Online booking: Reflections
I recognise I am in a unique position that allows me “privilege” to operate my business transparently. In general, I don’t feel the weight of stigma. I find clients very cooperative and agreeable. I have always lived my life with transparency. It’s something I personally hold with great value, an essential trait for anyone I allow in my life. I often tell people their experiences of stigma are often second-hand at best: it is not possible to truly experience stigma when you do not identify as a sex worker. Identifying as a sex worker involves social and public identify; identity outside of your inner circle (of acceptance and comfort).
Many people value my opinions, although they may not necessarily wholly agree with them. I ask that people understand they are a result of working full face and experiencing stigma to “full extent”. Examples and statements made are not intended to be offensive. They are generalisations. They do not apply to all providers, they are my own personal opinions from observing the policies of others, my feelings as a general consumer and the feedback I have received from clients after implementing my booking system.
These are my observations of online booking systems and deposit receptiveness.
1: Everybody profiles others. There are internalised equations to trust.
Being full-face and identifying as a sex worker is a considerable factor associated with deposit receptiveness. Sex work is a business, all businesses have a “trust factor”. Businesses without professional presentation (ie. contactable telephone numbers, well-presented websites) do not instill the average client with trust to pay a deposit. New providers increasingly rely on directories as their primary source of advertising and income rather than investing in websites. Not only is this poor business practice, it makes a business appear unprofessional and reduces the “trust factor”.
High-Class marketing preaches for an allure of mystery, exclusivity and seeming unavailable; it claims that will yield high-net clients and increase demand and value. Elements of this theory are true, but bread and butter clients should be a realistic primary focus for most providers.
Considering the nature of our business and the repercussions for clients if their significant others were to find out about their choice to visit an escort, it is understandable many are concerned with their personal information being handled carelessly. Most providers are professionally conducted business women, types that are discrete and have organised data handling systems. The industry is coined Punting for a reason, however, and more than a few bad eggs exist.
Operating with transparency will always benefit your business. I provide all clients with receipts for deposits. Providing a receipt is a legal requirement of doing business, being a sex worker and my safety being at risk does not change the law. I receive their billing information as per their credit card provider, the exchange of information is fair. I have had no problems.
Blurring your face, having no number listed, vague information about your incall location or touring location, no website, and a no review policy is a personal choice (you have every right to make these choices) - please understand the deposit you are asking for is a large amount of money. Ripping someone off won’t buy you a house, but if the shoe was on the other foot and a faceless, nameless service person with no listed business information and/or ability to get your money back if they failed to follow through on their promises) you would send the money to them in good faith? I didn't think so...
2: Always be clear, try to be fair
Deposits are an area of uncertainty, confusion, and suspicion for many - it is essential providers explain the policies attached to deposits. I consider myself to be a fair and reasonable person. I always ask myself, how is the sex industry different to any other? Why should I apply different rules apply to me?
I am very clear about what will happen to the deposit if they want to move their appointment or cancel entirely. The information is provided several times throughout my website, the exact terms and conditions applicable to their booking are listed on my online form through multiple stages.
Clients are able to cancel without penalty, with reasonably short notice. The calculation is reflective of the time it takes to get ready and the space needed for scheduled appointments. My terms are generous, only one client has ever requested their deposit back. I don’t know why
I assume it’s because I only ask for 10-20% and I am a very fair business person? If you are respectful, you receive respect in return.
I have read deposit policies that are non-refundable, requesting 20-50% of the appointment cost. My clients are very busy people - much busier than me - implementing online booking was to help us both. Restrictive cancellation policies seem opportunistic. The nature of my business is discretion and flexibility; clients are married and have dependents. I do not have significant other, I am not hiding behaviours and spending from another person, I have not been blessed with a family. When I consider these factors, it would be unfair to impose strict cancellation policies and large deposits. “Out” or blurred, we all know hard it can be to manage a life with excuses and sneaking around. No one likes losing money! People have families to support are particularly sensitive to these losses. Quite often, no one else has requested the same appointment time, a change of mind does not affect your schedule, it’s merely an administrative inconvenience - a part of doing business. I allow changes on prepaid non-refundable bookings. I ask for sufficient notice, the truth is, I will always try to accommodate someone than risk losing them as a future client.
3: There is less of a sting handing over money to people who seem grateful receiving it
Educating clients on the role of deposits and their importance is crucial. A negative attitude that accompanies statements such as “my time is valuable”, “only time wasters refuse to pay deposits” and other passive-aggressive rhetoric is not winning you any favours or attracting customers.
I offer confirmed booking with deposits or standby appointments that will be confirmed closer to the date. I have tried to reiterate the importance and benefits of them, but my soapbox ends there.
It can be very easy to paint a misinformed picture of someone and their character from social media. Tweets and write-ups I have seen about deposits seem grandiose, self-entitled and aggressive. Calling someone awful names as they are not comfortable paying one, is not going to convert them into a paying customer (or deposit payer!). It is more likely they are going to think what an aggressive, entitled brat; next!
We all are guilty of occasionally snapping at idiots or having a few too many wasted words with time wasters. A person does not understand or is not comfortable with your policy is not a bigot. They have not done or said anything offensive. They are not going to pay one to you - or anyone else in the future - if treated with disdain. All the interaction does, is makes them an angrier person, someone that holds more angst toward sex workers.
It pays to be professional, courteous and patient. Simply reiterate your policy, ask them if they have any concerns or questions (and check if it’s just a matter of them requiring flexibility) and try to convince them to reconsider. You work in customer service, always assume a person knows nothing and requires educating from the base level up. Dictating and educating are not the same thing.
4; Understand your client
There are an influx of ladies touring internationally.Understand, deposits are unlikely to be paid in some countries. Digital currency is often the most common method of payment, websites such as Paypal sometimes do not work. Due to the behaviour of local workers in some destinations, asking for a deposit may arouse negative suspicions. These rules apply for overseas visitors traveling to your country.
4: Provide incentive
Deposits and prepayment are something that works best with incentive. I provide small discounts for full prepayment, around 40% of my clients of those using the online booking system opt for non-refundable prepayment in exchange for a discount of 10-20%.
When it’s not possible to provide incentive, often incentive can be provided by penalising those who choose options providing less financial commitment or payment.
Considering a rate rise? Raise your rates even higher than you were thinking, but keep them the rate existing older rate for those choosing to pay in full or pay deposits.
Technology changes many industries. The general consumer-trend is people will part with money upfront if the transaction is more convenient than the regular method, and even more so if there is a discount offered for the method they choose. There are clients who don’t like carrying around cash or have anxiety about losing it. If payment upfront interests you, seriously consider small discounts for prepayment - there isn’t an industry it has failed in. People are often receptive to the 5-10% discount for direct debit payment for their utilities.
It’s difficult to give exact numbers. I do not use the system in China. I do not ask clients I have seen before for deposits. I am not interested in having one up on people or appearing to be busier than I am. There are weeks I am too busy to be free, or by chance, I only received bookings where cash was paid on the day.
I currently receive around 1-5 online bookings a week. It may seem unimpressive, but it’s simply an option. I do not enforce the policy, it is optional. 5-20 people in a month using the system in its initial stages is a fantastic response. Of course, I hope more continue to use it. I can confidently say it has been successful.
I would encourage girls to continue to ask for deposits (and I am very happy to tell you about the online booking system I use, if you would like information), but I would also encourage them to be mindful and reflective about how trustworthy they come across on paper and steps they could take to encourage people to pay for them.
I have not had anyone tell me my request was unreasonable. I have had some men tell me they are unable to, they are married. I tried to change their mind, I hope to turn those inquiries into paying customers one day.