One of the worst things about being a self-employed ESL teacher is feeling like your income is on a giant yo-yo. One month your up, the next your down and the culprit is often students cancelling.
The problem with cancellations is that a cancelled class = no payment for that class, unless you set your business up differently. Here is a simple 3 point strategy to help alleviate the problem of cancellations:
3 Steps to Protect Your Income from Cancellations
- Create a Cancellation Policy. If you don’t have a policy, you can’t enforce it later. So before you bring on any more students, sit down, open your word processor, and pound one out. Key ingredients: Cancellation terms – how much time you allow for cancellations to be on time (8 hours is my standard. You?) What a late cancellation would be – less than 8 hours notice. Reschedule Conditions – openly explain if/when you will be able to reschedule if students cancel – late cancellations will not be rescheduled, and will be billed for. I will be happy to reschedule with you before the end of the month if you cancel with more than 8 hours notice.
- Create a Payment Policy Another required document is a written explanation of your payment expectations. Clearly state that you charge X in advance for X number of hours. Explain how you want your payment to be made: in cash, via transfer to your bank account, via PayPal etc.
- Share, Sign, and Keep Your Agreements. Your policies are useless unless you share them with your clients on or before class #1. I send my students a digital version of my cancellation and payment policies before we even begin working together. On class one, before beginning, I bring out a paper version of my policies and read through it with my students. I then have them sign the documents, as well as a copy. One copy goes to me, the other goes to them. Remember: If your students don’t sign the agreement, it never happened. Once signed, be sure to keep your copy filed away somewhere safe.
The next time your student cancels late and asks you to reschedule, remind them about your cancellation policy. “I’m sorry, but my cancellation policy is to only reschedule classes cancelled with more than 8 hours notice.” Be kind in how you say it, and let them know that you are happy to reschedule when the proper advance warning is given. You may need to ‘teach’ your clients to follow your policy a little at the start, but I’ve found that with one instance, most clients learn to cancel on time.
IMPORTANT: This policy will only protect your income under two circumstances: 1. You charge in advance. If you aren’t, you should be. 2. If you enforce it. There will be special circumstances, but in general, you should always stick to your guns. If you don’t respect your time, nobody else will.
Important #2 – What to do if you’ve already started If you’ve already started working with a client, and you don’t have any policies in place, it’s not too late! At a natural cut point – say the end of your next class, let them know that you are making some administration changes in how you work. Give students your policies and ask them to read them carefully. Tell them that in two weeks, give them a specific date, you will bring these policy changes in for them to sign if they agree. From that point on, you will manage your classes according to your policy. Done.
Over to you: what have you done to protect your income as a self-employed ESL teacher? Share your strategies in the comments below!