You are probably spending way too much money on client events that don't have any effect on your clients or your business. I don't know you or your practice, but it's a pretty safe statement to make. Most advisors don't set a budget and don't have any real goals for their client events, so a "successful" event becomes one where enough people showed up to fill the seats.
If you (or a staff member) have ever made calls to clients trying to get them to attend your event, then it's time to make a change. Budgets are too tight and time is too precious for you to waste it on even one so-so event. And if your clients need convincing or a little pressure to attend, aren't you defeating the purpose?
A good client event can help you build loyalty and relationships with existing clients. A great event, however, can also help you attract PR and new prospects to your business. To be successful, a client event should:
Have a clear purpose. What is it you are trying to do? Thank current clients for referrals, attract prospects or gain public relations? Be clear on what your goal is, so that you can start to track results accordingly.
Be a part of your annual budget. Before you get too far ahead, what dollars do you have to spend? This will save you from wasting time on venues you can't afford, and could start you thinking more creatively right out of the gate.
Reinforce your brand. What do you stand for in your clients' eyes? Your event should help to strengthen that impression, or play into your strengths somehow.
Be compelling. This is a great chance to differentiate yourself from every other advisor. And done right, your client event keeps on giving long after the event, providing you with unique content for your Web site newsletter, Facebook page and other social media.
Build in your follow up. The full value of most events isn't realized because of a lack of follow through after an event. Yet that's the best time to reinforce the good impression made, and to remind clients why they like working with you.
Let me illustrate these concepts through a small planning practice I've worked with, Waterfront Financial. Located in the Pacific Northwest, they are closely affiliated with a CPA group, and have specialized tax knowledge and experience.
As a courtesy to clients, they used to offer to shred sensitive documents for them. It was a small service, but very popular. So they decided to make it into a much bigger client event to gain prospects and heighten their visibility in the community. They called it Shredfest, and that's how they publicized it.
The team rented an industrial shredder and held the event from 9 a.m. to noon in their parking lot on the Saturday before April 15. All of Waterfront's clients were invited, but so were other people -- companies in their office building, prospects, townspeople, etc. Clients had their documents shredded for free, non-clients had to pay a nominal sum based on pounds shredded. (Which subtly reinforced the advantage of being a client -- always a plus.)
They offered coffee and donuts in the parking lot, and were on hand to meet and mingle with everyone who came. And they came - hundreds and hundreds of clients and prospects. Turns out lots of people have documents that need shredding! Mixing clients and prospects made for easy introductions, and referrals happened naturally as people conversed.
For very little money, this planning firm held a high-impact event that was a huge success and required little advance planning or preparation. Shredfest was popular, talked about, written about in local publications, and resulted in new clients to the firm. Pictures taken were framed in the office, posted on the Web site, and article reprints used in follow up.
Giving your clients a great experience doesn't take additional budget or resources, but it does require you to spend a little more thought in the planning stage. What do you gain? A distinct, memorable client experience that differentiates you, gets you talked about favorably, and makes prospects want to know more about you. And isn't that the whole point?
Kristine McManus heads up McManus Consulting, which specializes in helping advisors create great experiences through their marketing. Her work has won numerous industry awards, and she has spent 25+ years working with advisers at leading firms like John Hancock Funds, Fidelity Investments and Putnam Financial. Send her your best/worst client event experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.