The scourge of cancelled bookings

September 20th, 2013

…and what we can do to protect ourselves.
By Hannah Hart.

 Where are we are left when we have a ceremony cancelled, particularly if we’ve already put a lot of work in to it?  Is it reasonable to ask for any / more of our fee  (depending on whether we’ve taken a deposit)?  Is it ethically right to do so?  Or should we just take it on the chin and move on?

This whole issue is something I’ve come to ponder a lot in recently having had six weddings cancelled in the same number of months.   And so this article aims to start a discussion about how to minimise the implications of having ceremonies cancelled and makes some suggestions about ways forward for us as a network.

In my experience, this is an increasing problem  – especially with weddings.  Perhaps  – the fall-out for us is greatest here as they often have long lead-times,  involve more work and are paid an accordingly higher fee.  However, the ideas discussed here apply to all ceremony types.

The Caveats

First, having ceremony cancelled will bother some of us more than others.  Some of you won’t see this as a problem at all – particularly if you are naturally laid-back and financially secure!  But those of us who are more uptight and/or with more need to plan our workload and/or income could probably use some help!

Second, it is accepted that the occasional cancellation is to be expected. Couples split up, family rifts or illness make a get-together seem suddenly inadvisable, people lose their jobs and cut all their discretionary spending.

And of course no one wants to cancel a ceremony.  It’s a horrible decision for the clients to have to make and I’m sure none of us have any desire to kick people when they’re already down…

The Problem

But regardless of our compassion for any particular situation, repeated cancellations cause us  problems.

It’s not just the money we’ll no longer earn.  It’s also about the time and emotional investment we’ve put into preparing the ceremony so far, and possibly also the ‘opportunity cost’ in having turned down enquiries for the same date.

And beyond that there’s an issue of self-respect; of feeling we deserve to be treated like the professionals we are.

Factors within our control (a little bit of control, anyway)

Given the occasional cancellation is inevitable, what can we do to protect ourselves as best we can against their effects?

There are three variables we have some control over:

  1. What you ask for a when (i.e. payment terms)
  2. How this is formalised (i.e. contracts)
  3. Whether you enforce any contract.

How we manage each of these is likely to vary from celebrant to celebrant, and perhaps between clients.

1. Payment Terms

Anecdotally it seems that celebrant are more likely to be cancelled for ceremonies they have not taken a deposit for. Asking for a larger deposit means you are better protected, financially, but how much is too much?  Would it put people off booking you in the first place?

Personally, I used to ask for a £100 deposit for weddings, no matter how far in advance they were.  Now I’m requesting a £200 deposit and have clearly inserted the phrase ‘non-refundable’ on my website.

I then ask for the balance 2 months before the wedding and clients seem quite happy with this.  But I know many celebrants get the balance at the rehearsal.

For namings, when I’ve very rarely had a cancellation and the timescale is shorter, I’m happy to take a small deposit and collect the balance on the day.

As ever, it comes down to personal choice.  But that said, when a lot of time and money are involved in conducting a wedding, I’m very pleased to have the fee well in advance.

2. Contracts

I (usually) sign what I thought was a standard BHA contract, one I think I was given at the time of training.  It turns out it is quite that simple…

And there are occasions I forget to do contracts – or if the wedding is being arranged by Skype, for example, it’s not appropriate anyway.   And I know many celebrants don’t bother.

And although a couple signing the contract I’ve been using are formally accepting my payment terms, this doesn’t mention what happens in the event of cancellation.  Does this mean technically they are still liable for the full amount?

And if there was no contract at all, I have no idea if we’re ‘able’ to request further payment of our fee on the basis of, for example, these explained by email.

Surely spelling out a cancellations policy (e.g. 50% due if cancellation is between 1 and 3 months from the date) would be more transparent and fairer to our clients as well as ourselves.

3. Enforcement

This is the really tricky area!  Even if I*did* have a signed contract with a cancellation policy would I actually enforce it?  Would you?

I don’t think it’s possible to give a hypothetical answer.  It would depend entirely on circumstances, my sense of the couple and what had led them to cancel.   For at the end of the day, we’re all basically decent people.

But having larger deposit – or a deposit at all –  means we’re in a stronger position to be paid appropriately for our efforts than if we’ve been paid very little and already invested a lot of time.

Possible Ways Forward

I propose that, as a network, we should:

  • Research other ceremony-providers’ terms and conditions
  • Produce a customisable contract / terms and conditions document outlining what should be paid when
  • Get legal advice whether we need a contract as such, or it Terms and Conditions, sent to the client, amounts to the same thing.  Is emailing this OK or does it need to be acknowledged and/or signed?
  • Most importantly… ensure whatever we produce outlines precisely what is payable in the event of cancellation.  We could each customise this if we wanted, but having something written and agreed to would take out much the gut-wrenching decision of what is was reasonable to ask for.  (It would still be for each of us to decide, in each situation, whether to enforce such terms, but at least there would be a transparent fee structure if we wished to).

… but I’m very interested to know what other celebrants think and how they have handled such situations in the past.