Open house events can be effective promotional tools for small businesses that offer products and services whether it be a restaurant, salon, or retail store. They can also be a practical option for businesses that rely heavily on word-of-mouth referrals. They allow you to promote your small business, introduce a new product or service, mingle with community members, and even turn attendees into new customers.

Running a successful open house event takes a lot of preparation much like throwing a great party. Here’s how to make sure yours leaves a great impression.

Set the date and budget for your open house event

Choose a date at least a few months in advance to properly plan the event and book catering or entertainment. Set a budget to establish how much you want to spend on the event, and create a list of all the items you want to include at your event, such as promotional products.

Get the word out about your upcoming event

Send an email blast or mail a “save-the-date” postcard to your customers, and encourage them to invite two other guests. You could offer special rewards or discounts to those that attend with guests. Use a site such as Eventbrite or your Facebook page to create an online invite, and communicate with guests and invitees.

Also, display signage in front of your business weeks before the open house event to notify customers and passersby.

Prepare your staff for the event

Ensure that your staff is prepared to speak with guests about your products and services, answer questions, and provide additional information. Encourage staff to chat with guests, and suggest a few conversation starters to make them feel comfortable approaching new guests. Also consider having staff wear nametags.

Showcase your business’s products and services at your event

Determine which products or services you want to showcase. Create eye-catching displays that highlight your products, or set off an area where you can provide information about your services or conduct product demonstrations. Also, place displays throughout the space to keep customers moving through your business.

Keep event guests entertained and well-fed

Encourage guests to stay and mingle with staff and fellow customers by hosting tours (this works well for companies that create products on site), raffles, contests, or product/service giveaways. Hire an emcee to host the event, provide music, and inform guests of activities.

Set up areas for appetizers and snacks to attract guests and encourage them to walk around, chat with staff, and learn more about your business.

Follow-up with open house event attendees

When guests arrive, create a registration area for raffles or giveaways (away from the entrance to avoid bottlenecks) where they can leave an email address or a business card. A few days after the event, send a thank-you email blast to attendees, and dispatch periodic emails of your company’s newsletter, promotions, or other events.

Small business open house events take a lot of planning, but they can help you build relationships with local customers, broaden your customer reach, and gradually increase sales.