Shifting Markets. Disruption. Technology. These terms are thrown around in our industry so much that I usually tune them out. They are all true and happening, but what you probably care more about is the health of your own business in the midst of these turning tides. How can you bulletproof your business so that it doesn’t fall prey to one of these factors?
Quite simply: build a referral-based business. No technology or tactic can replace the immense value of a personal relationship. Technology can’t break bread with someone at a kitchen table or meet up for coffee to connect. And the easiest way we’ve found to build a referral-based business? Client parties.
In the words of Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, client parties are my “One Thing.”
When I became a solo REALTOR® 14 years ago, I had no strategy for success. If someone had asked me to cold call a list or knock on doors, I would have lasted maybe six seconds in the industry. From what I could tell, the most successful REALTORS® were the ones who were making phone calls and seeing their clients face to face to stay top of mind. These REALTORS® would do it in various ways, but as a wife and mom of two young daughters with a desire to grow our family further, I wanted to work smarter to obtain not just sequential growth, but exponential growth.
Client parties have been the catalyst to every single lead generation activity in our business. We all know that we’re supposed to be proactive, make calls and get in front of people, but so few ever tackle this daunting task in a systematic way to generate predictable results. We’ve found client events to be a great way to leverage our time and to provide a structure around doing activities that quite frankly, we didn’t love to do. Client parties allow us to target market to our database and attract the kinds of clients with whom we want to work.
Getting Started: The Planning
If you don’t remember anything else about client parties, please remember this: it’s not about the party.
It’s never about the party. It’s about the genuine contact you make with clients, past clients, referral partners, and potential clients along the way. It doesn’t matter if anyone even shows up to the event! It’s all about the contact leading up to and following the event to both the people who show up and those who don’t. The magic of client parties is the sheer number of conversations that we have with our database before, during and well after the event. This is where we stay in flow with the happenings in our clients’ lives. This is the lifeblood of our business.
If you decide to host a client event and hide behind email, you’ve effectively turned into a party planner and caterer. Your clients may come and have a good time, but the referrals won’t follow.
When you’re planning a client event, be sure to choose one that is authentic to who you are and attracts the types of clients you want to serve. It’s the party equivalent of dressing for the job you want.
We work with many dual-income couples with young families who are selling their first home and moving into their “forever” home. Many of our events are targeted to this demographic, such as our annual movie party, where we play a kids’ movie. We also throw a backyard barbecue with activities to engage the whole family, like a bounce house and face paint artist.
Recognizing that these parents may not have a lot of time out without the kids, we also plan coveted adults-only events such as happy hours and girls’ night out events; these are fun and allow us to interact thoughtfully with our guests without being too time consuming.
Here are some client appreciation events to consider:
• Housewarming Parties
We offer to throw a housewarming party for all of our buyers, and we mention them early, often at the initial buyer consultation. Not everyone will take you up on the offer, but remember, the gift is in the giving! This is an opportunity to let your clients know that investing in their continued success is important to you. We host these events on Saturday afternoons and provide heavy hors d’oeurves. There isn’t a right or wrong way to host a housewarming party– clients are just delighted to receive a kind and thoughtful gift that shows that we still care about them and their family after the transaction has concluded.
While we’re at the party, we ask our clients, “Who right here, right now would be a good introduction?” We have our grateful, happy, trusted connection make an in-person introduction to a friend or relative who may be thinking about buying or selling, and we leave with a few good, solid new relationships to add to our database. Homebuyers know other homebuyers, so there is quite a bit of low hanging fruit here for the taking. In terms of cost, a housewarming party is easily done for 30-40 people with 200 to 300 dollars.
• Happy Hours
We love hosting happy hours, as they are easy and quick to plan. You can easily change the location to accommodate where your clients live and work. There’s no clean up or set up involved, and you can host it in a variety of ways. You can do open bar, drink tickets or cash bar and provide appetizers. For this, it isn’t about how much money you spend; it’s about inviting your sphere out and developing your relationships. This is also an opportunity to ask your contacts to bring a guest who is thinking about making a move for an in-person introduction.
• Pie Parties
If you aren’t doing this party already, I’d highly suggest getting this on your calendar for the week of Thanksgiving. By far, this party has the best ROI and is the most efficient with your time.
The Tuesday night before Thanksgiving every year, we have our clients stop by our office to pick up an apple or pumpkin pie. The lead generation around this event starts six weeks before with save the dates, video emails, phone calls, personal notes, etc. There are numerous ways to reach out to your sphere, and different clients will respond to different methods, so use a variety!
Remember, it’s not about who shows up to the party, because it’s not about the party. It’s about how many people you have conversations with around the event. It’s also not about the kind of pie, so don’t get hung up on where you order them. We’ve used wholesale clubs for years with a simple referral sticker attached. (When you order, ask the bakery to skip the store stickers!) It’s one of our client’s favorite events, because they, too, know it’s about the relationship – and we still get messages about how delicious the pies are!
• Girls Night Out
Several years ago, we decided to target the women in our database, as we know they make many of the decisions related to the home. I knew I didn’t want to host these events in my own home, so we had to find other options. Many local stores, including home and garden stores and boutiques, are delighted to host these events at their locations at no cost, as it’s great publicity for them. Some of our favorite places to host events are Pottery Barn, Nordstrom, Williams Sonoma and other local favorites. Many of these places will teach a short 15-minute class on seasonal topics and will allow us to bring in our own food and drink. These events are inexpensive (150 to 200 dollars) and easy on the preparation and set up. These are great events to allow people to bring friends or neighbors along, as it’s in a non-threatening environment with lots of value.
Who should I invite?
The question of who to invite sometime paralyzes brokers into never doing an event at all. If that’s you, start with an easy event where price tag won’t break the bank, like a happy hour, girls’ night out or an ice cream social.
We suggest building your guest list with your best people first. By “best people,” we mean those who have been the biggest advocates of your business by sending referrals. Those VIPs should always get preferential treatment. As you have more space, you can invite others in your sphere, as well. Before, during and after the event, be sure to listen for conversation triggers that signify people may need your services, such as a marriage, job change, graduation or growing family. Any life change that comes up in conversation may require a real estate related need, which you can serve!
After the Party: The Follow-Up
Whatever event you choose to host, remember that the fortune is in the follow up. Hosting a party in itself is great, but alone it won’t yield the maximum result you can achieve. Following up after an event with a phone call and handwritten note demonstrates a great amount of care. A Facebook message or a text isn’t the same thing; in a world that is starving for true human connection, you have the opportunity to offer it many times over through an invitation to your tribe, which you’re nurturing within your real estate business.
As people feel more connected to your tribe, their loyalty and referrals will begin to flow. We see a pattern of referrals coming in during the two to three weeks after a client appreciation event, as long as we do the appropriate follow up. And be sure to follow up with those who didn’t come, as well, to let them know they were missed! They will certainly send referrals too. The gift is in the giving.