Special Feature

Returning the favour

This three-part series highlights tips and strategies for hosting a client appreciation event that will bolster your client relationships and benefit your bottom line. Part one explores the benefits of hosting this kind of event; part two outlines the planning process; and part three features event-hosting tips. Also, in a video featuring consultant Joanne Ferguson, learn about getting your team involved in a client appreciation event.

Sales & Marketing

Start planning your client appreciation event early, and stay organized with a to-do list

By Fiona Collie |

When it comes to planning a successful client appreciation event, it's all about the details.

"[Appreciation events are] still a very, very effective tool for enhancing your relationship with current clients and also to develop relationships with potential clients and centres of influences," says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist in Montreal. "But you have to target them a lot more, there's a lot more strategy and a lot more planning than what [many] advisors are used to."

Gilbert suggests incorporating appreciation events into your annual business plan. "Events are part of the business plan," she says, "because hosting events is part of growing your business." Included in the plan should be the dates for the events and the overall budget.

The timing of the event is a key consideration that can impact turnout considerably, according to Andrew Pyle, a wealth advisor with Pyle Wealth Management in Peterborough, Ont., under ScotiaMcLeod Inc. For example, summer isn't ideal, because that's a time of year when many people travel. Winter also poses problems, particularly if you have older clients because they could be snowbirds, or they might not want to leave the house during the frigid months of January and February.

Pyle and his team have found spring and fall to be the best seasons for events. They especially like September. "We found a sweet spot," he says, "where it's after the holidays but before the snowbirds have gone away."

The day of the week is another important consideration. Tuesday and Wednesdays are generally the best nights for events, says Gilbert. Ensure there are no major events or shows taking place nearby on the same day, she says, as that could make it difficult for guests to find parking.

Next, decide what type of appreciation event the team will host. For instance, the event could be strictly a "thank you" to clients for their business, and a way to get to know them and their families on a more personal level, says Joanne Ferguson, coach, consultant and president of Advisor Pathways in Toronto. These types of events could include renting a movie theatre or a skating rink. Or, the event could be more business-focused, with a presentation by the advisor or guest speaker on markets or the economy.

When making this decision, consider the size of the event. Will all clients be invited, or just a select group? Pyle's team prefers to host large events of roughly 100 people, to include all clients. The key to holding a large event, says Pyle, is keeping the numbers to a manageable level where you, as the advisor, feel confident that you can speak to each guest.

"It's not enough to just have food on the table, the bar open, show up, say a few comments at the mic and then leave," he says. "You've got to press the flesh with as many people as you can."

Gilbert argues that it's almost impossible to have a lengthy, meaningful conversation with guests at a large event. Instead, she advocates smaller events of 15 to 20 people at the most.

Compared to large events, smaller affairs with a specific theme aimed at a select group of top clients and – hopefully – their friends work really well, says Sylvia Garibaldi, a business building coach with SG and Associates in Toronto. For example, if your top clients are female entrepreneurs, consider organizing a presentation on a financial planning challenge faced by that demographic, and ask clients to bring another female entrepreneur who might benefit from the information.

Once the date, format and guest list are decided, begin planning for such details as invitations and menu selection. Staying organized will require a to-do list. "Crack open Excel," says Gilbert, "and just start a spreadsheet of everything that has to be done." The spreadsheet should include details of tasks, deadlines and the team member responsible for each item.

One of the items on that list, depending on the event, might be finding a guest speaker. The presenter should be an experienced and dynamic speaker. To avoid surprises, says Garibaldi, ask to hear a dry run of the presentation before the event.

"There's nothing worse," she says, "than having someone get up and speak about something that's not really on target." As well, make sure there is a back-up plan in case the speaker can't make it to the event, she says. Ask the speaker if he or she has a colleague who could act as a substitute.

Give clients plenty of notice of the event by sending out invitations at least a month beforehand, Pyle suggests. Then, follow up with guests in the two weeks leading up to the event to confirm their attendance.

This is the second article in a three-part series on client appreciation events. Tomorrow: tips for a glitch-free event.