Teasing potential wellness and fitness customers with a party and freebies sounds like the easiest marketing idea in the world, huh?

And yet…the results from most open houses are kinda lackluster if not outright disappointing — especially when the bills for all the bells and whistles come in.

Try these tips and avoid these traps to make sure your event pays off:

1) Set realistic goals

Your open house is more than a one-time event. It is highly unlikely that you’ll sign up lots of new clients or members on the spot.

It’s really part of a marketing process that starts when you first begin promoting the event, and ends after the event when you fold the attendees into your ongoing follow-up and “drip” marketing processes.

Wellness business managers often mistakenly think that their goal is to attract as many attendees as possible. In reality, your goal is to attract people with a genuine interest in what you do. These people are likely to become customers someday, or to refer potential customers.

To measure the success of your open house, divide the total event cost by the number of new customers it produces within 30-60-90-120 days. Compare that to the cost to acquire each new customer using your other sales and marketing strategies. Then you’ll know whether this approach paid off or not.

2) Market strategically

Tailor promotional activities to your target audience. If you use a “shotgun” approach like a radio or newspaper ad promoting your open house, you’ll get lots of attendees who only show up for the freebies – and your target audience may not even know about it.

A “rifleshot” approach that zeroes in on your target audience is much more effective. For example, if your target audience is parents concerned about their kids’ weight, it may make sense to promote your open house through pediatricians, child psychology practices, daycare centers and local PTA officers.

3) Avoid impulse spending

Open houses often turn into budget-busting events. Set a budget and stick to it. Here’s a key question: how much new business do you expect to get from your open house, and what you can afford to spend to get those customers.

As you plan the event, you’ll come across lots of great ideas – everything from live bands to dynamic speakers to fabulous prizes, super decorations, gorgeous banners and printed materials, branded apparel and other products, tasty eats and much more. Before you commit to any of these, make sure they’ll fit your budget.

A spectacular event needs spectacular results to justify the investment. Otherwise, the more you spend the likelier it is that you’ll be disappointed.

4) Get their contact info.

You won’t be able to follow up with attendees if you have no way to contact them. Sounds basic – but many wellness businesses overlook this step. That’s a big mistake. You probably won’t make many big sales during your open house, so if you don’t have a way to stay in touch you’re unlikely to see a business result in the future.

One good way to get contact info is to have attendees enter a drawing by filling out a card with at least their name and email address. Include a box that they can check giving you permission to email them occasionally.

It’s usually best to avoid asking for a phone number. Many attendees will suspect that you’re going to use their information for future telemarketing calls. They’ll just toss the card and you’ll have missed out entirely on the opportunity to start building a relationship.

5) Use dramatic giveaways cautiously

Many open houses offer prizes and giveaways to attendees. Select prizes that give attendees a brief taste of just how wonderful their experience with your business will be.

For example, you might offer a month-long training package as your grand prize, or a discounted enrollment in your weight loss program. Ask your vendors for donations. For example, a supplier might be happy to donate a case of protein bars so that you can toss one into a goodie bag for each attendee.

The problem with dramatic giveaways like trips or expensive dinners is that they attract lots of interest – but not necessarily from people who are likely to become your customers or to refer future customers. In fact, these awards are often much better advertising for the travel destination or the restaurant than for your wellness business.

Avoid “trinkets and trash” like custom-printed key rings or pens. Yes, they’re cheap – but they’re wholly ineffective ways to influence a buying decision, so why bother?

6) Follow-up

Use the contact info you gathered at the event to stay top of mind with attendees. The time and money you spend on your open house is wasted if you do nothing after the event ends to cultivate the seeds you’ve planted.

Create a plan that details exactly what you’re going to do and exactly when you’re going to do it. This usually means folding these attendees into your normal “drip” marketing processes – newsletters, invitations to free seminars, special offers, and so on.

It doesn’t mean calling each attendees to “just check if you’re ready to join.”

For example, the day after the open house you may send an email thanking each person for attending. Two weeks later you may invite them to sign up for your free weekly health tips. Four weeks later you might invite them to hear a special speaker, or tour your facility.