Tutors: Everything you wanted to know about student cancellations and how to deal with them.

Cancellations – a roadblock to effective tutoring

In general, the financial risk posed to tutors by clients who don’t intend to pay is quite low. This risk is heightened when a client asks for a one-off tuition session or service such as proofreading, and strict payment in advance is advisable in these cases.

However, when dealing with more regular clients, the main problem that arises is the late cancellation or ‘no show’. This article distils the wisdom of experienced tutors who have learnt how to deal with this.

Encourage commitment from the outset

It is far better to take steps to avoid cancellations instead of having to charge for them.

Many tutors find that a consultation lesson is helpful. Not only does it mean you can understand the client’s requirements and gain their trust, it also enables you to judge whether they are likely to be reliable. Some tutors offer a consultation lesson for free, at a reduced fee, or for a shorter length of time than a standard lesson.

Experienced tutors often ask for payment in advance. This helps to encourage commitment and to avoid financial risk if the student cancels.  Strategies include:

  • payment in advance for a whole term’s lessons.
  • payment in advance for a block of 4, 6 or 10 lessons.
  • payment online a week in advance for each lesson.
  • payment by cheque, Paypal, bank transfer, or through an online payment system on the tutor’s website.
  • offering incentives for block booking, such as a 10% discount.

Communicate your terms clearly

It is strongly advisable to communicate your terms and conditions to new clients in writing before lessons begin. These can be sent as an email, included as part of a Tutoring Agreement document, or posted on your own website.

In addition, it is more difficult to charge for cancellations unless you discuss your terms in person with the new client. Take the opportunity to let clients know why you have such a policy: not only does a late cancellation mean that you are left without an income, but other clients will potentially miss out on that time slot.

Only your own experience will help you create terms which are right for you. However, terms often include the following:

  • full (or 50% of) tuition fees payable unless the lesson is cancelled 24 (or 48) hours in advance.
  • the possibility of rescheduling the lesson, but only at the tutor’s discretion.
  • recognition of extenuating circumstances such as illness.

Some tutors use their terms to explain what happens if the tutor has to cancel the lesson. Introducing a degree of reciprocity in your terms can be popular with clients, and can demonstrate your commitment and professionalism.

As with your teaching practice itself, high expectations and clarity encourage respect and commitment from clients, and too much leniency actually has the opposite effect.

Be flexible to maintain goodwill

Having said this, a robust cancellation policy gives you the opportunity to show discretion and flexibility in applying your terms, which many tutors see as very important. This is because demonstrating flexibility builds goodwill, and being too business-like or officious can actually be bad for business.

With this in mind, some tutors do not charge for a late cancellation the first time it happens. You can let the client know that you would have to charge in future, and can take the opportunity to remind them of your terms.

Likewise, although experienced tutors do not reward lateness by adding the time onto the end of the lesson, you may choose to do so if it is a rare occurrence.

It may be surprising, but some experienced tutors do not charge for cancellations at all. With long-term, reliable clients regular attendance and goodwill can actually outweigh the benefit of charging for cancellations.

Confidence and clarity

Finally, dealing with cancellations well requires you to be clear in your own mind about what is acceptable and what isn’t, and to have the confidence to communicate your terms in a professional but friendly manner. The options discussed here should help you do that.

Anything else, and you will find that either the client or circumstances will dictate the terms rather than you.

You will find a sample Tutor Agreement in The Tutor Pages e-book for tutors, and comprehensive tips for tutors on our tutor advice page.