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Hold an open house and keep clients happy and referrals flowing

An open house can be effective for maintaining existing clients and keeping the referral sources sending the referrals. It makes people feel at home and get a feel for what the firm does.

But an open house takes marketing skill. Success depends on where it’s held, the hellos and goodbyes, the food and even what everyone wears.

The when and where of it all

The day: The when of it is a weekday. And the best days are Wednesday and Thursday.

Forget Friday, Saturday and Sunday because nobody wants to do anything associated with work on a weekend. And the other weekdays are out for their own reasons. Monday is the day when people think they have too much to do. And Tuesdays people think it is just too early in the week to go to a networking reception.

The time: Hold the open house from 4:30 p.m. to no later than 8 p.m. During those hours, people can stop on their way home. It is convenient for people to drop by after work and leave when they want.

The place: Hold it in the office, of course. The purpose is to provide a personal welcome, much like inviting relatives to dinner. The event should say “our home is your home.”

However, if your office looks bad or is located in a bad section of town, an open house is not the type of marketing activity to use.

The y’all come

The invitation: Don’t advertise the event. And don’t waste time sending out a press release about it. An open house is not newsworthy and the release will only get trashed. And for law firm, it is not a “y’all come” event.

Send only personal invitations, and make them noticeable so they don’t get lost. Outsized objects such as a super-size envelope or a tube are good options, because they get into the hands of the people to whom they are addressed and don’t get thrown out with the junk mail.

One firm sent an invitation that was designed as an art poster rolled up in a tube. The words about the event appeared as an afterthought on the bottom. The response was good and many people even put the posters up on the wall.

What to wear, what to eat

The dress. Everybody from the managing partner to the file clerk should attend. All of them should follow the same dress code.

If some are in business suits and others are in polo shirts and tennis shoes, it’s a natural response for clients to look at the people in the casual dress and think they don’t matter because they are lower in the firm hierarchy.

Keep in mind too that it’s important for the clients to respect the staff and have confidence in their work. If the attorneys are professionally dressed and the staff aren’t, it looks like the firm considers its staff unskilled labor.

The clients should see the entire firm as professional and every employee as having an equal stake in the game.

The food. Forget plates and forks and serve food that can be picked up. Anything that cannot be eaten with the fingers needs to be avoided.

That’s just a matter of making things easy for the guests. Trying to talk while having to use both hands to manage the food is uncomfortable.

What to do or not to do

The agenda: Plan on serving food, providing entertainment and presenting a two-minute thank you from the managing partner to the guests for helping the firm to be successful.

That’s it.

There should not be any presentations unless the firm has a prominent guest speaker. Neither should there be any discussion of the firm’s services.

An open house is an opportunity for cross marketing. The clients have been invited to a party and they don’t want to have something pushed at then.

The fun of it all

The entertainment. The entertainment should be something that creates a congenial bar buzz atmosphere and that can be anything from a magician to a jazz trio.

The firm can also have specific entertainment that people have to pay attention to. One law firm had a comedian come in and tell lawyer jokes.

But unless the firm hires an outstanding performer who is worth of a pause in the conversation, the entertainment should not require the guests to stop what they are doing.

The party favors: Don’t dump a bunch of heavy literature about the firm’s services in guests’ hands. “Goody bags” are okay, but don’t make them a marketing package. Give instead something to commemorate the event.

Wait until the exit time to give to out any gift items. If you give them at the beginning people will have the annoyance of trying to hold on to gifts while they are eating and drinking. Worse, many people will set them down and forget to take them home.

Goodnight and farewell

The goodbye. Some firms prefer the managing partner to speak to people as they leave and thank them for coming.

However, it is better to make the exit less of an event because guests generally just want to get out of there without fanfare.

Better is to station a few staffers at the door to tell people goodbye and at the same time thank them for coming and hand out whatever gifts or mementoes the firm is giving.

When people want to go, they want to go. They want a clean getaway.

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