What should you do if a student cancels a session at short notice? Here’s some useful advice from Line Hilton on dealing with missed lessons.
Last-minute cancellations can be a tricky issue for singing teachers to deal with – especially when they’re starting out. Do you insist on payment and risk falling out with your student? Or reschedule the lesson and wind up out of pocket?
Be clear from the outset
All singing teachers need a clear cancellation policy and to ensure their students understand how it works. “A lot of us have confidence issues around money and talking about money, but we need to overcome them,” Line says.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your students about your terms and conditions. (The more you do it, the more confident you’ll become.) Line suggests that when a new student fills out an intake form, you ask them to tick a box saying they agree with the cancellation policy.
“It’s important that clients understand your policy,” she says. “At the end of the day, you’re providing a service. It’s good to have an agreement in writing between the client and yourself.”
How much notice should you expect from a student when cancelling a session? “I think 24 hours is generally the accepted and preferred timespan,” Line says.
“Some teachers require 48 hours’ notice, and others have one-week cancellation policies, but these are people who are fully booked.”
Things can get awkward if the person booking lessons (and failing to turn up) isn’t the one paying for them. For example, if the student is a teenager, and their mum or dad is covering the cost of lessons.
Consider making it a policy that the person paying for the lessons also books them to avoid confusion or dispute.
When can you waive your policy?
A cancellation policy is essential, but you can still use your discretion. “Obviously, if there’s been a death in the family, or your student has had an accident, you need to be compassionate,” Line says.
“But also, if it’s someone who’s a reliable student, you could say ‘if you book your lesson in the next seven days, I won’t charge you for this one’. If you’ve got someone who’s not so reliable, then it’s important to make sure you get paid before you continue.”
And then there’s the issue of illness. “I’ve been in a situation where I’ve not charged someone who’s come down with a cold that day, even though I could have,” Line says.
“I feel it’s a bit unfair because we don’t know about the cold until it arrives. And, of course, I don’t want the cold so I don’t want them to turn up to the lesson.”
Strategies to avoid disputes
Having a good booking system, where students pay for lessons in advance, is a great way to avoid some of the grey areas discussed above.
“I insist that new students pay upfront as the issue with cancellations seems to happen a lot more with new students,” Line says.
Another good option is having a payment package, where students pay for a certain number of lessons in advance (and get a discount for doing so).
And, of course, it pays to be organised
“If you don’t look after your money, no one else will,” Line says. “You need to ensure you’ve got a reliable bookkeeping and invoicing process. This is also useful because a singer might want a receipt showing all the lessons they’ve had for tax purposes.”
The last resort
You could call in a debt collector if a student just won’t pay up. But it’s quite an expensive process, so the debt would have to be significant to make this option worthwhile.
Ideally, you want to avoid anyone accruing large debts in the first place, although sometimes these situations can occur if you’re working with a company such as a record label.
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