One of the best ways to grow a small business is to appreciate the loyal customers that you already have. If you find ways to treat and pay respect to your most valuable clients, you will most likely attract more. (Most people hang out with friends who are similar to them, right?)
Hosting an effective client appreciation event can be a difficult task. You walk a fine line between simply thanking them for their past business, attempting to cement the relationship further and hopefully gaining referrals for future business. All the while hoping that your best customers are having a great time.
Here are some tried-and-true events that can work depending on your customer base and personal marketing style:
One-on-One Dinner Event: Invite your best client and their spouse to dinner (preferably to a high-end restaurant) and ask them to bring one or two other couples. The key to this event is its intimacy. The purpose is simply to thank them for their business no hard selling required. By getting to know you better as a person, they will feel more comfortable recommending you to their friends (who just happen to be enjoying the dinner and getting to know you too!)
Larger Dinner Event: If your customer base is larger, you may want to rent out a restaurant or other local attraction for an evening of entertaining. This gives you the opportunity to thank multiple clients at the same time. You can still have them bring friends if space permits. I would recommend addressing the crowd as a whole and then mingling around the room for mini-conversations throughout the night.
Hosting a Seminar: If your business centers around a service, such as marketing, finance, real estate, etc, give your prized customers the opportunity to learn more about their own businesses through seminars. Bring in top-notch speakers to cover some valuable topics in-depth. If you are in finance, for example, you can host a business seminar that covers retirement planning options, the economy and running a business on a budget. Not only will you be helping your customers build their own businesses, getting information from an unbiased third party can be just the push they need to take the next step with you!
Obviously there are many, many more ideas for hosting a client appreciation event. If you have held a successful one recently, I would love to hear about it!