A client appreciation event is a great way to thank clients, create a memorable event for your attendees and gain lots of new referrals. Yet, they also can be frustrating exercises where we spend time and money without the yield we hoped.

We want clients to bring friends. We want clients to give us additional business, post-event. And, of course, we want referrals. Here are some strategies that advisors have used to get exactly what they want from their client appreciation events.

Set your event objectives, then work backwards

It may sound simple, but one way to insure a successful event is to define in writing your anticipated results. If your goal is, for instance, to have most clients bring a friend to the event, then make sure you are doing everything you can to get the message out. Often we just state in the invitation, “We encourage you to bring guests” and hope for the best. The more times you tell the client, however, the more likely it will be. State it in your invitation and call top clients and/or mention it when you are face to face. “This event is a great opportunity in a relaxed, fun environment to bring those friends that you’ve wanted to introduce to us.”

Use the “limo method” to get referrals without asking

At your client appreciation event, have your top referring client arrive in a limousine. When you make your remarks to the group at the event, recognize this client. “I’d like to ask Mrs. Smith to please stand. Many of you may have seen Mrs. Smith arrive in a limo tonight. We had her brought here in a limo because this year she has so graciously referred 15 people to our firm! Thank you, thank you!” Then start clapping. Every person in the room will start clapping. Now, without asking for referrals, all the attendees will know how much you appreciate and would like referrals. Not only do you not have to ask, you have caused people to want to be in Mrs. Smith’s place.

Give them something to talk about ? long after the event is over

Choose a unique location (a sporting event, cooking class, art/auto/artifact museum, historic building, etc). Then, to secure a lasting memory of the event and retain top-of-mind awareness – and keep them talking about you – give them something they can’t throw away and will want to share with others.

At your event, hire a photographer to take pictures of each individual or couple (with or without you in the picture). Have the photos placed in a simple proof frame with your name embossed on the bottom. People will keep the picture, show others, and may even put it on their coffee table. The picture may become a conversation starter for your clients to talk about you. Also, you can collect e-mails and offer to e-mail the picture (digitally stamped with your company name) to clients. They may forward them and socialize the experience they had with your firm.

You will know if your event was a hit based on what clients say and do after the event. Track it. If you set your goals and worked specifically toward tangible results, created a memorable experience, and let clients know you appreciate referrals, your litmus test for success will be the referrals (and eventual new business) you receive.