Want to Build Loyalty? Remember, Everyone Loves Free Stuff. There's no easier way to tell a customer or employee that you care then with a gift. And it doesn't even have to cost that much.

By Gene Marks

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I have something very embarrassing to admit. Last Christmas we received a fruit basket from our local Japanese restaurant. It was a thank you for being one of their "best customers," according to the card.

Admittedly, we must rank up there. My wife and I pretty much get takeout from there every week. At another local restaurant that my wife and I frequent, the owner of the place once in a while treats us to a glass of wine. Just like that. OK, I admit, we are not very social people -- we like to go to our local restaurants a few times a month. So much so that these proprietors are thanking us with gifts.

And these smart small-business owners have taught me something: It's not just the money. It's the little act of saying "I care" and "Thank you for being a customer."

Related: 3 Ways to Make Employee Gifts More Meaningful

About two years ago I took up this example. Every month I pick a client out at random and send them a small gift of Godiva chocolates with a little card that just says thanks for being a client. I usually address this to the entire office if I know that we have a relationship with a few people there. Just about every time, I get an email or a personal thank you when I next see them. It's a treat. It's a nice thing to do. It costs me $30, which is not very much in the scheme of things. But the return is substantial.

People like free stuff.

I like free stuff. You like free stuff. Your customers like free stuff. When was the last time you showed a little appreciation to a long-time customer? When did you last say thank you? This is how you keep customers -- it's not just the great product you sell or the great service you provide, it's the relationship you have.

A stupid, silly little act of kindness goes a long way. What kind of act? Besides sending the Godivas, here are three other good ideas I've picked up from smart business owners over the years:

Related: How to Pick the Perfect Business Gift

A gift subscription. Amazing Clubs is a great service. You can choose from a huge selection of gifts, including wines, food and flowers. What I like about this service is that you buy a gift and have it sent every month. That way it's not just a one-off thing -- that special customer is thinking about you when he or she receives that new bottle of wine in the mail each month. If it better suits you, then buying personalized corporate stuff from office supply sites such as Café Press are great too -- there you can stock up on anything with your logo, from golf visors to sweatshirts, and give them away the next time you see that customer or hold that training event.

Part of your timeshare. These things are above board, popular and owned by some of the biggest names in travel such as Marriot and Westin. If you join one of the clubs such as RCI or Interval you can then put your week up for exchange. That's what I did about 10 years ago. I bought a week in Hawaii and then every year trade it in for a week in Vegas or Orlando because more people go there. It costs a few hundred bucks a year to maintain. And then I give it away -- sometimes to a customer, but a few times I've offered it up to a charity or an employee.

Gift cards. Last year a friend gave me a gift card to Super Cuts. Take one look at my photo and you'll understand why that was not a very well thought-out gift. So I sold it at a 50-percent discount to Plastic Jungle. On this site, you can sell, and buy, gift cards for every popular store and restaurant around. Buy a bunch of $10 or $25 cards at a discount and then hand them out to your customers at random.

People like free stuff. Your customers like free stuff. Your employees (don't forget about them) like free stuff. It's not that expensive, and it really shows you care.

Related: The Real Reason Customers Buy From You

Gene Marks

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

President of The Marks Group

Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group PC, a ten-person technology and financial consulting firm located near Philadelphia founded in 1994.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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