I explain my cancellation policy at the first visit. I require 48 hours for a cancellation. In the event of sudden illness, I make an exception, but I don’t tell clients that until it occurs. I also let the first short notice slide if the client offers to pay for the session. There is some nuance to how I handle cancellations. And for my long term clients, I am more patient. Someone misses one out of ten scheduled times is different than missing four out of ten sessions. I do have a client that misses sessions fairly regularly due to their work. We came to an agreement where they pay half for cancellations less than 48 hours out.
The great clients always offer to pay for their missed sessions. If they are frequent cancellation type of clients, we talk about it and find some solution. I have one other client that pays a little extra to schedule last minute and at odd hours. They call and I fit them in when it is possible. This client often flies back into town and needs to work out the kinks of a long flight and tough business trip.
Basically, I try to work with my clients as professionally as possible. The ones that don’t understand that my time is as valuable as theirs, pay for missed sessions or move on.
As the Fit Pros before me have said, holding and enforcing a 24 hour cancellation policy is a huge help. Clearly state that if you are not notified at least 24 hours prior to the session start time no refund will be issued.
Also, with your clients develop a strong adherence program with each of them. Use what motivates them and remind them of their goals regularly. Get them excited for their session!
Start new clients on a pay up front basis. You will need to perhaps sell a package of training sessions, with discounts for more sessions bought. Your new clients will have this new agreement, in this way you have the leverage to charge or not charge for late or missed sessions depending on your signed agreement. Clients tend to respect your time more when their money is involved.
You could also draw up a short new agreement for present clients, with a 24 hour cancellation clause and have them sign it. It is not that you will have the leverage to enforce it without the money, but at least you are creating more mindfulness of the issue.