Customer Service

How to Throw a Client Networking Event

Salon owner Jill Wright wondered what would happen if she introduced her clients who own small businesses to her clients who love to buy. The result was a successful and fun pre-Christmas networking event.

Let me first start by saying that I have all good clients. There’s not one in the bunch that I’d like to get rid of. Usually clients’ appointments will overlap, so while I’m working on them, the ladies will sit and visit with each other. That gave me an idea. Why couldn’t we have a networking day here at the salon so all my wonderful clients could get to know each other. Then I thought that it would be beneficial to ask my clients who had small businesses or home-based businesses to join in. That way we could share our skills and services with other women and possibly build new business relationships or friendships.

The first client I thought of was Betty. She has a small fine-jewelry boutique that also sells belts, purses, and makeup. She also has an upscale closet-system business, in addition to being a realtor and a licensed interior designer (she appeared on HGTVs “Designer’s Challenge” last year). Basically, she can do it all. I went down my list of clients and asked several more to be involved. Sandy sells Mary Kay, and she was excited about joining m. She was most helpful in contributing mini cosmetic supplies to help fill up the goodie bags I wanted to hand out to all attendees. Lawton and Cheryl at State Beauty Supply were also kind enough to donate tons of samples to help fill the goodie bags (it pays to be on good terms with your beauty supply distributor).

My longtime client Joelyn is a nurse who has been doing seamstress work for years. Recently she had to give up her career due to back problems (she’s had 10 back surgeries!), so she began making these attractive scrapbook greeting cards. They’ve been a big hit in the salon, and she was happy to get involved. With her two talents it was obvious that she could help many people, myself included.

Then I ran into Angela in the grocery store. I hadn’t seen her in months, so it must’ve been fate. She’d moved, and I’d been unable to reach her. I told her what we were putting together and she jumped at the opportunity. Angela’s been steadily growing her soap-making business, and she was at the marketing stage, but wasn’t sure where to begin.

Before I told any clients about my idea, I got permission from the owner of the building that houses the salon to use the upstairs landing area and kitchen. My salon is next to the communal kitchen but is too small to host that many people. Because we’d be having the event on Saturday, most of the businesses in the building would be closed, so we wouldn’t disturb anyone. The parking lot would have plenty of room, too.

I picked the first Saturday m November because it’s far enough away from Thanksgiving, and people would be starting their Christmas shopping. The hours were to be from 2 p.m. to 4.p.m. This was my first attempt at putting together an event, and I wasn’t sure how big the turnout would be. If we condensed the hours, more people would be visiting at once, and we, the vendors, would not be sitting idle (I hoped).

The next step was to print invitations to hand out or mail to my clients. We talked it up for an entire month. Even my sister, who is an independent insurance agent with Mutual of Omaha, wanted to network. She drove up from Mobile, Ala., and brought some baked goods to help out. Meanwhile, I baked plenty of other homemade sweets and prepared veggie, meat, and cheese trays, plus finger sandwiches, punch, and cof­fee. We even bagged up some sweet breads to have a bake sale.

I spent days filling the goodie bags with products, vendors’ business cards, and Mary Kay samples from Sandy; I also created a large gift basket for the grand-prize drawing.

The month prior to the event I hunted down unique items and stocked up on retail supplies. Now was a good time to try out that cookbook on gourmet doggie biscuits, so I made “Paw Lickin’ Chickin’” and “Garlick and Cheese.”

Steps to a Successful Networking Event”

  1. Have a plan and put it onto paper. Envision how you’d like your event to go, then take action.
  2. Secure a location large enough to hold several tables and many people. Either clear a room out in your salon or locate one elsewhere. The last thing you need is for clients to accidentally knock into your manicure tables or trip over something due to lack of space Think of how vendors set up at nail shows and try to duplicate the best booth setup.
  3. Make a list of clients who have home-based businesses, make crafts, or are owners of small businesses Contact them all and ask if they’d like to participate. Keep in contact with them at least every other week leading up to the event to check on their progress, see if they need any special accommodations, and ensure they don’t forget their commitment.
  4. Pick a day that works out for all your vendors. The weekend is an opportune time because most people don’t work then.
  5. Create flyers or postcards to hand out to your clients inviting them to a “Client Appreciation Day,” “Open House,” or whatever you’d like to call it. You can mail invitations to clients you won’t see before the event. All invitations should be sent three to four weeks before the event to allow clients ample time to mark it on their calendars. Talk it up to everyone.
  6. Contact your local beauty supply and ask for free samples to hand out at your event. Make little free goodie bags to give to all your clients that day.
  7. Have a grand-prize drawing for something substantial. It’s inexpensive to create a large gift basket with nail supplies and a gift certificate. Ask your vendors to donate an item to include in this gift basket. That way the expense isn’t totally your responsibility. You could also ask a local restaurant to donate a gift certificate in exchange for a salon gift certificate.
  8. Either bake homemade goodies, serve store-bought foods, or have it catered- Make sure to have an assortment of drinks, finger foods, and sweets to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
  9. Think of every detail you can imagine. Make sure there is adequate parking, mood music, air fragrance, and a place to hang coats Are there enough portable tables for the vendors and fabric to drape over them? Is there enough food, retail bags, and garbage cans? Make sure the bathrooms are well stocked, the thermostat is set on a comfortable level, and there are no cords anywhere to trip over.
  10. Create merchandise specials good for that day only Make it worth your clients’ time and effort to visit you. Stock up and make sure your retail is displayed attractively.
  11. You and your vendors need to arrive early that day. It’s not conducive to business to be seen frantically setting up as visitors are arriving ready to shop.
  12. Be ready to play hostess or designate a coworker or employee to greet everyone as they arrive Make sure you introduce them to your other clients, the vendors Show them where the food is, then let them mingle You can arrange for someone to be giving complimentary salt glow scrubs and paraffin dips. This will not only promote those services but also help you sell more salt glow scrub.
  13. Remember your camera.
  14. Thank as many clients as you can before they leave.
  15. Never forget your purpose for having this event, but also remember to have fun!

Then I bagged them in mini snack bags to sell. Who would’ve guessed the/d be such a hit? The night before the event I could barely sleep for worrying. I tried to think of any detail on my to-do list I might have missed.

On the Big Day

The big day arrived and we started setting up at noon. Some vendors came later and they had to rush to set up. Just when I thought that Angela wasn’t coming, she pulled in with all her inventory. Betty had thought of everyone and brought enough folding tables and fabric to cover them. We set up the food on the kitchen counter, and the refrigerator came in very handy, too. I made sure to put in a smooth jazz CD for background mood music, and we plugged in a candle warmer to scent the air. The cache of goodie bags was placed by the entrance, so when guests left they could help themselves to one.

As my clients began arriving, I introduced them to each of the vendors (if they hadn’t already met at my salon) and made sure the}’ registered to win the big gift basket filled with nail products, jewelry cleaner, and a pedicure gift certificate. As a token of appreciation 1 asked the vendors to register, too. They all worked so hard. Even the weather was fabulously warm and sunny. The day went so fast, and we had so much fun. It wasn’t until later that evening that T realized I had indeed forgotten something very important—my camera. Shoot.

Since we had such a good turnout despite the fact that some clients couldn’t make it, we thought we might have another one at Betty’s place in December. It seemed like a good idea; we’d help out the last-minute shoppers. So there I was a month later doing it all over again. Except this time I was more relaxed because it was Betty’s networking event. All I had to do was haul all my retail and set up at her business. This time I remembered to remind Betty to bring her digital camera but still managed to forget mine again. Go figure.

After having both events, I analyzed what we did right and what we could do better next time. Here is what I learned: It is definitely better to hold it in early November. December is too rushed, and people are stressed out with holiday commitments and preparations. Limiting the event to two or three hours works best to keep the momentum flowing Offering substantial deals for that day only is a great way to reward your clients for coming out and supporting your event; it also helps boost your bottom line. Next year I plan to make it even bigger and better by inviting more clients as vendors, and I’ll start stocking up on retail all year long whenever I see good deals on sale. We’ll also formulate a plan to invite all the vendors’ clients, friends, and family, too. November 4, 2006 will be the next networking day, but to appeal to all of our clients I think we’ll call it “Client Appreciation Day.”

Jill Wright is the owner of Jill Wright Spa for Nails in Bowling Green, Ky.

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