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Customer Appreciation

Are you overlooking the best source of business--your existing customers?

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Are you overlooking the best source of business--your existing customers? Marketing to current customers costs less than targeting new ones and pays off better, too.

Just ask Nancy Michaels. The owner of marketing communications firm Impression Impact in Concord, Massachusetts, and the author and publisher of audiotape "How to Be a Big Fish in Any Pond: Memorable Strategies for Microbusiness and Entrepreneurs," reveals how she keeps clients coming back for more.

1. Position yourself as an invaluable resource. Alert customers to seminars or magazine articles they might find relevant. And whenever you think of a way to save clients money or enhance their productivity, let them know. "You're making them feel they can't do without you," says Michaels.

2. Give something for free. "It's good for clients to know you're not charging them for everything you do," says Michaels. Offer a free service or a discount coupon as a reward for continued business.

3. Provide clients with referrals. "If you're doing business with a company," Michaels stresses, "you ought to be referring people to them." People always appreciate new leads, and giving referrals conveys your value to customers in a tangible way.

4. Make your clients stars. With their permission, why not hang your customers' photos in your place of business? Or do what Michaels does: Feature clients in your company's newsletter.

5. Maintain visibility through writing. If you don't already send a company newsletter to clients, consider doing so. Or offer to write articles in industry publications your clients read.

6. See and be seen. "People like to do business with people they think are confident, capable and have excellent reputations," says Michaels. "Make an effort to maintain that image."

7. Don't hard-sell. "If a client feels you're only trying to get more out of them to make a sale, and you're not really coming to them with solutions or ideas, that leaves a sour taste in their mouths," says Michaels.

8. Lend your expertise. If a client has an informal panel of advisors, offer to join. "One of the [problems] for people who work independently or have small businesses is they don't have enough people to use as sounding boards," explains Michaels.

9. Offer promotions at unusual times. Instead of offering special deals at Christmas, why not commemorate a less celebrated holiday such as Labor Day or St. Patrick's Day? Or, for a personal touch, remember your clients' birthdays.

10. Expand your services or product line. "As you become more familiar with your clients' needs," says Michaels, "you can begin to incorporate some of those [products or services] into your business so they don't have to go elsewhere."

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