Small Business Week (April 30 through May 6, 2017) may have been started to celebrate and promote privately held companies, but it also presents an opportunity to say thank you to the customers who support your small business all year round.


Repeat customers spend 67% more at a business and have transactions with higher amounts when compared to new customers. If that’s not enough to persuade you to invest marketing efforts into wooing your existing customers, consider that it is six to seven times more expensive for companies to attract new customers than it is to retain current customers.


These statistics might be eye-openers. While it’s important to put together plans, deals and specials geared toward bringing in new customers, it’s equally important to focus resources on the loyal customers you already have.


An on-location event is the perfect place to launch a product or provide sneak peeks, give free samples and offer special deals, as well as provide the opportunity to submit any input or feedback. The following tips, provided by Darius Strong, president of Hollywood Entertainment, include ways for small businesses to throw a customer appreciation event that will increase repeat business and encourage referrals while also remaining affordable.


Decide what type of event offers the most value to customers

While a cocktail party or BBQ is a nice idea, it may not provide enough value to get your customers to make the time in their busy schedules to attend. And along with attendance, you want the event to reinforce your business’ position as a reliable resource.


To this end, consider the types of products or services you offer and how you can help existing customers better leverage your offerings to improve their lives or their work. For example, a bicycle shop may host a bike safety demonstration and offer discounts on helmets and gloves. A restaurant might offer a cooking class open exclusively to regular customers and the attendees get to eat what they made for free.


Another approach is to host an event to introduce a new service line or product that will ensure customers leave the event feeling like they have gained exclusive access to something before it gets released to the general public. To increase the potential for profit, bundle the new services or products as one-time-only package deals for the VIPs at the event.


Create an environment ripe for selfies and fun social media posts
At a minimum, the business should offer free WiFi access to guests of the event. Incorporate social media by generating a unique hashtag specifically for the event. Hashtags should be short in length and easily remembered, so that customers can utilize them simply on social media. The business owner should also take precautions to ensure the chosen hashtag is unique by searching the hashtag online prior to announcing it. Websites like Hashtagify and Trendsmap are generators that can be used to help choose the best hashtag for the event.


Along with the hashtag, encourage customers to take photographs, write posts and check in using their own devices. Fun extras, like renting a photo booth, a red carpet or even a caricature artist for customer photos will encourage customers to repost the images on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and send snaps on Snapchat.


Host a tweeting contest and broadcast it on a digital social media wall.


Plan a contest that is easy for guests to participate in. “Host a tweeting contest and broadcast it on a digital social media wall,” says Jeff Kear, owner of web-based event management software company Planning Pod. “Customers can be rewarded with prizes in return for tweeting about the business, and perhaps even monthly prizes can be awarded to the loyal customer with the most social media mentions of the business.”


In addition to social media, Kear also suggests utilizing an online community platform, such as XenForo, to launch a “preferred shopper” program. XenForo allows users to earn “trophies,” like points, for reaching milestones, which helps keep them engaged. The program is also linked to Facebook, giving customers an easy route to stay involved regularly. “While most people would not say no to discounts and deals, it’s the loyal, repeat customers who truly deserve the special treatment,” Kear says. Other programs similar to XenForo include Belly, which can be adapted for businesses of any size.



Make it easy to attend the event online

For companies that have customers across multiple geographic regions or want to create an event that is appealing to customers who don’t have a lot of free time, consider planning an interactive online event. One idea is to host a webinar through a platform like GoToMeeting. Chose a topic that is not only educational but gets to the heart of a common problem or passion of your customer base. For example, if you own an HR services company, you might consider hosting a webinar titled, “Exempt or Not Exempt: Good Question.”


Take the webinar a step further by transforming it into a live Q&A session with an expert or industry “celebrity.”


Take the webinar a step further by transforming it into a live Q&A session with an expert or industry “celebrity.” If you own a boutique that sells high-end cooking tools or cookware, aspire to get a known chef in your area to appear in the session to answer questions or demonstrate using the cookware. If you’re promoting an app or web tool for use in other businesses, have a business-tech guru with a reputable background attend as the featured guest, providing customers with useful knowledge.


Customer appreciation events and tactics are what will separate one small business from the next by creating a sense of community around your business. By throwing a fun event for a select group of VIP customers, the small business will generate good buzz, more purchases, referrals and, eventually, new customers.

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