Brought to you by Courtyard® Hotels
Jean Chatzky will be covering a variety of different topics in this space every month. Come back next Tuesday for the third article in this month’s Dining series. Please leave your dining questions as comments below and she will address several of the questions at the end of the month.
As a small business owner, it can be hard to compete with the big guys when it comes to entertaining clients – and that’s an understatement. They have boxes at the local NFL team's stadium, you may be able to score a few tickets to a minor league baseball game once in a while. They can foot the bill for dinner at a trendy new restaurant every night, while your budget might only allow for client dinners once or twice a month.
But in fact, that isn’t what it’s all about. Face time, no matter what it involves, is crucial when it comes to making connections in the small business world. It leads to lasting relationships, future clients, and – eventually – a successful business. And sometimes, quite frankly, a lot of glitz and glamour can take away from that connection. There are plenty of ways to entertain and connect with your clients on a small business owner’s budget. Here are just a few:
- Stick to breakfast. The first meal of the day is undoubtedly cheaper, if only because you take alcohol off the table right away. Plus, it’s trendy, says Robin Jay, author of The Art of the Business Lunch: Building Relationships Between 12 and 2. “Breakfast is the new lunch. And for anyone with billable hours – a lawyer, say – it’s going to cost them $300 to be out of the office for the hour anyway, so make it breakfast.” As another bonus, it’s often easier to work a breakfast meeting into your schedule – we all know that as the day goes on, things get more and more hectic.
- Schedule coffee. The important thing to remember is that entertaining clients isn’t really about entertainment, or food. It’s about making time for them and getting in front of them to share your ideas, one-on-one. “Something magical happens when you break bread with someone. If you were to go to a networking event and meet ten new people, you might see them later and think, ‘where do I know them from?’” But if you break bread together, you’ll remember them forever. And that can even mean just going to coffee,” explains Jay. Even with today’s designer coffee bars, you can easily spend under $20, croissants included.
- Go to happy hour. Yes – I know. Drinks, particularly at a trendy bar, can cost a fortune. As much as lunch and breakfast combined, in some cases. But consider this: No one is out to get drunk at a business happy hour, so you’re looking at one or two drinks per person, tops. Depending on how many people you’re entertaining, you can walk out of there only $50 lighter. This suggestion, however, comes with one caveat: If you’re going to do this, Jay says, offer up an end-time in advance. Otherwise, drinks can easily turn into dinner, and you’ll be stuck with the bill – and out three or four times more than you planned on spending. So you want to plan your exit strategy. “If you’re taking out a client for happy hour, be very specific about what you’re meeting him for and that you only have a certain amount of time. Say ‘I only have an hour, but it’s really important to me that I get to see you.’ That makes them feel special instead of slighted – it’s all in what you say and how you present it to them.” Trying to edge out after one or two drinks if he suggests dinner can make it seem like you’re making excuses just to get out the door.
- Stay in control. When you invite a client to a meal, always be prepared with suggestions about where to go – otherwise, he or she may make a suggestion that’s out of your price range (if that happens, simply say you were just there the other day). If you’re at a business dinner and you plan to order wine, immediately take control of that menu. “Look at the menu, then ask the table if they want red or white. Then, pick out two options in your price range, show them to the server and ask what he would recommend. He’ll describe each option, and then you can turn to your guests and give them a chance to weigh in,” explains Jay. This way, you get to select a wine that you can afford, but you’re also catering to your guests.
- Get creative. There are, of course, ways to entertain that don’t involve food. The aforementioned sports tickets are pretty common – and expensive – but you don’t have to go there. Other events going on in your city or town can be just as fun and free, or at least very cheap: An independent arts or film festival, a wine tasting, an outdoor concert. Or, consider bartering if it makes sense. “There are lots of times that you can do a trade and offer some of what you sell or your consulting services. If you have a big client, and you want to bring them to, say, a company’s hospitality tent at the PGA, offer to do something for that company in exchange for two passes.” Your client never has to know, and your budget stays in tact.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
American Express OPEN and Courtyard Hotels have teamed up to provide a 5% discount at participating properties across the U.S. To learn more, go to http://www.marriott.com/opensavings.
OPEN Savings®: Payment must be made with an American Express® Business Card at the time of purchase; savings will be credited to your account. Maximum annual savings for each Marriott brand is $1,500 per Card account. Other restrictions and limitations may apply. Subject to offer terms and conditions located at opensavings.com. Merchant participation and offers are subject to change without notice.