Last minute cancellations can be a nightmare. If this hasn’t become a problem already, just wait – the time will come. Illness, schedule conflicts, and a strikingly high amount of passing grandparents cause students to cancel lessons at the last minute. From the teacher’s perspective, this causes quite a conundrum. How forgiving should you be? You’re thinking, ‘Should I charge students for cancelling a class at the last minute?’
Remember, it’s your bottom line that misses out when money doesn’t come in. This is a topic of some debate in the industry. Teachers don’t want to put off students by charging them for lessons they aren’t getting. But at the end of the day, business is business. If you ordered pick-up for dinner via credit card and failed to pick up the food, is the restaurant going to refund the money? Fat chance.
Here, we’ll look at the issue of whether or not online teachers should bill students for cancelling a lesson at the last minute. We’ll also discuss strategies to help minimize last minute cancellations.
Use your instincts
You are in charge of your business. Part of being a successful entrepreneur is the ability to make decisions based on gut feeling. If a student normally known for being active and responsible cancels a lesson two hours before, take a look at what they are saying. Does it seem honest?
If so, there are certainly situations that justify a reschedule. Medical or family emergencies, for example. Re-read their email, text, or whatever method of contact the student used to cancel. After enough time teaching online, you may find yourself developing wizard-like lie detection capabilities (those of you who’ve taught in a classroom already have that skill intact).
Basically, you’ll need to trust what your instincts tell you.
If it really feels as though the student is making up an excuse, you as the teacher have every right to charge them for the lesson. Perhaps they didn’t complete homework, aren’t that dedicated to what is being taught that day, or just plain don’t want to get online. No matter the reason, it’s their loss, and your paycheck shouldn’t take the hit.
Have a cancellation policy listed on your website
A general cancellation policy will save you stress down the line. It gives you something to direct potential and current students to before an issue arises. It also provides a leg to stand on if a student is upset for being charged. By signing up for lessons, the student agrees to your terms of service, and that includes the pre-determined cancellation policy.
Additionally, just having a policy that students can reference will in many cases make students less likely to cancel at the last minute unless there really is a sickness or emergency. Should I charge students for cancelling at the last minute? Generally, yes, if they’ve seen your cancellation policy. They know what to expect, and shouldn’t be surprised.
Re-schedule within the same week
Re-scheduling within the same week can make for a legitimate compromise. Of course, this depends on your availability as well as the students. When this happens, you’re still giving the lesson, the student is still receiving the lesson, and there is no interruption to the payment schedule.
In addition to saving a conversation over whether or not to charge, this also keeps lessons on track. Don’t let those pesky 24-hour bugs put your student a full week behind!
Ask students to pay for a set of lessons upfront
Perhaps paying for four or five lessons at a time, prior to the first lesson each month, is an option for students known for flakiness. If they’ve already paid, they’ll be more inclined to get their money’ worth.
Setting up recurring payments is a great option. This takes the hassle of asking for money off your plate. It also saves the student from having to remember to fill an invoice or bring a check with them.
Schedule lessons in blocks, then offer time off
For ongoing students, the repetition of the grind can wear on them after a while. Many teachers have adopted a system of six weeks on, two weeks off, or something along those lines. Instead of having to cancel a class in order to get a break, students (and teachers!) have a break point to look forward to.
As an added bonus, this can also help with the formulation of lesson plans. Build around the blocks, with some sort of cumulative goal or assignment due upon the last lesson.
The bottom line
Should students be billed for cancelling a class at the last minute? The short answer is yes. However, there are going to be situational circumstances where you may wish to forgive. Like we discussed earlier, medical and family emergencies among trusted, long-term students should be forgiven. The last thing a teacher wants to do is upset a consistent student and revenue source.
Teaching online is a business, and should be treated as such. You are providing a service to the student, and they should take it seriously enough to not blow you off.