You run a small service business and work hard to provide great experiences for your clients. But what happens when a client cancels an appointment at the last minute or doesn’t show up at all? As a business owner, unexpected cancellations and no-shows can wreak havoc on your schedule and bottom line.

The solution? Implement an effective cancellation policy. It should include details like notice periods, booking fees, and a phone number to call to request a cancellation. To help you out, we’ve shared some cancellation policy templates that you could copy, and tips for crafting a policy that fits your business and typical appointment lead times.

What is a cancellation policy?

A cancellation policy outlines the rules and conditions around the cancellation of services or reservations provided by a business. For a small business owner, a cancellation policy is crucial as it helps set clear expectations for customers regarding cancellations, no-shows, refunds, or any associated fees.

Crafting a well-defined cancellation policy is essential for a small business to manage its operations efficiently, minimize revenue loss due to cancellations, and ensure fair treatment of both the business and its customers. A transparent and easily accessible cancellation policy not only protects your business from potential losses but also fosters trust and reliability with customers by providing clarity on what to expect in case of cancellations.

What to include in your small business cancellation policy

You’ll need to customize your cancellation policy for your business’ needs, but here are some points that should be part of every cancellation policy.

Notice periods

Tell customers how much advance notice you require for cancellations and rescheduling, so you have adequate time to fill the empty slot. For most service businesses, 24 to 48 hours’ notice is typical, but you can adjust this according to the amount of time it takes you to fill an empty slot, how long you spend preparing for an appointment, and whether or not you have a waiting list.

Cancellation fees

It’s reasonable to set fees for cancellations within your permitted notice period, usually as a percentage of your regular service fee. For example, you might charge 50% of the fee if they cancel within 48 hours. Remind clients that if they cancel closer to the time, they’ll have to pay the full cost of a session, and only waive fees for unavoidable emergencies.

Rescheduling policy

As well as setting a notice period for rescheduling, limit how often a client can reschedule before being subject to cancellation penalties. If a client frequently cancels or reschedules, consider terminating your contract.

Exceptional situations

You’ll need to waive or reduce a cancellation fee for when people have to cancel due to unavoidable emergencies. Make sure to specify those situations so customers know what to expect. Some exceptions you may want to consider include medical emergencies, deaths in the family, and weather events like snowstorms that make travel dangerous.


Send appointment reminder emails and text messages, and make phone calls ahead of the scheduled appointment. This minimizes last-minute cancellations and no-shows.

Contact methods

Make it easy for customers to cancel or reschedule, so that they don’t end up missing the notice period just because they couldn’t get through. Share a phone number for cancellations, and use an online booking system so they can reschedule independently, 24/7.

A solid cancellation policy, combined with appointment reminders, protects your time and income. While it may seem strict, it shows your clients you value their time as much as your own.

How to inform clients of your cancellation policy

Once you’ve created a solid cancellation policy, you need to make sure that every customer knows about it. That requires sharing it on every communication channel you own, including your business website and social media channels.

It’s a good idea to post a copy of it in your business location, like your office, salon, or studio, and put a brief version of it on your online booking page, together with a link to the full policy. Some businesses require new clients to sign or check a box to confirm that they’ve read and understood the cancellation policy before they can finalize their first appointment. This helps avoid arguments and bad feeling if you need to apply cancellation penalties.

When do you send a cancellation policy to a client?

It’s best to communicate the cancellation policy to clients multiple times throughout their engagement with your services. You should send it to them as soon as possible, ideally before they schedule an appointment. Include it with the initial documentation or contract that you send when clients book your services, and on your online booking page alongside the booking widget. This ensures that clients are aware of the terms and conditions right from the start.

Additionally, it’s prudent to remind clients of the cancellation policy at relevant points of contact, such as in appointment confirmations, reminders, and in any welcome or introductory email or phone call after the customer has made a booking. This time you don’t need to include the full policy, just reiterate it in brief, like:

“We require a minimum of 24 hours notice if you need to reschedule or cancel your scheduled appointment on [date] at [time]. Cancellations within 24 hours may incur a cancellation fee of [50%] of the treatment cost.”

Regularly reinforcing the cancellation policy helps in ensuring that clients are consistently aware of the terms, reducing misunderstandings, and fostering a transparent and fair relationship between your business and its clients.

Cancellation policy templates

Your cancellation policy needs to be customized to your business, but a cancellation policy template can be a great place to start. There are plenty of cancellation policy templates online, and we’ve included 3 to get you started.

Cancellation policy template #1: the short and sweet

[Company Name] Cancellation Policy:

Cancellations made via [email to [email protected] / phone at 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx] more than [48 hours] before an appointment will be subject to a rebooking fee of [$50]. Cancellations made [48 hours] or less before an appointment will be subject to the full session fee of [$100].

Cancellation policy template #2: the detailed and businesslike

[Company Name] Cancellation Policy:

Once you have booked an appointment with us, we reserve time in our schedule exclusively for you. If you cancel your appointment less than [48 hours] before it is scheduled to take place, you will be subject to a [penalty/fee/rebooking charge] of [$50].

To avoid a cancellation fee, please provide cancellation notice at least [48 hours] prior to your appointment.

You can cancel or reschedule an appointment by emailing us at [[email protected]], texting [xxx-xxx-xxxx], or calling our office at [xxx-xxx-xxxx].

Cancellation policy #3: the friendly and explanatory

[Company Name] Cancellation Policy:

Please know that I value both your time and our time. When we set up an appointment, I dedicate time to focus on your project, as well as spending time in advance to prepare. This allows me to come to the meeting ready and to give you the best possible service.

I understand emergencies happen and you might need to cancel or reschedule. If something should arise and you do need to cancel, please contact me as soon as possible to reschedule via [email to [email protected] / phone at 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx].

To avoid being charged a cancellation fee, please make sure you contact us at least [48 hours] ahead of your scheduled appointment. We’ll have to charge a fee of [$50] for cancellations requested within [48 hours] of your appointment time.

How to prevent last-minute cancellations

The best way to prevent last-minute cancellations and no-shows is to send reminders. This helps your clients notice a scheduling clash early enough that they can cancel within your permitted notice period, ensures they don’t accidentally forget to come, and gives clients plenty of time to let you know if they need to reschedule due to an unavoidable emergency.

It’s best to send booking confirmations and appointment reminders through multiple channels, like through both email and text message. When you send appointment reminder emails or texts, be sure to include:

  • Your business phone number, so clients can call to cancel or reschedule
  • The time frame required for cancellation without penalty
  • Any booking fees that may be charged

You’ll want to send a number of appointment reminders, not just one. Consider sending a confirmation email just after they book, a reminder email a week before, and a text message the evening before their appointment and/or a couple of hours in advance. In each reminder, reiterate your cancellation policy so clients are fully aware of the requirements.

The easiest way to send reminders is through vcita’s all-in-one business management solution. The platform automates appointment reminder emails and SMS messages, so you don’t have to remember to send them manually. Just set the frequency that you want reminders to arrive, and you’re good to go. A quick reminder can reduce the chances of wasted time and lost revenue from missed appointments.

A cancellation policy can help your business grow

With the right cancellation policy in place, you’ll have a much easier time managing your schedule and keeping your business running smoothly. You’ll reduce irritation among your customers because they’ll know the requirements for cancellations and rescheduling, and for yourself too. Using tools like appointment reminder emails and texts and clearly communicating your cancellation policy details sets the right expectations with your clients and minimizes frustrations for everyone. Your clients will appreciate the clear communication and you’ll minimize wasted time and lost revenue from missed appointments.