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.