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Top 10 tips on how to eliminate no-shows and last minute cancellations in your practice

by Samantha Jenkins January 16, 2019

Two empty massage tables in a spa

No-shows and cancellations are a problem for any business.

How can we as massage therapists protect our business from the losses involved when our patients fail to appear?

We have seen this question crop up repeatedly and is perhaps one of the biggest frustrations you will encounter in the day to day running of your therapy business. So we've gathered the best tips, based on our own experience and from speaking with you our customers, to support massage therapists with this frustrating problem!  

As massage therapists, we will all be at different stages of our business. For some of you, a few of these tricks and tips might be familiar but may have a new angle or approach you haven’t tried. As clients come and go and as the pace of life gets faster and habits change, what has worked for previous and current clients may not work for your new clients coming onto the books. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by reviewing your policies now!

By the end of these ten tips, you will have an arsenal of tricks to be able to reduce no-shows and cancellations, work with great clients and protect the bottom line of your massage therapy business.


1. Write a clear and concise cancellation policy

If you are starting out your career as a massage therapist, your first step should be to create a concise cancellation policy for your business. This can take many forms and you need to decide which route feels best for you.

If you have already been in the massage therapy business a while, it is worth taking the time to reflect on whether your cancellation policy is clear and concise. Having a complicated cancellation policy is the quickest way to anger clients and lose their business. Or if you are finding it difficult to enforce your policy in its’ current form, it might be time to switch up your approach.

For example, your policy might include;

  • Allowing clients to reschedule their appointments up until 24 hours before. Possibly the easiest policy to implement, it displays an element of goodwill to your customers and greatly reduces no-shows.   
  • Charging a flat fee for any appointments cancelled within less than 24 hours. Charge a smaller amount such as £10-20 for cancellations where you receive notice and increase this for no-shows. This will deter no-shows but shouldn’t scare any potential clients away.
  • Charging between 50-100% of the cost of the treatment for any cancellations within 24 hours and no-shows.
  • Charging a flat fee for no-shows and enforcing a deposit for future appointments if the client has cancelled or not turned up once already.
  • Removing clients from your books who have 2 or more no-shows within a year.
  • Asking new clients, especially those who are not a referral from an existing client, to prepay for their appointments or pay a deposit.


Once you iron out your cancellation policy make sure you display it in several ways, so clients can be sure you mean business!

Have a dedicated page for your cancellation policy on your website, display it clearly on the walls in your clinic and waiting room, add it to the bottom of emails you send out to confirm appointments and include it in any induction forms. The policy may be too long for s single SMS or WhatsApp message but you can text the client a link to the cancellation policy on your website. Most importantly, confirm verbally with the new client that they have read and understand your cancellation policy.

Now your cancellation policy is in place what can you do to make sure you can implement it effectively and reduce no-shows and last minute cancellations for your massage business?

Smiling female massage therapist stood in practice with her arms crossed

2. Take a deposit

Taking a deposit can be a little nerve-wracking but by securing a deposit not only do you reduce the risk of no-shows you also demonstrate the value of your time and expertise. Have confidence in the value of your work and keep the conversation light. People can tell when you are nervous or stressed and there is no reason for this practice to be seen as abnormal. If a client pushes back, calmly explain that you require a deposit as a reservation so the time slot cannot be taken by another client.


3. Take Credit Card details

If you are too nervous about taking a deposit or your clients don’t take well to this approach an alternative can be to request card details simply to reserve the space.

You can then point to your cancellation policy and reassure clients these details are taken to enable you to enforce this policy. Most clients will be happy to provide these details having already agreed to your cancellation policy.


Cancellation policy advice from Sonji L. Wilkins Facebook post


Cancellation policy advice from Sonji L. Wilkins Facebook post

4. Reconfirm your massage appointments

Set aside time in your schedule to call clients to remind them of appointments in the coming days. Without scheduling this time in, it is easy for this task to fall off your to-do list and for you to miss the opportunity to catch any potential cancellations or no-shows.


Cancellation policy advice from Facebook post from Dagmar Heřmánková


Calls are definitely the most effective way to check in with clients, but if you are really struggling to find the time you can use a service like Text Magic or Appointfix to both automate and personalise reminder text messages.

So your client is booked in and you have

  • Made sure they are aware of the cancellation policy
  • Taken a deposit or card details to secure the booking
  • Called or texted to remind them of their massage appointment

    but you still end up with a no-show or a last minute cancellation!

    What else can you do to make sure clients respect your business and keep their massage appointments?


    5. Send a follow-up message

    Everyone makes mistakes or can have circumstances that change unexpectedly. Being understanding will help weed out the clients who don’t respect your time and those who have had a genuine issue with attending their appointment. Send your client a quick message to check in, wish them well and gently remind them of your appointment. Mention they will be charged in accordance with your cancellation policy and encourage them to be in touch to reschedule.


    6. Enforce your cancellation policy

    When enforcing your businesses’ cancellation policy, what works for one massage therapist and their clients might not work for you.

    Follow your gut as to what you feel is fair and will work best for your massage therapy business. Take care to approach each situation calmly, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to be firm!  

    Cancellation policy advice Lottie Arkham facebook post

    However, there may be situations where you want to make an exception….

    For example, if a great client has a bereavement, illness or a situation beyond their control it might be worth cutting them some slack. Express your sympathy, gently point out the usual cancellation policy and then explain the reasons why you will make an exception on this occasion. Make sure the client is aware that this is directly linked to them being such a fantastic customer and the unusual circumstances.


    7. Incentivise prepaid appointments

    It goes without saying that when clients have already paid towards their appointments they are far more likely to attend!

    Offering a promotion or incentive to clients to prepay when booking their appointments can greatly reduce your number of no-shows and create opportunities to build customer loyalty. You could offer your customers;

    • A reduction in treatment cost by 5-10% if they prepay.
    • A series of treatments at a reduced price or with an added bonus. For example, prepay for 5 treatments and receive 10% discount or an extra 15 minutes to add on to one of your treatments.
    • If you have a room within your clinic or time within your schedule for clients to relax after their treatment you can offer them extra time if they prepay for their appointments.


    8. Be more conscientious with your scheduling.

    Sometimes a simple scheduling issue can be the reason behind annoying no-shows and cancellations! 

    Look for any signs the appointment might not be at the best time for the client? If your customer displays any hesitation, offer another time or arrange to call to check in that the time is still suitable. Also, where it is appropriate, try to schedule your clients’ appointment for as soon as possible. This is especially important with new clients, the longer the wait till the next appointment, the more likely they will forget. Also appearing like you are trying to fit people in as soon as you can is a great show of customer service!

    It is important to check in and survey your clients from time to time to make sure your office hours suit their schedules. One reason for no-shows and cancellations can be that clients are struggling to meet your opening hours.

    Finally, it is crucial to keep waiting times down to a minimum. If clients feel like their time is not respected they are not likely to respect yours. 

    9. Get personal

    As we have already seen in our ‘How to grow your massage therapy business in 2019’ blog post, personalisation is key in 2019. Developing personal connections with your clients’ is not only a great way to grow and expand your massage therapy business it is also brilliant for reducing no-shows and cancellations. When a client feels a personal connection to you as their massage therapist they are less likely to disrespect your time.  

    • Use MailChimp to send out a newsletter keeping patients up to date with any important events.
    • Send personalised messages over holidays like Christmas or Easter.
    • Get in touch with a promotion for client’s birthdays like a 10% discount or an extra 15 minutes free when they book their treatment.

    10. Show your gratitude

    Great clients are something to be truly grateful for! Show your appreciation to customers who arrive on time for their appointments. Let them know how much it means to you that they respect your time and you can even offer a reward as a thank you.

    Offering a small discount off their next appointment, arranging a raffle for a gift card or setting up a loyalty card system where clients receive bonus time after 10 appointments, are all great ways to treat your best customers and maintain their loyalty to your massage therapy business.

    Female massage client lying on a massage table smiling

    We would love to hear how you get on with these tricks and tips!

    Is there anything you are doing differently that you would like to share with and to help your fellow therapists?

    Which method has the greatest effect on the number of no-shows and cancellations for your massage therapy business! 

    Let us know and share in the comments below!


    Samantha Jenkins
    Samantha Jenkins


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    Massage Table Size Guide

    Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

    A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

    The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

    1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
    2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

    Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


    The Width of the Massage Table:

    Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

    Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

    Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

    Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

    If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

    Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

    measuring the width of a massage table

    Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

    The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

    You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


    The Height Of the Massage Table

    Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

    A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

    1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
    2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
    3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
    4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

    The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

    You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

    There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

    1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

    If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

    2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

    The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


    Massage Table Shape:

    The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

    1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

    This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

    2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

    Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


    3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

    A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

    This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


    4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
    Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
    5. Oval Shaped

     The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

    oval massage table


    Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!