From the March 2001 issue of Startups

Like most entrepreneurs, Floyd Shilanski spends much of his time asking his clients for money. Not outright, of course-but the nature of being a business owner requires that you earn a profit from your clients in exchange for providing a product or service.

"We spend all year asking folks to invest with us," explains Shilanski, owner of Shilanski & Associates Inc., an Anchorage, Alaska, financial planning firm. "Many years ago, I became frustrated with companies always asking for money but not doing anything to say thanks."

That's why Shilanski makes it a point to show his appreciation for his clients. His way of saying thanks is to plan motivational speaking events, because, he says, "it's my wish to have our clients think of us as life coaches."

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Building Customer Relationships

However you choose to thank your clients for their business, keep in mind that the idea is to build high-trust relationships with your best clients. "The whole objective is to do more business in less time," notes Anne Bachrach, president of A.M. Enterprises, a San Diego entrepreneurial coaching firm. "It's a lot easier to keep [existing] clients than to go out and spend money on new ones."

Here are some tips to help you plan an event appropriate to your business (and your budget):

Realize the true cost of an event. Spend money on existing clients instead of trying to recruit new ones.

Poll your clients about what they'd like to do. Bachrach says most clients prefer fun, personalized events over the same old dinner party or keynote speaker, but it helps to get a consensus about their idea of a good time.

Make your invitations personal. Bachrach says one entrepreneur she worked with took his clients to the opera and sent opera glasses as their invitation-and he got almost 100 percent attendance.

By showing your existing clients you care, you're ultimately attracting new business through their word-of-mouth. It may cost a little, but aren't your top clients worth it?

Resource Guide

For inspiration and help in planning client appreciation events, try these resources:
Party411
Evite.com
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