Time is money when working for yourself. A cliché, but it’s true. Last-minute cancellations and no-shows are not only annoying, but they can also be expensive for a small business. Maybe you lost out on income from an appointment or spent hours preparing for a job that never got confirmed. Can you invoice someone for wasting your time? The short answer is: probably not, unfortunately.

But there are ways to minimise your losses and avoid wasting more time in the future. Let’s explore some of them:

  • Establish a bulletproof cancellation policy
  • Charge a non-refundable deposit or your full fee upfront
  • Offer paid consultations
  • Turn down flaky clients
  • Offer bulk discounts
  • Automate your booking process

Establish a bulletproof cancellation policy

If a customer cancels, you lose the money they would have paid you. But if they cancel at the last minute, you also lose the chance to offer the appointment time to someone else. One way to avoid suffering this loss is to have a detailed cancellation policy in place. 

If you don’t have a cancellation policy yet, get one. To establish the right policy for your company, consider the industry you are in, how much travel time will be involved (learn about claiming mileage as a business expense here), and how easy it would be to find a new customer.

Charge a portion of your fee to book the job or appointment. According to terms set out in your cancellation policy, the fee will not be refunded if customers cancel or change the booking time last minute. Make sure your cancellation policy is communicated clearly before clients book and pay anything to avoid frustrating them.

In the event of an emergency or if you have a long-term relationship with a client, you can choose not to enforce your cancellation policy, but at least you are in control of that decision.

Customers might also be less likely to cancel their appointments lightly if they’ve already paid a fee to book them. 

Charge a non-refundable deposit or your full fee upfront

If your business isn’t based on appointments but rather on hours of work you put in, you can charge a non-refundable deposit to start the work. 

For example, if you make custom-made oak furniture and a client orders a chair from you. You spend hours discussing the chair they want, perfecting the design, and you order the material. You’re halfway through making the chair, only for them to notify you that they don’t want it anymore. You’re now out of pocket for the material and hours of work. 

But if you charge the price of your chair upfront, you’re in the clear. In this case, it’s crucial to clarify in your terms and conditions that the fee is non-refundable if the customer changes their mind. 

Again, you always have the option not to enforce this policy if you’re able to sell the chair to someone else, for example. Or you can offer to extend a partial refund if maintaining a good relationship is important to you. But at least now you have options. 

Offer paid consultations

Offering paid consultations can help you avoid handing out free advice and spending too much of your precious time on it.

If you’re a specialist in your field, people are likely to turn to you for advice and information. If your consultations offer value but take up a lot of time, don’t be shy about charging for them. Customers with no intention of buying from you could be less likely to ask for advice if it comes with a price tag.

You can always offer to deduct a consultation fee from the service price if a customer ends up using your services. But if not, at least you didn’t walk away with nothing.

Turn down flaky clients

It might seem counterintuitive to turn down any work, especially if you’re newly self-employed and haven’t established a reliable customer base yet. Understandably, you want to take on any work you can get. But sometimes, declining a potentially flaky client is more beneficial in the long run. Learn more about how to create a long-term business strategy here

If a customer seems unreliable or has bailed on you in the past, consider letting them go. This way, you can make more space for reliable clients and experience less chaos in running your business. 

Sometimes, it might help if you speak to your customer and voice your concerns about cancellations. Explain your position and that it’s you that suffers the consequences of cancelled work. It might just be that they haven’t considered how this affects you and that they are happy to find a solution that works for both of you.

Now, if you still decide you want to try and bill someone for wasting your time, you need to make a claim through court. It’s very likely that your customer will not agree to the claim. So for your claim to be successful, you’d have to demonstrate and prove you’ve suffered a loss. You would also have to prove that a customer agreed to pay you for the work you did, which is where your Terms and Conditions and Cancellation Policy will become handy. 

It’s also a good idea to be prepared in case one of your clients ever decides to make a claim against you. That’s where your bulletproof terms and conditions will come in handy. Also, make sure to get insurance to cover you if that ever happens. More on what insurance your small business needs here

Save time and money with the accounting app for the self-employed

Thousands of business owners are using the Countingup app to save time on their financial admin and focus on growing their business. 

Countingup is the business current account and accounting software in one app. It automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin for self-employed people across the UK.

With automatic expense categorisation, receipt capture tools and cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances and save yourself hours of accounting admin, so you can focus on doing what you do best. Find out more here.