This article is brought to you by ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)

Life happens and client cancellations are bound to occur from time to time. However, as a personal trainer and small business owner, it’s in your best interest (and your clients’) to minimize cancellations as much as possible.

A late cancellation can leave you with an unpaid window of time. And if they happen enough, those cancellations can impact your clients’ consistency and ultimately their progress.

So, it’s important to implement processes that minimize client cancellations and allow you to handle them in a professional manner. 

Common Reasons for Last-Minute Cancellations
Busy schedules and unfortunate life events can get in the way of even the most committed clients. And there are many reasons why a client may realistically need to cancel a scheduled appointment. The following list includes some of the most common reasons for last-minute cancellations.
New clients are still navigating the changes in their schedules (fitting in workouts). So, it’s possible for those early risers to sleep through their scheduled workout, especially if they are feeling tired from additional physical activity added to their schedule. 
Committing to a personal trainer can be uncomfortable for a new client. They may have a multitude of projections about what the session will be like, what the trainer expects, and what the trainer thinks about them. In addition, if the client doesn’t meet those expectations (e.g., eats poorly or doesn’t complete their independent workouts) they may find it difficult to admit it. This is often a big reason clients cancel—they’re uncomfortable facing their personal trainer. 
An illness is a legitimate reason for a client’s cancellation. Most of the time, a sick client should take a break and allow their body to recover. Rest is important for the client’s healing but taking time away from their workout session with you is also crucial so that the client doesn’t get you or other clients sick. There may be times when the client starts to feel sick a few days prior to their session with you. However, it’s also possible for clients to wake up not feeling well on the day of their session. 
Family Emergency
There are unforeseen situations in every person’s life at some point or another. Deaths, accidents, and other critical situations that are much more important than a client’s workout can happen at any time. Unfortunately, when these things happen, it can be impossible for a client to provide any kind of advanced notice. 
Forget Appointment
It’s important to remember that we are all human. With busy schedules and new commitments added to that schedule, mistakes can happen—people forget. 
It’s important to be aware of the possible reasons a client might cancel because the reasons above are legitimate. However, when the cancellations become frequent, there may be more of a commitment issue.
How to Deal with Client Cancellations
Although it would be ideal if every client showed up 100% of the time, it’s simply not realistic. Clients will cancel with short notice sometimes. The good news is there are a few simple things a personal trainer can do to minimize last-minute client cancellations. 
#1. Have a Cancellation Policy
The first step in minimizing client cancellations is setting clear expectations. You can do this by including a clear cancellation policy in your client’s paperwork. The cancellation policy should be included in the start-up process when clients sign their initial client paperwork (i.e., contract and liability forms). Your cancellation policy should include things like:
  • The time frame a client needs to cancel prior to their appointment
  • Rescheduling guidelines for cancellations within the appropriate timeframe
  • How a client should contact you to inform you of the cancellation (i.e., phone call, text, emailing, or scheduling platform)
  • Repercussions or a cancellation fee associated with a late cancellation
  • Repercussions or a fee associated with a missed session
  • Whether clients are allotted any number of late cancellations or missed appointments (because things happen) or if there is a cancellation fee associated with the first occurrence
  • Repercussions if you (as the personal trainer) need to cancel or miss the appointment time with the client
In addition to including the cancellation policy in your paperwork, you may also want to discuss it with each client to ensure they are clear on the guidelines of your cancellation policy. 
#2. Send Appointment Reminders
When a new client first begins to add training sessions to their schedule, it’s possible that an appointment with you could slip their mind. You should have a proactive system to remind clients of their upcoming appointment (e.g., email or text reminder). At a minimum, you will want to consider sending a 24-hour appointment reminder one day before their workout session. 
#3. Allow Space for Vulnerability and Failure
Behavior change is not always linear. Clients will have setbacks, struggles, and old patterns that creep their way in. A client must feel comfortable enough coming to you through the struggles and feel confident you will help them push through and continue to guide them toward ensuring those valleys occur less and less frequently. 
#4. Keep Workouts Interesting
You want to keep your clients excited about working out with you. If your clients aren’t challenged and enjoying the process, you will likely see it in your attendance and your client retention. So, in addition to “mixing things up” to challenge their body, it’s vital to expose them to new challenges to reduce boredom and complacency. This could mean incorporating new modalities or equipment, different types of workouts, or a unique manipulation of training principles (i.e., tempo or rest).
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is also some value in helping clients develop a sense of mastery with many core exercises and routines. So, working toward mastery while “keeping the client on their toes” is a delicate balance. 
#5. Set an Example
As the personal trainer, you should be on time, prepared, and ready to train each client for the day. If you’re lacking in preparation, timeliness, or attendance, it’s like that your clients will follow in your footsteps or, even worse, discontinue working with you. Maintaining a level of professionalism and giving your clients the same respect you want them to give you regarding cancellations is crucial. Hold yourself to the same standards of when, how, and how often you adjust their schedule (aka cancel) because of conflicts on your end. 


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