Massage Cancellation and no show policies are perhaps the most important part of your massage business framework. Your business framework is what supports you in the process of doing business. These policies also bring up strong emotions and challenges in doing so. These policies can have an effect on your bottom line – as in if 1 person no showed every week that would be thousands of dollars of lost income a year. Your policies will affect the whole profession. In essence you are teaching people how to treat you and the whole profession.
When you are first starting out and have the time available, you might think that is it OK to let people slide. Many also think ‘Oh, that must mean I am supposed to have time for myself”. When you say things like that it may really be telling you that you need some time off yourself. When you sacrifice your time for others and don’t respect your own time, people won’t respect your time or you either. Only you can decide what is right for you. You can set a policy that you can sleep with. It will change over time as you get busier and also as you begin to understand the value of your time. But I challenge you to take some time to really think about your cancellation and no show policies carefully. The more you respect your time and teach people to respect your time, the better your chances of success.
Letting people go without paying or any penalty is telling them that your time is not important. It is telling them that your work is not important. It is also about getting people to commit to their health and make it important. It is part of developing the therapeutic relationship with a client. Having a penalty for not fulfilling their part of the appointment creates good boundaries. Yes people may get angry but that is also part of the setting boundaries. Boundaries are set up so we can protect ourselves and let others know what we need. It lets people know there are consequences to their actions even though they may not like it. If they get mad at you, you have to remain strong enough to still hold the space for them and let them be mad and let them walk away from your business if it goes that far. This is letting them act out in transference onto you which helps them learn about themselves. You have to learn to not take this stuff personally but it will often also be a learning process for you. Having to set difficult boundaries with clients where you risk losing them as a client and nowadays getting bad reviews helps build your self confidence as a business person as well as a massage therapist.
If you are just starting out and don’t charge people anything at all just start thinking about how much you will lose in the long run. If you plan on being in business 10, 15 or even 20 years that can add up. If you had 4 cancellations a week for a year and charged $60 an hour that would be almost $15,000 a year. Can you afford to lose that? It can take its toll on your business. Every time you get clearer around this boundary I believe you will see a change in your clients and in yourself. Setting a fee for cancellations and no shows tells yourself that you respect your own time. I see it as one of the highest forms of self care. Massage therapists in general have a hard time charging for their time and services thinking that it is better to live without. This idea of Noble Poverty has it’s roots in the way you were brought up. Taking a look at your issues around money can help you to understand that money is just a math problem. Learning to take the emotions out of money is an ongoing process since they are so ingrained in people.
Many will also use the standard claim – “Doing Massage isn’t about the money!” Well I am here to tell you that it is and if you are saying it chances are you don’t have much money or don’t have what you need. People will think that if they say it is about the money they are less giving or less caring. You aren’t being paid to care. You are being paid for your time – for your time you have to take away from your family or other things that you love. And yes massage is one of those things that I am sure that you love but you only have so many hours in a day/week/year. Your body will not hold up as long in this career. Your time is usually limited to 25-30 of hands on time or even less. You need money to pay the bills, save for retirement, pay for kid’s college, take nice vacations to rest – you deserve it all and that all takes money.
The Power Late Arrival Policy
The ideal late arrival policy says my time is valuable and I also respect my other clients time. I know things happen – traffic, last minute phone calls, things at work/home, but people need to responsible for their own time. The ideal late arrival policy states:
Your late arrival will require that I end the session at the scheduled time, meaning your session will unfortunately be shorter today. I have reserved this time for you and only you and have other people scheduled after your time.
When clients arrive late, it can cause a real problem. If you extend your session to go the full time, you may make the rest of your appointments late which won’t make anyone happy. If you cut their time short and end at the scheduled time, you will need to explain your policies so that people will not be mad. A mad client these days can lead to worse things like bad Yelp.com reviews and further problems.
You can take it on a case by case basis. Sometimes you might not have a client right after or you may have breaks scheduled in between clients so that you can adapt for late arrivals. If your schedule allows and you are trying to build a practice, working a little longer to the full time might help create a better relationship and a repeat client and all of the possible referrals they will potentially send your way. (Remember a referral network is “Your people have people who have people”).
This is a basic boundary issue. The thing with boundaries is that they will let you know what is going on by how you feel.
If you give them more time when you don’t have time or if you feel resentful that they are late and you think they are trying to take advantage of you, there are usually other things going on. You may be needing more self care time to nurture yourself and get more Me time.
The Power No Show Policy
The top of the line no show policy is of course you miss the appointment, you pay for the Whole appointment! Yes that means everything!
That is always easier said than done. Making people pay for something that they did not receive can be challenging especially since they didn’t show up to charge them. You can send them a bill or add it to their next appointment but the thing is that many will not come back in if they are made to pay.
The first thing is always to make sure they know the policy. Regular clients and clients who value your time and massage work, will respect your policies and understand. They will usually come with their no show payment in hand for the next appointment. But how do you get people to that point of respecting you and actually paying. Massage therapists are also hesitant to make people pay for a missed appointment.
Sometimes it means you start with where you are. Try setting a now show fee like $25 or $35 or a portion of the full fee. You may want to do that when starting out and training your clients. As you get busier, it will be even more important to enforce because you will have people who are waiting to get in and you will be losing more money.
It is often a process of building up your self confidence and getting over your fear of rejection. As you get more experience you will usually find that most are really willing to pay. Those who don’t want to pay, just don’t understand and may not value your time. You have to let them know what your policy is though in the first place.
Tell them the policy!
Clients are not mind readers. They often just don’t know. They might also have had other therapists who will let that slide because they are building their business or they don’t enforce those policies. You can’t enforce what they don’t know! It is usually in the they don’t know that they will be upset and mad! The biggest mistake I see massage therapists making is that clients don’t know the policy in the first place and because everyone seems to have different policies you just have to clearly tell them so they understand yours.
- Put your policies on your website.
- Have people sign a copy of your policy when they come in.
- Put your policy on your phone message. Say something like “Please be aware if you are calling to cancel that you will be charge xx.oo amount if you cancel in less than 24 hours or if you are late, your appointment will end at the scheduled time.(or whatever you set up.)
- When new clients call to schedule an appointment, consider taking a credit card to secure their time and tell them of your policy right up front. Tell them that you are reserving that time for them and them alone so that you will not take another client in that spot. Some online scheduling systems will allow you to take credit cards to secure the appointment.
It things still go wrong and the client does not understand why they must pay or when they must pay, they might not be a good fit for your business.
Take it little by little
Creating and implementing your policies will usually take time in building your confidence to enforce the policies. It won’t be perfect every time. You will learn as you go and work on honing your policy to best fit your business. Building your confidence in creating your policies and working to enforce them is best done with a support system in place. Supervision can provide that exact place where you can present your policies and learn more about what it is that you really want while you build your confidence in creating and enforcing your policies. Having a support system can can help you to create your policies and step by step learn to enforce them.
Share your no show and/or cancellation policy in the comments!
1st written in June of 2010 see in the archives for the person who stole the whole page and is trying to pass it off as their writing…shame on you.
Does anyone else have a limit to how many times a person can reschedule before being charged even when it’s before the 24 hr deadline?
Hi, I only allow clients to reschedule twice PERIOD. After that lose them! They are not worth it. I don’t chase after people who don’t show up on first time.
I have had to fire a client and it felt good because she was always late, and took forever to dress while she knew very well I have someone right after her. She Wanted the cash rate of $40/hr weekly massages but she wanted to charge it instead. She kept making excuses that she forgot to bring cash.
Before her last visit, I reminded her via text about $40 rate is cash only she forgot again. I charged her $50 regular rate for cc. I am tired of her! Bye good riddance!
Great question, I allow 1 reschedule a month if 24 notice. After that I charge $25 for each reschedule.
My cancellation policy is the first late cancellation or no shows is subject to a 50% fee. Future late cancellations and no shows will be billed 100% unless the time can be filled with another client. Late arrivals receive what is left of the appointment time with a full charge fee. If schedules are flexible that day the full time may be given at my discretion.
I like this a lot! Thanks
I really like this thank you.
I like this. Do you find that you end up getting referrals of theirs to fill the spot?
a really good idea I have learned from Goodlife:
when a client misses their appointment, you enforce your cancellation policy and have them pay or invoice them for that missed or late cancelled appointment and them offer them a free appointment. explain to the client that this is the policy in place that the client has signed or agreed to (depending on what actions you have taken with your client when informing them ) but you understand that things happen and you also value their time, so you offer them a one time free massage. This sets in place that you take your policy seriously but that you respect the client as well. It also gets them to come back in if they don’t pay for that appointment right away.
I haven’t tried this out yet. I have just opened up my practice last month.
If a therapist late cancels on a client because of illness, should they be subject to the same late cx fee? Give the client a free massage? Offer a discount on the next visit?
Julie Onofrio says
You really don’t have to do anything. You were counting on the income and you need that to stay in business and give more massage. It is also about boundaries for preserving the therapeutic relationship.
Joline Wolf says
I have been an LMT for 27 years, and NO you do not have to give them a massage if you are sick or having an emergency. Life happens to us and them. This is why we have the discretion to charge them for a no show or not, depending on what happened to them. My policy is if I forget, do a no show or double book (it happens, and we are all human and mistakes happen) I give them a free massage. It is are, but it has happened.
That is my two cents…
Jessica L says
I have a cancellation policy on my website, it’s also on my voicemail but when clients cancel at the last minute because they got called into work or they can’t make their scheduled time. I reiterate my policy to them and they get so upset and tell me I’m ripping them off etc. Do I explain my policy to them when they call and schedule an appointment? Also, do I ask every time the reason for their cancellation?
Julie Onofrio says
I make sure I explain it to them on their first session. It is up to you how you want to enforce this and every client will be different.
Ja`red Wheeler says
Unless it is a medical emergency simply state “Oh that’s unfortunate you’re unable to keep your appt. Per our cancellation policy, you are responsible for up to 100% of the session cost. Would you like to have someone come in your place?
I am currently in massage school and have been dealing with more no shows and late cancellations than I care to have. Since I cannot charge, what can I do? I don’t want to set nyself up for neither a bad reputation nor do I want to.look like a push-over.
Kathryn Roman says
I looked at my books in 2015 and realized I had lost out on over $5000 worth of income by NOT sticking to my no show/ cancellation policy. Seeing that number made me sick. That is contributions to my retirement and family vacations. I immediately implemented the pre-payment policy for all my clients. Even with credit card fees I still made more than enough to contribute to my IRA and LIVE as a happy MT.
My wife has a massage business and people do keep cancelling their appointments. This happens a lot with new clients. We are actually thinking of having them pay online first to reserve the spot. The one problem I can see with this is that they might tip less at the actual session because they won’t be paying in person. Has that come up with any of you?
Julie Onofrio says
the problem with paying online before the appointment will be that they are less likely to book having to give their CC. Just have a policy and post it everywhere and make sure they know it. Most are happy to pay. I do make exceptions on a case by case basis – snow/weather, family emergencies, sick… if they are just being flaky – charge them!
This article is insightful and informative as well as all of the feedback.
I have a mobile massage business and I don’t have any type of cancellation/no-show policy enforced. My friends have suggested I create one but really don’t know how to go about that.
Today I was suppose see to see a new client. It was a gift for a daughter who is getting married tomorrow. The father calls me to tell me his daughter got spray-tanned so naturally a massage would ruin her tan (and likely my sheets). So he calls me an hour before I’m supposed to leave to tell me his daughter has to cancel and will reschedule at a later time. Mind you, I have not yet been paid. Perhaps I need to start asking for payment or a percentage of the cost up front?
Hannah Johnson says
Explain and inform the customer about the cancellation policies. when a client misses their appointment, it’s your right to enforce your cancellation policy and have them pay or invoice them for that missed or late-cancelled appointment
I have fired clients for no call / no show. I call it the “take-away”. They always beg to come back and become my most reliable clients and continue to be my biggest tippers. You have to make them respect your time. If they don’t… make sure they know that there are consequences.
Oded Schaffer says
Thanks for the ideas.
However, if we don’t use credit pre-payment to secure our income, how can we fine them for a no show when it’s their first time? Also, if we ask for credit pre-paymnt or even just as a security, won’t they say Thanks and go to a cash practitioner?
Julie Onofrio says
Yes you might not be able to charge for a no-show but if you implement taking CC to secure appointments, you might lose clients booking in the first place. I have never had much issues with people no showing. You can send them an invoice if you have a policy in place.
Hi All, I am new to the business. Work for a corporate now, giving that up to run a spa. Feeling the pressure, how do I deal with rude clients, at the same time trying to make the customer feel superior?
Also any recommendations on retail product brands?
I do a $45 fee for reschedule and cancellation with less than 24-hrs notice, and full fee for no-show/no-call. I figure that my time is reserved for them when they book the appointment and have had clients running late to the point of only being able to receive 1/2 the massage time, but they are oh, so thankful for that half (yes, charged full amount.) Because of that, I don’t feel comfortable leaving the studio if there’s a chance they may be on their way. However, if I am able to get ahold of them and confirm that they aren’t going to be able to make it: $45 to compensate the loss of another client booking, but I’m able to take the time to work on something else. I do make a one-time exception (sometimes more, depending on how long they’ve been a client) for some emergencies like break-downs and such.
May w. says
I’m sorry, I’m so tired of going to appointments and the therapist/doctor being late and wasting my time, but yet charging me when roles are reversed. This is a double standard.
Also I’m disgruntled by a situation that happened where I was regularly getting massages. The reason I was even going in for massages is because my stress level was through the roof. I had several unfortunate events happen within a short period of time, my father in law passed away suddenly, my mom was the victim of medical malpractice that costed her all of her limbs (amputation of all 4), and my oldest daughter wound up in icu and hospitalized for 3 weeks. I started going to this massage therapy salon as a regular customer. I went twice a month, tipped $20 every time, and hadn’t missed an appointment until I had an emergency with my daughter. As soon as I found out there was no way to make my appointment the following day at 10am, I called but the office had closed 5 minutes prior. I left a voicemail explaining I had an emergency, apologized for cancelling, and said I needed to reschedule. The next day 15 minutes after my scheduled arrival time, they called to ask if I was coming. I apologized again and told them i had left them a voicemail the day before. The receptionist informed me she would call back, as nobody bothered to check their voicemails when they opened that morning at 8 am. When she called back, she said that she’s just informing me that they are charging my card for the full cost of the massage because I called too late. I’m sorry, that’s horrible practice for a repeat customer with a one-time emergency. They lost my business, will not do business with people like that.
Julie Onofrio says
sorry that happened to you. Most respectable massage therapists would allow for emergencies. They should lose your business. Thanks for sharing.
That is HORRIBLE! You were right to fire them!! I would never charge my client for a missed appointment due to an emergency. That was totally heartless on their part.
Lacey Jayms says
I dont know if I am out of line here but isnt the whole point of this article is to create/enforce late cancellation policy? You would never charge a client for a missed appointment if it was an emergency!? How do you know if its an emergency or not? Everyone is gonna say it was an emergency so in that case why even have a late cancellation policy in place? Something to think about.
I had a client once that decided to go for a walk with her sister because it was a nice day, which she informed me when I called to see if she was still on her way in. I definitely charged her the no show fee, and fired her as a client.
Lacey Jayms says
Im sure you were informed of their late cancellation policy. Maybe calling again that morning just to make sure they got the message would of made up for cancelling late. Just an idea.
Marsha L says
We have a 24 hour no-show policy. If you cancel with less than that time, you are changed the entire amount of the appointment. Clients are told this at the time of booking their first appointment, whether by phone or online and they sign the policy at their first appointment. We require a credit card if booking by phone or online to hold the appointment but do not charge until appointment time. We do offer a 1 time courtesy miss to all clients, and after that will consider on a case by case basis, but it just doesn’t happen much. When you do good work, people will come to you and respect your policies if they are explained up front. If they don’t respect that, then I would rather they find another therapist anyway.
Yes I have a cancellation policy listed on my website. I let them know first time that I have a 24 hour cancellation policy. If it’s an emergency on their part and they call me I will reschedule. Always get a credit card number to hold their spot. I charge 100% of the massage fee if less than 24hours is given. I’ll call or text a day before their appointment to confirm.
This whole discussion is SO helpful. I have to admit that I had the same thought, “What’s to keep the client from lying about their no-show reason.” My policy is to try to believe that all people will do the right thing – give ’em the benefit of the doubt. HOWEVER, make sure you keep a record of their attendance. If there’s a pattern, cut them loose. Yes, I have a policy (at my discretion) of one grace no-show, a 2nd no-show at 50%, and the 3rd at a 100%. If they make it to this point, I simply explain that “we are not meant to be.”
david okongor says
Very helpful especially as a beginner to have a strong policy. We’re in business not a charity.
I have been a massage practice owner for 16 years and have a very strong cancellation/reschedule policy in place that I have been enforcing and yes people get pissed off but I have also actually been able to afford a comfortable life and my own care due to enforcing. People do lie all the time (everybody has emergency). Today I lost a monthly client due to enforcing said policy. She emailed me about an appointment for her husband that she had the days mixed up on. He had an appointment this morning (Wednesday) with me and she emailed Monday about cancelling appointment she thought was her husband Saturday, but was for her Saturday. Her husbands appt. was for this morning so I will enforced 24 hr notice policy. She told me since she emailed me Monday at 3pm we could have sorted it all out if I had replied sooner. I disagree being that she didn’t even remember we had an appt scheduled this morning and there is no way to fill appts usually even with 24 hrs. notice. When someone takes a slot that 3 other people wanted but then they gave up because you were booked the point is you still would have lost that income. It’s not about being unreasonable person, it is about protecting your income. And I don’t think I am unreasonable when my system send an automatic confirmation email when appt is made and a reminder 24 hrs in advance and 2 hours in advance. So new therapist will be squeamish about all this but after you’ve been screwed over multiple times and see the income you are losing you will toughen up buttercup.
This post and advice is awesome just wanted to say. Even though its old still helping ppl out. Great comments too!
Some great tips out there! I have a home based business and always text/email my clients the day before reminding them of their appt. That way there is a reminder and it is in writing that client has been reminded. I will give my clients up to 15 minutes of being late (I give 1/2 hour between clients), and then they either have to re-schedule or get the time that is left.