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Reduce cancellations to boost your income as a Personal Trainer

Having a full diary of clients at the beginning of each week is the dream for most Personal Trainers. It’s a show that what they are doing is exactly what their clientele wants and more importantly wants more of.

Once your diary is up to capacity with weekly recurring appointments with great clients, you may think that this is the time to kick back and relax and watch the money roll in - however, this can be very premature and a solid weeks bookings on a Monday morning can very easily turn into a very ‘bitty’ week where you can end up on Friday wondering where did all those training session go, and with that, where did all that income go?!?!?!

In the early phases of setting up a Personal Training business, the main focus is getting clients - any which way you can. The objective is to pack that diary full, do what you love and make a decent living from it. But the reality is that cancellations kill personal training businesses and most PTs go out of business because their income is so inconsistent.

What PTs fail to do in time, is to make sure that not only do they treat their clients time with respect, but their clients treat their time with respect.

Cancellations are inevitable, but I don’t believe all cancellations are equal and you as a business owner need to be able to distinguish between them. We all have things that pop up and mean we have to cancel appointments, but some people are ‘serial cancellers’ and simply don’t value your time and expertise and it’s these clients who we need to put off working with us.

In 2015 I sat down with my first business coach to help me with the business and we got stuck into all my clients first. What they were like to train, how often they cancelled, if they paid me on time. It was an eye opening exercise which I implore every PT to do on a regular basis.

We worked out that in the year of 2015, I had ‘lost’ just over £16,000 of business through cancellations in my diary. Slots that could have been given to other clients where my losses would have been limited and my overall loss, much much less.

No PT business can withstand losses like that each year so I set out to reduce these losses and do everything in my power to have a fair cancellation policy not only for my clients but for me too. If I hadn’t, both client and trainer would ultimately lose out with me going out of business.

Cancellations not only had a financial impact, but had a huge impact on my motivation to train with certain clients. Those clients who would constantly cancel 10 mins before a session would make me so angry, knowing that I couldn’t re-book the session with another client as well as missing out on income, that it would affect how I felt about the next training session I had with them.

These clients, although they were adding to my income, were becoming more hassle than they were worth.

I believe it's better to have an empty slot than a bad client. So I took the tough decision to get rid of the worst of my clients overnight. The relief was amazing!

So once you have the clients you want in your dairy, how do you limit losses through cancellations?

You get tough with your cancellation policy.

Most PTs I work with are asked ‘what’s your cancellation policy?’. They um and ha for a bit, then say 24hr or something like that and try to move the conversation on quickly. But this is something that needs to be addressed, thought through and implemented very strictly.

It’s vital to be fair with your cancellation policy, but your clients need to know that if they choose to book an hour of your time, they must realise that comes with consequences if they fail to honour that session. Your time is as important and this is your living, not just an hours social.

Most PTs try to implement a 24hr cancellation policy, but I strongly believe this isn’t enough time for you as a PT to find another client to get into that slot and sustain your income.

A strict 48hr minimum cancellation period I believe is what the majority of PTs should have in place and any cancellation made within that time should be charged at the full rate. This will massively limit clients cancelling because they got an offer to go for coffee with a friend the next day or simply had something better to do.

You must first have this as part of your Terms and Conditions and must get it signed. I would strongly suggest that this is done at least yearly and digitally to ensure good book-keeping. Once you have that in place, it’s vital you stick to your guns when a cancellation is made. You notify, you revert back to the clients Terms and Conditions and you charge accordingly.

If a client kicks up a fuss, I will usually waive the first cancellation, but make them fully aware that any other cancellations will be charged in full within 48 hours.

Remember, you’re running a business - you’re not doing this for fun.

There are always times when cancellation pops up and you’ll have to use your discretion about if you charge. For example if a client falls ill, or needs to pick up a loved one from hospital or if their car breaks down. You have to be human in your approach, but at the same time, not be pushed about and picked up and put down whenever the client says.

The key is for everyone to know about your terms, for everyone to accept your terms and know that those terms will be implemented to the full. This shows professionalism in your Personal Training business and will make clients respect your time a great deal more.

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