4 Communication Strategies to Grow Your Business Without Spending Any Money

Small, thoughtful aspects of your everyday interactions can have the greatest impact.

learn more about Rebekah Iliff

By Rebekah Iliff

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It's generally true that money can't buy happiness. And when it comes to business, it's usually the little things that draw customers to you. These no-cost intangibles often are what makes customers stay or go. They help shape how customers feel when they enter your store (online or offline) or interact with customer-service representatives. These qualities affect the customer relationship.

Business leaders should focus on a few things that don't cost a cent because hard-to-quantify acts matter when it comes to acquiring customers. How you choose to set the tone in these areas will have a massive impact. If your customers aren't happy, look in the mirror and figure out what you're missing. Here are a few simple but very important steps you can take.

1. Write thank-you notes.

Perhaps it's my Southern roots combined with my Midwestern sensibilities that has me up in arms about this particularly good habit. Or maybe it was growing up with a mother who insisted I write thank-you notes from an early age. But it's no exaggeration to say this lost art likely has been the most useful practice throughout my career.

  • A journalist covered a story for me = thank-you note.
  • A colleague took me to dinner = thank-you note.
  • Someone I barely knew sent out of the way to do me a favor = (you guessed it) thank-you note.

Such dedication might seem obsessive, but it communicates two messages: gratitude and thoughtfulness. These qualities seem to fall by the wayside in fast-paced working environments. If you choose only one tip from this list, choose this one. It will change your life.

And since I know you're wondering, you should know that while emails and text messages are better than nothing, they don't have the same impact. Why? Time is scarce these days. People get a warm, fuzzy feeling when they see you've spent your precious moments on them.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Express Gratitude Every Day

2. Get organized.

I spent two years of my life earning an advanced degree in organizational management for business. This skill is really, really hard to nail -- even with a master's diploma. Getting truly organized doesn't cost a thing, per se. Like writing thank-you notes, it just takes time and focus.

Project-management tools such as Trello and Basecamp can be wonderful to keep teams and tasks organized (I use these myself), but I'm talking about bigger-picture stuff. Look at your schedule one or two weeks in advance and prioritize accordingly. You'd be amazed at the energy and resources this will save.

My grandfather gave me some of the best advice of my career. For more than 50 years, he was a top pharmaceutical rep for Parke-Davis, then known as Pfizer. (He essentially was forced to retire at age 80 because he was still winning all the contests and throwing off the new sales reps.) He told me: "Sit down on Sunday night and map out each day of the week with your work tasks. Then set one goal for that week in terms of what you want to achieve. This will keep you focused and organized."

It worked in the 1950s and it still works today. No software-management tool or advanced degree can replace self-discipline.

Related: 5 Enjoyable Weekend Habits That Set You Up for Success

3. Connect others.

I've spent a tremendous amount of time over the years connecting people I think would either enjoy each other's company or find the relationship useful in some way.

Not surprisingly, many of my past and current business partners share this quality. AirPR Software CEO Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, with whom I've worked closely for nearly five years, is a masterful connector. So is my first real-world boss, Billy Dec. I watched each of them carefully construct relationships and then openly share these inroads with others. Leveraging your personal connections to "throw someone a solid" can pay massive dividends, particularly in early-stage companies where resources are scarce. This signals to others that you aren't greedy or miserly; rather, you want to share the pie.

Related: 10 Ways to Connect With Absolutely Anyone You Meet

Do be careful about whom you connect, however. Make sure the relationship can be reciprocal in some way. You don't want to get a reputation as a "user" or someone who lacks awareness. For example, it's a bad idea to haphazardly connect your friend Susie -- a C-suite executive who travels all the time -- with your neighbor's 14-year-old daughter who's seeking advice for a school project. Does that sound mean? Well, Susie will thank you. In fact, she may even write you a note about it.

4. Practice presence.

Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who looks at his or her phone every 30 seconds, checks email during pointed conversations or interrupts constantly? Anyone who has ever worked for or with me knows these things throw me into a tailspin. While I've had to work on practicing patience in these moments, nothing says, "I think I'm more important than you are" like not giving someone your full attention.

I feel sorry for people who can't give 10 minutes of their undivided attention to the person directly in front of them. I also suspect these easily distracted individuals lack the leadership skills required by organization that aspires to any sort of lasting success. An errant yawn during a long meeting is understandable, as is excusing yourself from a sales call when the rep dropped in out of the blue. But try to show up fully to whatever you're doing.

Your customers, employees and everyone around you will benefit from your ability to tune in when it's needed -- and to tune out the noises that attempt to pull you away from your higher purpose.

Related: 4 Ways to Be a Better Communicator and More Present in Conversations

Rebekah Iliff

Chief Strategy Officer for AirPR

Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR, a technology platform to increase public-relations performance that serves Fortune 500 and fast growing technology companies. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, where she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies which positioned talkTECH as one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the U.S. Iliff holds a B.A. in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in organizational management and applied community psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).

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