Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays.
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Staying in touch with clients in ways that don’t feel like sales calls to them is a challenge every good agent faces. Publishers like Inman plan their editorial calendars a year in advance and always include seasonal features. So we’ve taken a page out of their playbook and done likewise to create a year of planned client appreciation events.
Event production frightens many people – they think they don’t have the skill set to pull off large-scale events. But real estate agents are, by definition, event planners. Our “event” is the close of escrow, and our event management timeline is the transaction checklist.
So because that’s how we roll, we plan events by creating:
- A calendar-based reason or theme for the event (such as a baseball game)
- An event management spreadsheet that includes all the small pieces that have to be in place for every occasion
What’s the venue? How many guests? When do invitations need to go out, and how? What’s the menu, and required amenities like number of bathrooms, handicap access instructions, transportation and so on?
Also, here’s the final entry: What could go wrong?
The events themselves are designed to reflect our client base, which varies from office to office. One office’s clients skew a little younger and more family-oriented while the other tends toward higher end, slightly older, professional people.
Our calendar looks like this:
- January: Napa: Client appreciation/prospecting happy hour
- February: Solano:Valentine’s bubbles and chocolates mixer
- March: Napa: St. Patrick’s Day beer garden
- April: Solano: paint night
- May: Napa: Cinco de Mayo mixer
- June: Giant’s game outing
- July: Movie night
- August: School supply/book bag drive and client ice cream social (before school starts)
- September: Outdoor ice cream social and sports (with pets) event
- October: Family Halloween party in Solano
- November: VIP event
- December: Cocoa and photos with Santa
10 fun client appreciation ideas
We don’t necessarily intend to repeat those events every year because the calendar and our locations offer so many excuses for fun. Here are a few of the ideas we’ve cooked up. Feel free to modify and replicate for your own local efforts.
1. Begin the year right
By January, everyone is thinking: “Whoa, do I need to get in shape!” So, a fitness-themed event, with no food or alcohol, but with a presentation or demonstration by a personal trainer, could be a hit.
We might do this after work with one session for our male clients and a separate one for female clients and a “gym rat” dress code for both.
2. Create a Valentine’s Day to remember
Valentine’s Day (and its go-to chocolates and bubbly) is always a good theme for February because who actually gets tired of champagne and chocolate?
But in Napa Valley, the wild mustard is usually blooming in the fields so a photography workshop mid-field or a bus trip through the Valley with stops at several lesser-known wineries would likely be popular alternatives.
We keep throwing out the idea of a flower-arranging-for-men event in February, but our male agents nix the idea every year. Go figure.
3. Spring into action
March can be tough. If Easter rolls around early, a photo set up with a large Easter bunny will appeal to families. And you can spread the event over a longer time frame on consecutive weekend days so people aren’t standing in aggravating lines along with their shrieking children.
Easter basket building parties are also a possibility. And if you can think of a special occasion that involves rain and/or umbrellas, you’re absolutely golden.
An agent friend of ours has done cigar and whiskey tasting events with great success. Obviously, his demographic is a little different from ours. But, it plays great with his regardless of the weather.
Another agent, who works mostly with the 50-plus market, has had good luck with “Fashions for the 50-forward” in collaboration with a local women’s wear retailer.
4. Think tax time
April means taxes. So, unless you’re able to bring in a team of CPAs to oversee your clients’ tax preparation, don’t plan an April event before the 15th.
A “Tax Day Relief” event soon after the 15th works great. You can do what we’re doing in Solano County with our paint night — letting people paint out their frustrations. We might consider upsizing this so folks could hurl cans of paint at a mural-sized canvas in the future. Or paintballs would be fun, too.
5. Fiesta the night away
May automatically conjures Cinco de Mayo festivities. Everyone loves a fiesta! Who are we to resist? Plus, the weather is generally suitable for an outdoor occasion, which provides crowd size flexibility (always a good thing).
But, May Day flower basket creation events could also work, depending on your demographic. And a historic or patriotic-themed outing or presentation could appeal to your clients later in the month.
6. Have fun on the Fourth
Drawing an audience for events in peak summer break months tends to be a harder than the rest of the year, but it can be done.
The Napa River, for example, swarms with boats on the Fourth of July. But those river boats can be rented for lunches or cocktail parties throughout the summer. And the boats are small enough to make a relatively small crowd feel like a packed house. And you want that feeling!
A small bus chartered for a trip to the ball game works exactly the same way. So, we’re all in on that.
7. Scream for ice cream
Our end-of-summer ice cream social and school supply drive is a feel-good event that serves a worthy purpose, and one that is not controversial in any way.
The ice cream social is such an appealing format that we’re working on doing one in both territories this year. We just haven’t figured out yet whether to pair the September social with a softball game, a hike, a “Mutts and More” dog show or all three!
Pet-oriented or pet-inclusive events appeal to all demographics. So, we’re factoring that into our planning.
8. Say trick or treat!
Safe trick-or-treat events — with an on-site photographer — are welcomed by an increasing number of careful parents. And they’re easy to adapt for dog-lovers. So, those are naturals for late October.
But a fall bus trip to the Apple Hill orchards would also be a possibility for us some year. It would appeal to most of our clients, and it’s an easy day trip — not one people routinely make on their own.
9. Be thankful
The end of the year lends itself to expressions of gratitude. So, we’ll do our annual VIP event close to Thanksgiving. We aim to make it exclusive and outside of what any of our clients could create on their own. So both the format and venue are getting very careful consideration.
10. Celebrate the holidays
Napa has had an outdoor festival of lighted art for the past two winters, and we might choose to do something around that for our Napa clients, if not this winter, then next.
But we know Santa always makes a hit with families and dog owners, regardless of which territory we hold the event in. So, this one’s definitely on the calendar for December.
A few helpful hints
It’s easy to spend a lot of money on events and get little return on your investment. So, controlling spending is crucial. In addition, be forewarned that the RSVP “code” is completely broken in society today.
People will show up who didn’t RSVP, and people who did will be no-shows. Be prepared by making your event flexible in size and as much of a unique, “must-attend” occasion as possible.
Also, generate your own crowd by “papering the house” with family and friends who can “leave early” once a crowd gathers. Afterward, be ruthless about who get crossed off the invitation list. In our view, with no-shows, once is an emergency and twice is a pattern. You have to set your own boundaries.
But do events, if for no other reason than they provide you a chance to invite clients to an event that sounds appealing and fun. That earns you major style points, even when those clients aren’t able to participate, especially if you include their dog.
Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.