In 2022, a lender came to me and asked, “Hey, when is your next client event?” 

With an 18-month-old at home and a newborn on the way, I remember laughing and saying, “Yeah, I don’t know. I need to plan it.” 

Her response and the following weeks would forever change my business and how I viewed it. The lender told me about a value add she offered: planning client appreciation events for agents and drumming up sponsors to pay for them. 

“Sponsors?” I thought. “I’m interested…” 

The steps below facilitated a shift in my business and helped me build momentum through the end of 2022, leading to my most successful year in 2023. The system isn’t for everyone, but for those looking to grow through referrals and don’t like cold calling, sponsored client appreciation events are an effective way to increase your exposure and earnings.

THE EVENT AND VENUE

Everyone loves a good theme! 

Take a look at your client base, think about what will resonate with them, and build a theme around something that will get them to attend. 

Try to pick a local establishment in a centralized venue and go directly to the owner. They will appreciate the support, and it will be an easy conversation starter, particularly since they or someone on their staff probably knows someone looking to buy, sell, or rent in the area. 

From there, figure out the menu of food and drinks, along with activities for the day, and frame your operating budget.

THE BUDGET

Once you have your venue, date, and theme, it’s time to figure out what the whole thing is going to cost. Don’t slack here; account for everything. This includes:

  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Gratituties
  • Branded giveaways
  • Event activities
  • Photographers
  • Branded posters
  • Advertising

Play the day through your head and, write down everything you need, and figure out the cost. It’s critical to break down the full operating budget of everything because now it’s time to get it all paid for.

THE SPONSORS

Think about all the money you put into other pockets during a transaction. The list goes on, from your broker to attorneys, home inspectors, lenders, title companies and movers. You are constantly sending them referrals that line their pockets. Most of us just ask them to take great care of our clients in return. Well, it’s time to ask for a little more. 

“But Tom,” you might say, “I feel weird asking them for money!” 

To that, I say you’re not “asking” them for money—you’re giving them an opportunity to meet a large majority of your clients at once as a sponsor of your event. The simple mindset shift from asking to offering changes everything. 

So, make a list of your referral partners, figure out the framework for sponsorship (think golf outing sponsorships with Gold, Silver and Bronze packages), and start offering them the value of sponsoring your event. 

Depending on their sponsorship level, offer them to bring another employee or a client they think could benefit from the level of service you offer. I promise you’ll be shocked at how quick and honored they are to get their name on a poster board, some swag in the giveaway bag, and a qualified referral from you to all your clients in attendance when you publicly thank them for their support.

Now, don’t be shy here when asking for money, err… I mean offering the opportunity. Strive to meet or exceed the budget you’ve developed. If your event comes in under budget, roll the excess sponsorship money over to your next event or into your marketing budget for the rest of the year.

THE INVITES AND MONEY-MAKING

Okay, you have all the pieces to make the event happen; now, you just need clients to show up. This section is the most important part. Keeping the right mindset is what is going to make money for you and your partner sponsors. 

The whole idea of hosting a client event is to generate more business. So it makes sense that the calls, invites, and asks for business leading up to the event are the keys to success. Here’s a breakdown of all the touchpoints before the actual event:

Save the Date 

About six weeks prior to the event, send out a video email with the subject “Save the date” to all your clients announcing the event. (I love video marketing, but a Canva email works too.) 

Collect Responses 

Follow up with the clients and prospects and collect RSVPs. The follow up gives you a reason to call beyond “Hey, how ya doin’?” and generates buzz around the event. During these calls, really sell the event and how excited you are to host it. Explain this is your way of saying thank you for their continued support and referral business. This is an event for your closest clients and referral sources. (this hedges the bet in case you have a low turnout. You can pivot and say you always planned on having an ‘intimate event.’) 

You can also encourage your clients and prospects to bring someone to the event. This works for both you and your clients. They’re less uncomfortable in a room full of people they may not know very well; you can expand your (and your sponsors’) client base. 

At the end, always close these calls by asking if they know anyone who might benefit from your service. 

To recap: Open with free value-add (the party invite), close by asking for a referral. 

Send Notes to those who Decline the Invite

Follow the calls and video up with some sort of automated RSVP program such as Hobnob or Evite to help track all the RSVPs. Follow up with each person who declines with a quick personal note telling them how they will be missed, but you hope they can make the next party you throw.

Reminder Calls for Confirmed Attendees

The week leading up to the event, call all the confirmed attendees, remind them about the event, and revisit the “bring a friend” offer. You’ll be shocked how many people say, “Oh wow, thanks for calling. I totally forgot, but I’ll see you there!”

THE DAY OF THE EVENT

You are about to cross the finish line. The hard work is done. Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and network with your guests. Before the event begins, be sure to:

  • Have a pre-event meeting with your vendors to outline expectations, arrival times, and where you need assistance for the day. 
  • Arrive early to set up, assemble your giveaway(s), arrange the venue to suit your needs, and square away your registration area. 
  • Provide for an assistant to check everyone in and keep track of all attendees so you can send follow-up thank-you notes. 
  • Make sure everyone gets a nametag. It’s important to ensure that it’s easy for your guests to network. 

I always invite some ‘shills’ whose sole purpose at the event is to keep the conversations moving and remind everyone how great you and your sponsors are (I use my father and a few of his friends for this; they’re always up for free drinks). 

Now it’s time to work the room. Make your rounds. It’s essential to be sure that everyone gets facetime with you so you can meet their guests, thank them in person for coming, and let them know how appreciative you are of their business. This is where the pre-event meeting with your vendors will be important. You’ll want to make sure you can run interference for each other so if you are stuck in a conversation, someone can steal you away. 

Working the room is the biggest part of game day. Clients will invariably want to keep you and talk business. Prepare stock answers for this, keep it short and sweet then set the appointment to discuss their needs in depth, give them the one-on-one attention they deserve and really answer all questions.

At some point during the event, it’s time to give a short speech. A simple “Thank you for coming” while sharing how important each of them is to your success will go a long way. 

This is also your time to go above and beyond and rave about your sponsors. Thank them publicly and let your clients know that without them, you wouldn’t be able to host such a great event. Giving them their moment in the limelight brings them back for more when you call them again to help with another event. 

As a bonus, raffle some gift cards or a gift basket to a few lucky attendees. It’s a nice touch to have people go home with something a little extra!

AFTER THE EVENT

During the weeks following the event, contact everyone invited, regardless of attendance. 

Send a video or email thanking them for their support. Follow up with personal handwritten thank you notes to each attendee as well. That’s the quick and easy part; the long and difficult part is the calls. Everyone gets a follow-up call to make sure they had a great time and to revisit the referral request. 

Also, make sure to follow up on all the conversations about the market you may have had with your guests and schedule time to have that 1:1 cup of coffee to discuss their real estate goals and plans. 

As you reflect on the day and start organizing the after-party activities, a key piece to remember is that attendance at the event is irrelevant. Sure, you put all this effort into planning and throwing this event, so to have a small turnout may seem discouraging. Time for another mindset shift! The event is truly about the client calls, invites, touches, and, most importantly, the requests for referrals. So, physical attendance is simply a bonus. 

The benefit is in the lead-up and follow-up conversations and client touches. Your goal should be five touches during the invite phase and at least three on the follow-up. These touches include: 

  • Video emails
  • Physical invites
  • Phone calls to get RSVPs
  • Reminder phone calls 
  • Personal notes
  • Facetime at the event
  • 1:1 meetups after the event to discuss any questions they have

I know hosting an event can seem overwhelming—trust me, I know! The task is compounded by trying to enlist sponsors. That said, when you provide your referral partners a unique opportunity to develop relationships that increase their business, asking for money and assistance is not just easy; it’s expected. Their participation should result in mutually beneficial growth.

Now is the time to leverage your business to grow your business

It’s time to get out of your own way, get out of your comfort zone and focus on growth. It’s no secret that this business is tough—we need to be tougher. 

We need to work smarter and harder in order to succeed. We need to be focused to ensure that our money, our time, and our efforts are directed toward high ROI activities. Client events are exactly that.

And when done right, the overhead can literally be zero with an unlimited return on investment.