I saw a thread last week on an instructors forum about cancellation policies and how everyone was coping with the decline in business through the winter. It seems that a lot of instructors see a demise in their businesses through the winter month.
It’s an interesting and sensitive subject. If the weather is atrocious you can’t expect to have a productive lesson in an outdoor arena and you don’t want to stand out there either! Likewise, if the forecast is awful, such as a storm arriving, are you better off cancelling lessons the evening before or hanging around and waiting to see what happens?
Then of course there’s the fact that people get ill. That’s instructors included! No one wants to be ill, but it can’t be helped.
I put on my website that I’ve got a 24 hour cancellation fee. Not that I’ve ever had to use it. I think I must have very dedicated and robust clients because either we’ve weathered the wind and rain, cancelled because of a flooded arena or waterlogged cross country course; or if they’ve been ill I’ve schooled the horse instead for them. All of which are reasonable reasons of ways of overcoming the obstacle.
Some of the instructors on the forum were saying that they’d had numerous cancellations within that week and were suffering financially. I guess the best way to explain it to your clients is that if they cancel because of a sniffle or the wind is blowing from the east, then it is not like being employed. The wage packet doesn’t stay the same, it decreases. £30 say for a lesson, well that could be the difference between eating sufficiently and going hungry that week. I think once people realise that they have a direct effect on your quality of lifestyle they will either be more organised to rearrange lessons, or will look for alternatives, such as you schooling or teaching them to lunge properly. It’s a bit like the public being encouraged to buy from individual retailers on the high street as opposed to chain stores.
I guess ideally instructors should get into the position that it doesn’t matter if they have one cancellation a week. You probably won’t have one every week in the summer, but save up all those bonus sessions and that will tide you over on a rainy day. Alternatively, offering clipping services and doing yard work through the winter months will help add strings to your bow so you are less affected by the winter weather. Perhaps it’s worth running some stable management lectures, learn to lunge sessions, or off-horse Pilates-type sessions? Ultimately as an instructor you have to adapt to your audience and provide the services they require.
Like I said earlier, I am very lucky in that my clients rarely cancel, and any cancellations are for good reason – such as the cross country lesson at 9am after a heavy thunderstorm, with high winds still raging. I was more than happy with that rearrangement! So I haven’t had to adapt my business services away from teaching, schooling and clipping, to give me a full diary.
With regard to cancellation policies, they can actually be difficult to enforce. It’s awkward asking for money at the best of times. I find that it’s easiest to let my client book arenas or cross country courses so that they are directly responsible for those costs should they cancel. Any last minute cancellations I’ve ever had have been clients who’ve always offered to pay, which I may accept part if I’ve travelled there, but if it’s a regular client I’d rather waive it as a gesture of good will. Building a rapport with clients means they’ll feel a sense of loyalty to you, and won’t want to cancel or mess you around.
Which brings me onto my next topic. What happens when you arrive and the horse comes out lame? Or has thrown a shoe? Or the arena has been double booked? Or the horse needs sedating to be clipped?
Today I went to clip a new horse. It was terrified of the clippers, and after fifteen minutes of trying to desensitise it, it was still very upset by the prospect. Now I have to make the call. I don’t think it’s safe to start clipping. I think it’s going to panic, barge through it’s owner, and cause one of us three an injury. It’s also not fair on the horse who is clearly afraid, not rude. So we discuss sedation, finding out it’s clipping history, and trying again in January.
No money was offered to me for my petrol and time. No, I wouldn’t have accepted the full fee, but I did have to drive to a different yard to a stranger. I think, to be honest, that it didn’t occur to the naive, teenage owner, and I just thought “I suppose it’s Christmas”, also hoping that if I appeared to be a nice, honest person, she may approach me for lessons in the future, and if she doesn’t at least I’ve come across in a positive light so may get a recommendation out of it. There’s also a lesson to be learnt: if someone asks you to clip a horse that may never have been clipped before then I should specify the cost of the clip and the travel/time costs of introducing and desensitising the horse to clippers should I be unsuccessful in clipping it.
So yeah, cancellation fees. Where do you start? It’s a bit of a minefield with lots of varied circumstances to cover, but I think the most important aspect is to create a good relationship with your clients so that they know the direct and immediate effect that them cancelling their session has.