Hosting a reception for you clients, prospects and "friends of the firm" can be one of the best marketing, networking, PR and business development tools if done correctly. If done wrong, it is a waste of time and money.
The good news is that it can be done easily and without having to spend tons of cash. This is not to imply that it will be cheap, a quality event will involve a financial commitment. However, this investment, depending on the number of attendees, will be no more expensive than running an advertisement in a business publication.
The bad news is that most firms make mistakes that cause them to spend too much money or fail to turn out their targeted guests.
Here are five tips to help you make your next client event a success:
1. Target your local business contacts. Regardless of how many national clients you have, very few people will travel to attend a party, unless you hold in in conjunction with some other type of user meeting or educational seminar (which is a great thing to do, by the way). I have seen many people make the mistake of expecting their contacts from other cities to come to their event. While extending an invitation is a great courtesy, unless they have another reason to be in the area, you should not expect out of town contacts to come to your party. Keep this in mind when planning how many guests you will actually have in attendance.
2. Selecting the venue and day of the week. Where you hold your event has a lot to do with the success of your party. If you are fortunate enough to have a large reception area or nice patio at your place of business, I recommend you hold the party in your own space (as long as you are centrally located to your local business community). It can help keep your costs down as the many hotels and restaurants charge higher rates than a caterer, especially for the alcohol (shop around, you do not NEED the highest priced catering company in your town.....as long as the food is of good quality, nobody will notice).
In addition to the reduced cost, having people visit your establishment helps build a closer bond with them. Clients and others like to see your facility and this gives you a chance to show off your technological and other competitive advantages.
If you do not have an office that can accommodate a large party, then I suggest renting a whole restaurant for a couple of hours. If your party is scheduled early (before their dinner rush), many restaurants will gladly give you part or all of their space if you are expecting enough people. The right bistro can have a much nicer feel than a hotel or country club ball room. Also look to museums or other unique venues that are not the "same old place".
I recommend doing a business cocktail party on a Tuesday or Wednesday night from 5:30 - 7:30 . Monday's are too hectic, and the weekend is family time for many people. Everyone will have an opinion on what day of the week is best, but you want a day that is not going to have a lot of other competing events happening. Don't make your guests choose, hold your event on a "free" night. Also, hosting it at an early hour will allow people with young children to come to your event and still make it home in time to tuck them into bed. Again, do not make them choose, because you might lose!!!
3. Your Guest List. This is an area where many professional services firms short change their party before it even gets started. They limit their list to only clients or other VIP's, and then their short list does not produce enough live bodies to have a good party. While you do not want to invite EVERYONE in town, you need to invite 3-4 times your targeted attendee number. I suggest you include anyone at a client company with whom you interact. In addition, invite executives from other companies that server your clients (not your competition). If you are a law firm, be sure to invite the partners from all the local accounting firms, consutlancies, venture capitalists, bankers, etc... I call these people "friends of the firm", as they are not your clients or prospects, but they are your friends. They will also be cherished advisors to many of your party guests, and building relationships with these professionals is vital to your own success.
Do not rely on your invitation (email or regular mail) to attract your attendees. It is the responsibility of everyone in your company to follow up with their contacts by telephone to personally invite them to the party. This is a great chance to connect with them and it makes sure that the person got the invitation (spam filters and secretaries often stop invites from reaching the executive). In addition, if they personally tell you they will come, they are more likely to show up.
4. Speeches and other pontifications. Avoid them whenever possible. Unless the event is a grand opening or company anniversary, do not let your senior executives get up and make long speeches. Too often these talks are ignored as the guests continue to mingle and talk over the person making the announcement. This is embarrassing for the speaker and the audience. If you do manage to quiet everyone to total silence, you have successfully killed the momentum of the networking that was taking place. Following the speech, many guests will make this the opportunity to leave the party.
Your guest already know you appreciate their attending (or you would not have hosted the party in the first place!) and they don't really care about any of the other stuff the speaker is saying.
If a presentation is necessary, make sure that you keep it brief. This is not the time to recognize everyone in your company or show a long video that is really just a commercial for your firm. Make the party about the party. Let your guests have fun. When they interact with other VIP's and make valuable business contacts, you win.
5. Name Tags. Always have nametags for business events. Some executives do not like nametags, and will discourage their use. But nametags are an important tool to help facilitate networking. Just because your employees know all the guests, the guests do not necessarily know each other. You will want to pre-print the nametags in advance to avoid causing a back up a the door. Be sure to put their first and last name AND the company name on the pre-printed tag, and make sure the font is as large as possible. You want people to be able to read the name and company from a distance. And do not forget to have plenty of blank nametags and a good black marker available for those who show up that had not RSVP'd.
Have A Great Day.
P.S.- Check out my new book, Some Assembly Required: How To Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships, which will be released in August 2005 (New Year Publishing). You can pre-order your copy today at www.thomsinger.com.