the client sign a cancellation policy form during your initial meeting.

Always, always have your client sign a cancellation policy form during your initial meeting.  I keep a copy of this form at home in my files and give a copy to the client. If there is ever a question, you both have proof that you made a prearranged agreement regarding payment. (Think prenup!)

But what if the client truly is sick? Or there truly is a family emergency?

The great thing about being a business owner is you can be as flexible as you want to be.  If you believe the client is truly ill you can choose to not charge them for that particular session. The choice is yours, but at least you are protected by your cancellation policy.

What is one of the most business savvy steps you can take as a personal trainer?

It is without a doubt, collect ALL MONEY up front.  Sell your services in prepaid packages and NOT “pay-as-you-go.”  When you have the client’s money in hand you have the ability to charge them when they choose not to train.  If you don’t have their money, well… good luck!

How about you?

Do you have any additional tips? What is your cancellation policy? What kind of excuses have you heard? How do you handle cancellations? Please leave your comments below.

And finally… We have a favor to ask.

If you enjoyed this article would you mind sharing it with other folks who might be interested?

Written by: Christina Todd, ACSM-CPT

Christina Todd is a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. In addition to owning a successful in home personal training business she is the founder of Fitness Think Tank, an online community where personal trainers exchange ideas and share knowledge. She has been mentoring new personal trainers since 2006. You can also find her on Google+.

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