Gift Certificate Anxiety

This is the time of year when visions of gift certificate sales dance in our heads. It's so easy to write out one of those little beauties and hand it over in exchange for some fat cash. It takes so little time, you don't need to have a license to make the transaction, and those sales really come in handy around the holidays.
Pushing gift certificate sales is a great idea for someone who's still building her clientele, or in a salon where there are enough technicians that those certificates can be spread out among the staff or used for retail products.
But what do you do once you're busy? I'm a personal subscriber to the "no such thing as a full book" philosophy, but I'm still booked about 85%-95% most of the time (or at least, I was, before the broken wrist; we'll see how things go once I'm back at work in January). That leaves room for about one or two more clients to get squeezed in each week — if I've scheduled wisely and that two hours and 20 minutes is available in a solid block, not spread out in 15 minute increments between all the other appointments on the schedule.
I don't really want to encourage my regular clients to go asking for gift certificates for my services from their loved ones. Those clients are going to come in and pay me whether they have a gift certificate or not. I'm far too irresponsible to collect a bunch of money for their services in the form of gift certificates and still remember that I'm not actually doing those clients for free when they use their gift certificate long after I've spent the money.
But at least, with regular clients, I have some security in knowing that the client will actually use the certificate ... so I can go ahead and spend the money.
Selling gift certificates to strangers for strangers means that there's a real probability the recipient will never call. If they do, I might not be able to get them in. Which means that I need to have the money on hand to offer to buy back the certificate (yes, I think that's the right thing to do.) I could just insist that the certificate never expires and suggest the client call back in six months ... or next year. But that just seems like bad business.
These days I sell very few certificates. I just can't accommodate them anymore. Before you promote your gift certificate sales, think about how realistic it will be to try to book all those new customers — I promise you, it does not make for a happy client who can't get in to use her gift.

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