Every professional pet care business should have an easy to understand cancellation policy.
Things come up, and plans change. Occasionally your clients will need to cancel dog walking or pet sitting visits, sometimes without giving you much notice. Having a fair cancellation policy can prevent cancellations from getting out of control and can protect you, your staff, and your best clients. It can also save you time and prevent misunderstandings that could occur without transparent policies in place.
Why Every Pet Sitter Needs a Cancellation Policy
As a pet sitter, your time is valuable, and there's a limit to how many visits you can schedule each day or within each time block. There will be times when you have to turn away clients because you're fully booked. When a client cancels at the last minute, it may be too late to fill their spot with another client, and if you already turned away other clients, not charging for the cancellation means a loss for your business. Having a policy that discourages cancellations also helps you better serve your best customers by ensuring that you're only reserving space on your schedule for clients who actually intend to use your services.
What the cancellation policy entails is entirely up to you. You can have a very lenient cancellation policy if that's what you prefer, but don't leave yourself open to being taken advantage of by not having any policy at all. Your best clients may not cancel excessively or for frivolous reasons, but unfortunately, it's unlikely that every one of your clients will be like that. Figure out what you would consider unreasonable in terms of the number, frequency, or amount of notice for cancellations, and put a fair policy in place to protect your business. Once you decide on your cancellation policy, make sure to include it in your pet sitting contract so it's easy for your clients to see and agree to before services are performed.
Deciding on a Fair Cancellation Policy
A cancellation policy not only needs to be fair to your clients but also suitable to you and your staff. Every pet sitting company has different needs and goals and different clients, so what works for cancellations for one business might not be what's best for you. Here are some things to think about when deciding on a cancellation policy:
How far in advance do your clients typically book? If your clients typically book weeks or months in advance, you're unlikely to be able to fill an open slot on your schedule when a client cancels with only a few days' notice.
How far in advance are you typically fully booked? If you're frequently finding yourself fully booked and having to turn clients away, you can't afford to be holding spaces on your schedule for clients who may cancel at the last minute after it's too late to fill that spot with another client.
How much notice do you feel you and your staff deserve? Even if you're not fully booked and turning away clients, when you have set aside time to serve clients, it's reasonable to expect to still be paid for your time when services are canceled on short notice.
What kind of clients do you want or not want? If you don't want clients who don't respect your time and frequently cancel on short notice, one of the easiest ways to deter them is to have and enforce a cancellation policy. Any client who truly values you is unlikely to have any issues with a reasonable cancellation policy; in fact, these types of clients would probably insist on paying you even if you didn't have a cancellation policy.
How many cancellations are too many? It's simplest to have a cancellation policy that you enforce every time a client cancels on short notice. Still, some pet sitters prefer to only charge for cancellations if a particular client cancels too often. If you decide to do this, make sure your cancellation policy clearly defines how many free cancellations you allow, so clients know what to expect.
How much will you charge for cancellations? You could charge clients the full price of the canceled service or just a portion of it. Again, think about what's fair to both you and your clients when deciding on your cancellation fee.
Should your cancellation policy be the same for all services and all times of the year? Sometimes it can make sense to have different cancellation policies for different scenarios. If you typically experience higher demand for your services around major holidays, you could require more notice or charge a higher fee for holiday cancellations. Or you may want to have a stricter cancellation policy for Overnights since each sitter can only do one Overnight visit per day. Some companies have different cancellation policies for daily dog walking and vacation visits, either being more flexible with cancellations for dailies because they are regular customers or giving dailies a discounted rate and being less flexible with cancellations because they're receiving a lower rate in exchange for having a consistent schedule.
To help you set holiday fees for your business, we've created a Holiday Fee Calculator Tool that provides the national averages for flat rate and percentage-based fees for the most common US holidays. We also have a detailed Guide to Setting Holiday Fees for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers.
Making Clients Aware of Your Cancellation Policy
Once you've decided on a cancellation policy, you need to make sure your clients know about it.
The most important place to put your cancellation policy is in your client contract so that you have it in writing that your clients have agreed to it. Time To Pet allows you to create a custom Portal Policy Agreement for your business. This is a great place to add it. But since clients don't always thoroughly read contracts or may not remember your policy if it's been a while since they signed it, it's a good idea also to include it:
At Meet & Greets – Go over your cancellation policy and any other policies you want clients to be aware of as part of your Meet & Greet.
On confirmation emails – Include a note about your cancellation policy when your first confirm bookings with clients and when you send them any reminders about upcoming services. (In Time To Pet, you can customize your default confirmation email language to include this in your Language Settings)
On your website – Consider having a "Policies" page on your site where your list all of your company's policies, including your cancellation policy, or adding your cancellation policy to your "Services" page.
Enforcing Your Cancellation Policy
The easiest way to enforce your cancellation policy is to require payment for services in advance. This way, when a client cancels, you can just deduct the cancellation fee from what the client has already paid and give them credit or a refund for any remaining amount instead of having to ask the client to pay a cancellation fee.
It's common to worry that enforcing your cancellation policy will upset clients and cause them to take their business elsewhere, but with any policy, you can't let your fear of losing clients prevent you from doing what is right for you and your business. Remind yourself that you set your policies to be fair to both you and your clients and that if a client has a problem with a reasonable cancellation policy, they probably aren't the kind of client you really want.