With tax season scant weeks away and the fundamental hiring, training, and preparations nearly finished, it’s time for the management teams in tax and accounting firms to turn their attention toward the essentials of the relationship-building and marketing that will carry the firm through next May.
Few events in the annual marketing cycle are as effective in doing this as the annual holiday party. To achieve this, however, it is important to set aside most of the myths surrounding these events and instead focus on leveraging their business potential.
Why select the holiday season for the event? For many firms, December is a lost month. The work is done for the year, people are in a more festive mood, and there is an inclination toward celebrating tradition, family, and friends. Moreover, it is one of the few times of the year without the clutter of trade shows, conferences, and training sessions.
The holiday office party is a cost-effective networking opportunity, particularly for a typical firm of 10 or fewer professionals:
- Introducing new and permanent staff members to clients and partners.
- Building on relationships with partners that may include law firms, financial advisors, and media.
- Wooing opinion leaders in the firm’s core market segments.
- Projecting a professional-yet-casual image – which is particularly appealing to small business leaders and millennials.
Can the party be pulled off in a classy manner even this late in December? Yes, if the firm’s management adheres to a basic set of 10 rules:
- Assign an Event Manager. This should be a member of the firm’s permanent staff, not a paid professional. There simply is not time to educate a planner about the firm and its nuances, and the firm likely cannot afford the fees a professional can command. The Event Manager is the planner before the event and the troubleshooter once the doors open. Owners and partners are the hosts, and do not have the time to deal with problems such as parking or running out of drink cups.
- Set a budget. The event should not be extravagant, but neither should it be cheap. The two largest budget items will likely be food and beverages – both of which can be managed.
- Set the venue. If space and appearance permit, the firm’s offices are ideal as the venue. The offer an additional advantage in that the event can be operated as an “open house” in the late afternoon rather than a night-time event. Office spaces can be tidied up and decorated for the season, and this will provide partners and clients an insight into the heart of the firm. It also connotes a sense of personal warmth. If the office space is not feasible due to size or a lack of parking, lease a space for the afternoon from a local service organization (VFW, Eagles, or Moose) that has the facilities needed at a reasonable cost.
- Set the invitation list, and immediately send out invitations. Remember that the goal is to network with partners, clients and prospects, not the universe. Spouses and significant others should be welcome, but not children. Local politicians, reporters who cover financial subjects, and community leaders should also be on the invitation list.
- Don’t forget the paperwork. The firm should check to make sure that the general liability insurance will not lapse prior to the event. Also, it should determine whether other local permits might be needed. In most states, a million-dollar insurance policy is available for events at which alcohol will be served at a low cost.
- Ask business partners to contribute door prizes. Few things attract people to an event like the prospect of gaining something valuable – a golf club, scanner, or mp3 player . It does not require a lot of prizes, and drawings can be spread across the event hours.
- Hire outside professionals. If the number of invitees is more than can be counted easily, hire professionals to carry the load. Consider hiring a security guard to help with traffic and an orderly event; a harpist or violinist for music; servers for the food; and if alcohol is served, a bartender should be hired; the benefit of the bartender is that this person (or persons) can manage the drink volume and ensure guests drink responsibly.
- Serve good food and beverages. The firm can vastly improve attendance by offering light appetizers and light beverages. The food can lean heavily on breads, cheeses, fruits and dips. Tailor both the food and beverages to any cultural tastes of partners and clients.
- Remember that this is a business event. It is not a dance, and a DJ or band is not appropriate unless there is a cultural reason for one or the other. Staff members should be assigned specific tasks to achieve, such as greeting guests, directing them to food and beverages, and engaging in conversation to enhance networking.
- Take care of the staff when the event is over. When the dust has settled from a successful event, remember that this has been a work day for the staff. Show the firm’s appreciation through a modest bonus, an extra day off, or a staff lunch. If the staff is truly the firm’s best asset, treat them accordingly.
December is the time of the season – a time to rejoice, renew relationships, and build new partnerships. There’s still plenty of time to host a holiday party and take advantage of an event that has been considered infamous for far too long.