Handling Your Massage Schedule When You Get Sick

It happens. Especially in the winter, and especially with more aggressive cold and flu seasons each year. At some point, you will get sick. You will have to cancel clients. And it stinks. Here are few tips for handling these situations. 

Money in the bank

I cannot overstate this: having some money saved to cover your lost income is crucial. Mandatory, even, for good decision making.

When you have some extra money to cover you, making these decisions becomes 100% easier. The decision becomes less about flirting with poverty and more about doing what is right, for both you and your clients.

Anything, even just one day's average income is better than nothing here. But shoot for at least a week. If you don't have that, start right now. Seriously. Pause reading. Go to your bank website and set up a weekly transfer of whatever you can into a savings account for sick pay. Maybe it's a general emergency account to cover all sorts of out-of-work issues. That's cool.

But get something going, even if you start with $10/week. (And if you need some help with budgeting and creating an emergency fund, start here.) You cannot make good decisions from a place of fear. Get some money in the bank and take that element away completely. 

Making good decisions

It's one thing to keep working when you have a slightly sore knee, or a stuffy head. It's another to see clients when your nose is actively dripping and you have to keep clearing your throat.

So how do you decide? I ask myself a few questions.

Am I contagious?

If there's a risk of passing a virus or bacteria to your clients, full stop. Don't work. A little cold for you could be debilitating pneumonia for a client with compromised immunity. Or they could pass it on to their infant. Or you could pass that virus on to a coworker and cause them to get sick. That's just mean. There are any number of bad outcomes here. So just don't. 

Will working make you more sick or hinder your recovery?

If you've got raging tendonitis and you wake up unable to move your wrist, that's a problem. A day of 6 clients will only make you worse. If you're just a little stuffy and you'll be no worse at the end of the day, it's an easier decision.

There's an awful lot of gray area in this question. I consider 'lack of rest' an important component. The work may not make me more sick, but not resting will slow down my recovery. If I've got 3 busy days scheduled, I'm inclined to cancel the first day to really rest, rather than trying to push through and lose the next 2 days. It's the professional equivalent of putting on your own oxygen mask, before you help those around you. 

We don't always know which direction will help or hurt us. But thinking on it will lead you to the most prudent decision.

Cancelling clients

Once you make the decision to cancel, do it as soon as possible, and in more than one way if needed.

Call the client (or text, if that's how you've reached them previously) and if you have to leave a voicemail, reach out with an email as well.

And here's a trick I learned to save me a whole other layer of stress: Don't reschedule them right now. Wait until you're on the mend. If you cancel all your Thursdays clients, but reschedule them right away for next week, what happens if you're still sick next week? 

Yup. It's a nightmare. You're still sick, and now you have to make a whole other round of phone calls. And you get to spend those few days sick, and stressing about doing all that if you don't get better.

I have been there and it stinks.

When you call to cancel be clear and kind, but not pathetic. "Hi Sue, I'm so sorry, but I need to cancel your appointment for tomorrow morning. I'm not feeling well and and I don't want to risk passing this on to you. I'm not sure how long this will last, so I don't want to reschedule you right now. I'll call you on Monday to set up your next appointment."

 (This script may sound a little different for weekly or biweekly clients. It's easier to just skip the appointment altogether and not worry about fitting in the missed appointment.)

It's okay to leave the situation open-ended. Especially if you give an actual day they can expect to hear from you.

How to Reschedule

Once you're on the mend, you can call clients to get them rescheduled. Resist the urge to go back to work too soon, or give yourself very long workdays to make it up. Really. If you do too much too soon, you'll just get sick again. Or be miserable and give a lousy massage.

If your schedule is very full, rescheduling can be a challenge and you'll need to prioritize. Maybe you can work an extra day to make up the time, maybe you share space and that's just not an option. Every situation is different. All you can do is make your best effort.

My first calls are to reschedule people who had occasional or first-time appointments. Next up are my monthly clients. And if I just have no room in the schedule or they can't fit in the times I have, I suggest we skip the month entirely.

Yes, it's a bummer. For you and the client. But this is a very human business, and sickness happens. Any client who gives you grief is probably not a client worth keeping. Let them go, and don't think about it again.


It takes lots of practice to get this right and to find the solutions that work best for you.

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