It happens. We keep careful records and live by our calendars. But sometimes circumstances change, and we have to cancel performances we committed to. What is the best professional etiquette for those sticky situations?
There are two kinds of situations that require slightly different handling.
First is the emergency situation. It is last minute (the day of the performance or the day before) and unavoidable. Some examples would be illness or injury, family emergency, car breakdown, or a no-show babysitter.
Non-emergency situations are trickier. You are able to give the client more notice, but often you bear more responsibility also. This may be a conflict in your own schedule (double booking), difficulties arranging transportation, or perhaps you want to take a different (better paying) job. By the way, I don’t recommend ditching an engagement because a better one comes along. It’s not polite, responsible, or good for your reputation.
Whatever the situation, the basic response is simple:
- Contact the client immediately
- Apologize and state the problem.
- Help find a solution.
But there are some nuances to the basic system that can help you resolve the situation in the best way possible.
Contact your client personally. This requires voice communication, not a breezy text message.
A sincere apology is required. It’s your emergency, but it’s their wedding.
Accept an appropriate level of responsibility. If you made a mistake in your booking, own up to it. Don’t try to shift the blame or get defensive. On the other hand, if an accident has shut down the highway and you’re stuck in gridlock, the situation is beyond your control.
Be prepared to offer possible solutions. In an emergency situation, you may not be able to be very helpful. But where there is enough time, you should offer to contact replacement players, if your client would like you to do that. They may prefer to take your recommendations and make the phone calls on their own. It is often helpful if you have already found another harpist who is available, so that you can offer an immediate solution to your client.
Be responsive to the client. They may have their own idea for handling the situation. They may be able to offer solutions that you wouldn’t have considered. For example, if your car has broken down, they may have someone who can come pick you up. Or they may be able to change a rehearsal time to help you with a tight time squeeze.
Have names and phone numbers at your fingertips. One of the best resources you can create for yourself is a network of other harpists. Knowing that you have friends you can call and recommend gives you some peace of mind when you really need it. And being willing to help another harpist out of a jam is a great way to make a friend for life.
Have a backup plan. Having a neighbor whose car you might be able to borrow when yours won’t start, or who can watch your child for a few minutes until the sitter arrives so you can get to work on time can turn a potential disaster into a small glitch in your schedule.
Follow up. Check back with the client to apologize again and thank them for the opportunity, whether you played or not. A handwritten note would be a lovely touch. After all, it’s just good manners.