Your Client Cancelled Their Event… Now What?
Changed plans, scheduling conflicts, cold feet, illness, accidents… There are dozens of different reasons why your client might decide to cancel their event, but all of them leave you in the same position: an event planner without an event to plan!
It’s not that your clients are out to get you (most of the time), but cancelled events can be tough on your business, especially if you’ve had to turn away other clients to focus on the event-that-never-was. Cancellations are often outside of your client’s control, so you could find yourself out of work the day before—or even the day of—the event. So what can you do to protect your business when your clients end up bailing?
Look for warning signs
When it comes to the consultation, go with your gut. Your experience as a professional event and wedding planner has probably taught you how to tell if a potential client will be a good fit for you or not. As well as looking out for clients who’ll be tough to work with, keep an eye out for signs that your client might flake out on you.
Sometimes it’s tough to get a feel for a client right away, though, so keep this in mind during the early stages of the planning process as well. If your client doesn’t answer your emails or phone messages, misses meetings with you, or just doesn’t seem committed to the event you’re supposed to be working on for them, consider whether you should cut your losses early and fire them.
This won’t help you when it comes to last-minute emergency cancellations, but it can keep you from landing yourself with more cancellations than you have to.
Include a cancellation policy in your contract
We can’t stress this enough—a cancellation policy is absolutely essential in every contract you sign with a client.
Policies will vary from event planner to event planner, depending on their payment system and the types of services they offer. Here are some points to keep in mind when creating your own:
- How much notice do clients need to give you before cancelling an event?
- Under what circumstances (if any) will they be refunded? How much will they be refunded?
- What happens if the client cancels because of a mistake or breach of contract on your end?
- Is the deposit refundable?
- Is there a cancellation fee?
- Will you treat voluntary cancellations the same as cancellations for emergency situations like illness, accidents, or personal losses?
- Will your client receive a refund if you fire them?
- If they give you notice and cancel for a good reason, will you give them credit towards a future event?
Depending on the range of planning services you offer, you may want to create different cancellation policies to suit different events. Include this policy in the contract you sign with your clients when you take them on. A client who refuses to sign is a client you don’t want to work with.
Pro tip: If your client does cancel, get it in writing on the day of the cancellation to avoid running into legal trouble down the road.
Contact the venue, vendors, and guests
Do this ASAP after you find out the event has been cancelled. Your professional relationship with the venue and your vendors may let you negotiate a partial refund for your client on any deposits, but do respect them as fellow industry professionals and remember that they have to protect their businesses, too.
Unless you’ve made a special agreement with your client, you’re not actually responsible for informing guests. It’s your job to invite them, not uninvite them. Depending on the situation, though, you might want to sit down with your client and help them figure out how best to get the word out.
Offer support to your client
Obviously this depends on why the event was cancelled. Should you support a client who bailed on you at the last minute for no good reason? No way!
Cancellations due to serious illness, personal loss, accidents, or relationship problems are a totally different story, though. A charity gala organizer who needs an unexpected surgery may no longer be able to carry through with the event—and an engaged couple who have decided to break up clearly won’t want to go forward with the wedding.
If you can, sit down with your client and sort out how to go about cancelling with venues and vendors, pulling any marketing, and informing guests. Sending a card offering your condolences is also a thoughtful gesture for clients going through a tough time.
After that, it’s up to you. Unless it’s part of your contract, deciding to help your client inform their guests or offering credit towards a future event is your choice, not your obligation.
Pro tip: It’s not a bad idea for wedding planners to keep the names and numbers of a few good relationship counselors on hand. No wedding planner wants to see their clients go through a breakup, but unfortunately it does happen.