Good Businesses Have Bad Moments. Cut Them A Little Slack.

No Business Is Absolutely Perfect.

As much as any small business wants to deliver a perfect customer experience during each and every interaction, it will slip up. Perhaps (and hopefully) notThumbs down often will that happen, but it will happen.

For example:

  • The local coffee shop’s brew won’t be piping hot.


  • Your veterinarian will be behind schedule and you’ll wait longer than you care to for Fido’s appointment.


  • The Mediterranean restaurant down the street will forget to serve your salad dressing on the side.


  • Before she wraps the bracelet you bought for your mom, the cashier at the gift shop downtown will forget to remove the price tag.


Honest, unintentional, few-and-far-between mistakes happen. They’re unfortunate and can inconvenience you, yes. Are they something to get upset about enough to warrant slamming a business on social media? I say, probably not.


But many people see things differently. They jump to criticize and discredit for the smallest measure of imperfection. And sometimes they don’t even explain why they’re dissatisfied.


Just recently, one of my own Facebook friends blasted a status update calling out a local coffee shop. Her remark…“Was at [name of café] this morning. Very disappointing.”


That was it.


She tagged the business’s Facebook page in her post, but didn’t post directly on the page. Because of the way she went about mentioning the business and because she and the business owner aren’t friends on Facebook, the business owner had no way of responding on the platform. She had no way of asking why the customer had a bad experience. She had no way of asking the customer if they could talk about it offline. She had no way of asking the customer how she could make it right.


So there it was. Her business was publicly shamed for no specific reason and with no direct way to respond.


Coincidentally, I had a meeting at that coffee shop the same morning. My experience was wonderful—as usual. And so, as a fellow small business owner and regularly satisfied customer, I felt it my duty to come to the rescue (well, as best I could anyway) by commenting on my friend’s post to share my positive experience at the café that day.


My comment probably didn’t undo much of the damage, but by seeing similar comments by others posted after mine, I’d like to think it helped restore at least a little bit of public favor for that small business.


It’s Better To Pick Our Battles On Social Media.

Just as people aren’t perfect, neither are businesses. They’re owned and staffed by imperfect humans who will try their very best, but who will sometimes fall short.


Sure, negative remarks on social media about a business’s performance are sometimes justified—particularly if a customer has had repeat bad experiences that weren’t addressed when brought to the owner’s attention. But shouldn’t every business have an opportunity to find out how they failed a customer and how they can set things right?


As customers ourselves, we need to remember that. When we have a lackluster experience, we don’t do ourselves any favors by venting for the sake of simply getting it off our chests. What will improve our future visits to businesses that have disappointed us in some way is to start an honest dialogue with owners and managers to explain why we’re unhappy and what we would like them to do differently.


Simple. Sensible. And something about which we should remind the overzealous business critics in our social media networks. After all, you and I never know when they might turn on us for the slightest slip.


How has your business (or others that you frequently visit) been bitten by unjustly harsh social media commentary? How have you handled it?


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Want Your Work to Delight Your Clients? Make Sure This Happens First…

It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time (so goes the cliche). But as a freelancer, pleasing clients stands as Thumbs upthe most effective way to secure more work and gain referrals.  Why wouldn’t you want to please clients all of the time? It’s counterproductive to aim to do anything less. That’s how I see it anyway.

Pleasing clients doesn’t mean achieving perfection on the first try. Perfection is quite subjective, anyway. Is anything I write perfect? Is anything a web designer creates perfect? Is anything an artist paints perfect? “Perfect” is in the discriminating eye of the beholders and depends upon their frames of reference and expectations. It’s generally that way with clients.

And while perfection may not be achievable, satisfying – even delighting – clients is. Before you can accomplish that, however, there’s one thing you need to do. And you need to do it each and every time you work on projects for your clients.

Freelancing Rule to Live and Work By: Make sure you’re happy with the work you’ve done BEFORE you submit it to your clients.

Will that 100% guarantee your clients will be 100% thrilled and require no tweaks? No. But you’ll be much closer to achieving satisfaction if you yourself are pleased with your work than if you feel only half-happy with what you’ve completed.

BEFORE sending work to your clients…

  • Ask yourself…

    • “Was I clear on what the client wanted/needed from me, and did I fulfill it?”
    • “Did I do the very best I could?”

The answer should be “Yes” on both counts every time.

  • Sleep on it.

Try to plan your work a bit ahead of schedule so you can finish it a day in advance. Don’t submit it right way! Instead, let it sit overnight, and then look at it again the next morning. Chances are you’ll discover you can make a final tweak or two to make it even better before sending it to your client.

Keep in mind each and every client will be different. You’ll find some easier to please than others.  That’s precisely why it pays to get in the habit of ensuring YOU are always pleased and proud of your work before you hand it over to your clients. You may still need to make some alterations to what you’ve done, but by holding yourself accountable to you, you’ll always be closer to delivering an end product your clients will love.

Your turn! What are your secrets for delighting clients with your work?

By Dawn Mentzer
Another post by the Insatiable Solopreneur™


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How What You’re NOT Can Successfully Set Your Brand Apart

As solopreneurs, we put a lot of thought into what we are to customers – and into how that makes us different from our Apples and Orangescompetitors. That’s very important, but what if you’re in an industry that’s borderline commodity. What if you do a fine job for customers, but the type of service you provide or business you’re in in really doesn’t lend itself naturally to differentiation?

Story Time!
One of my clients, owner of  a local marketing and design firm, shared a story with me about one of his clients who faced that very challenge.  Being in the pet food distribution business, his client was in a market where products offered and price points were pretty much the same everywhere.  When asked how he differentiated himself from his competitors, he said something to the effect of, “I make sure that I’m not an a_ _ hole.”  (I’ll let you fill in the blanks!)

Quite a point of differentiation, eh? As I understand, because very little competition enters that industry and customers don’t have a lot of options, some distributors were acting like jerks toward their clients.

So, my client’s client found that not being an a_ _ hole was his key point of differentiation.  His unique selling proposition wasn’t centered on what he was. It was all about what he WASN’T!

What does that mean to us as solopreneurs?
My thoughts…

  • Sometimes you have to think about more than just the bells & whistles of what you offer. The personality behind your brand is what clients will gravitate toward and connect with – especially when you’re offering services that aren’t overwhelmingly different from those of your competitors.
  • ALWAYS treat clients with professionalism and respect. Don’t be the “a_ _ hole”  your competitors are taking business away from.

Time for you to share! Is there anything that you’re NOT that has set you apart from your competition? Have you seen business owners sink their own ships by being jerks to their clients?

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What Solopreneurs Need to Know and Do to Harness the “Customer CEO” Power of Value

When I started reading “Customer CEO – How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers” by Chuck Wall Light bulb(@CustomerCEO), I thought I’d write a review after I finished the book. But I’m finding so much helpful insight along the way, that it makes more sense to share Wall’s nuggets of wisdom in smaller doses. I hope that packaging some of what he shares in his book in posts that provide tips and food for solopreneurial thought will allow you to focus and think about how you might apply it in your own solo-business.

They’ve got the Power
Throughout “Customer CEO,” Wall homes in on the nine “powers” (core needs) that customers possess.

It’s these powers that make your customers the CEO of your company. Like it or not, your customers really do have the control. But the good news is that by tuning into their wants and needs, you can channel their powers into creating and sustaining a thriving business.

Why solopreneurs need to value the Power of Value
Among the nine powers, Wall speaks to the “Power of Value.” As Wall points out, value is highly subjective and different in the eye of one beholder to the next. But there are two universal concerns that all customers – those of mega businesses and those of solopreneurs – share…

  • They don’t want to be ripped off!
  • They don’t want to do business with someone who is “fly by night.”

As solo-business owners, it’s up to us to build trust and demonstrate to our customers and prospective customers that we deliver on our promises, that we provide products and services that are worth what they’re paying for them, and that we’re in business with the intent to stay in business. What are some ways to do that?

  • Maintain a portfolio of your best work.
  • Share testimonials that give you credibility.
  • Give detailed proposals that share the entire scope of work. For example: when I propose a rate for a website content writing project, I don’t just give an $X.XX rate for “website content;” I make it clear that my rate includes all research, collaboration, writing, revisions.”)
  • Don’t miss deadlines.
  • Be responsive. Never let more than 24 hours go by (unless you’re on vacation or in the hospital!) without either responding to or at least acknowledging that you received a customer’s inquiry.
  • Network tirelessly – and consistently – both online and face-to-face. Remember business relationships develop over time. You need to be persistent and show that you’ll be around for the long haul.

Empowered by the Power of Value
I encourage you to take Wall’s advice and find out what your customers think about you, your services and products, and what they like or don’t like about doing business with you. Overcoming customer skepticism related to the Power of Value gets easier as you become more in tune with the value you provide (in the eyes of your customers) – and as you become more comfortable with communicating that value.

What about you? In what ways have your Customer CEOs shared that you provide value to them? How do you keep the lines of communication open to keep tabs on your customers’ satisfaction with your products and services and the experience you deliver?

[Special thanks to Shelton Interactive for bringing “Customer CEO” to my attention and for the opportunity to add it to my library!]

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What Do Your Customers Want? The Same Things You Do!

Whether you’re just starting out as a solopreneur or have been running your small professional services business for a Confused manwhile, you’ve probably at some time wondered, “What do customers want?”

That will be different to some degree depending on the particular industry you’re in and your specialties, but there are some universal things that all prospective customers are looking for. And they’re not in any way mysterious or elusive. In fact, they’re the exact same things that you likely look for when choosing a professional services provider.

  • A solution – Customers choose a professional services provider to satisfy a need. They reach out to you because they’re unable to solve a problem or accomplish something on their own – either because of lack of resources or skills.

 Tip: Think about and be prepared to communicate clearly about the problems/needs that you’re able to solve.


  • Expertise – Expertise doesn’t always equate to years of experience – though that can give you an edge in establishing credibility. Expertise is knowing your stuff and having the capability of delivering quality to your clients.

Tip: If you’re a new solopreneur and struggling to get business because of your lack of experience, get some volunteer projects under your belt to build your portfolio and list of references.

  • Honesty – Clients expect (and rightly so) honesty in a professional services provider. They don’t want empty promises that can’t be fulfilled. They want you to do business ethically and to be honest about expected outcomes.

 Tip: Be realistic from the beginning about what you can deliver and when you can deliver it. “Pie in the sky” promises won’t earn you points when they don’t pan out.

  • Reliability – Consistent quality and performance are the keys to getting repeat business from your customers. If they know that they can depend on you to do the job well, they’ll be more inclined to give you more work.

 Tip: Repeat clients are the ultimate source of testimonials and referrals. The fact that someone has come back to you time and again stands as a testament to your reliability. Ask your repeat clients for testimonials and recommendations on Linkedin.

  • Fair rate – While some clients are 100% driven to decision based on price, the majority are willing to pay a fair rate for quality services. Most recognize that we often get what we pay for.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth. Don’t gouge your clients with excessive costs, but do be aware of your strengths and set your fees so that they’re favorable for you, yet fair to the customer.

  • A sense of caring – Customers expect you to care about the work you’re doing for them, the results that you deliver, and your relationship with them.

Tip: It’s not difficult to demonstrate caring, but you need to pay attention to the opportunities to do so. In your emails, on phone calls, and in meetings, tell clients “thank you” often and tell them that you appreciate the opportunity to work with them.

  • Responsiveness – Clients expect you to respond promptly to their questions and concerns. Responsiveness demonstrates what we talked about in the previous bullet point, caring. And it can set you apart from your competitors.

 Tip: Always try to respond to clients and prospects within 24 hours – even if just to say that you received their message, and will be getting back to them soon. In urgent situations, respond as close to immediately as possible.


  • No unpleasant surprises – No one likes “bait and switch” tactics, discovering hidden fees, or missed deadlines.

 Tip: Prepare and plan before proposing or starting projects for clients. Get a grip on – and communicate – the scope of what you’ll do, when you’ll do it, what you’ll need from the customer and how much it will cost them.

Pleasing customers doesn’t require a Magic 8 Ball, but it does take understanding their fundamental wants and needs. And fortunately, you have the means to do that quite easily. Simply tune into what YOU look for in a professional services provider – and deliver on those things!

Your turn! What do you look for in a professional services provider? How has your own experience as a customer shaped your approach to working with clients?

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No Brainer Ways to Facilitate a Stellar Customer Experience

Though following through with quality stands at the cornerstone of an exceptional customer experience, solopreneurs need to consistently Happy Smiley Customer Faceincorporate other facets of customer service and communication to stand out and make themselves the number 1 provider who clients want to do business with.

Some strategies take time, analysis and expense to implement, but there are others that are (or should be!) “no brainers” that you can do right now with very little extra effort.

Do these things for every project and for every client and you’ll be on your way to building trust and solid professional relationships that will lead to repeat business and referrals…

  • Demonstrate that you care – beyond the work. This is so very easy, yet it’s amazing how often people neglect to do it. (That’s why you’ll stand out when you do!) In your emails and phone calls, add some friendly small talk before getting down to business. Ask your client how his weekend with the family was. If she was out sick for a few days, ask how she’s feeling. Inquire if you’ll see him at the next Chamber mixer. Inject appreciation of the opportunity to work with them. Crack a joke about the unseasonably cold weather in early spring (Given our uncooperative PA springtime temperatures, I’ve got a few I can loan you!). Seriously though, it doesn’t take much energy to simply be nice and not all business.
  • Communicate often and clearly. Especially when you’re working on a project that has a bunch of moving parts and a deadline that’s more than a few weeks out, make sure that you give clients regular updates on your progress. Once a week is a good interval for updates (unless the client requests something different). That will give them the peace of mind that you’re getting things done and that you’ll be delivering what’s promised on time. Besides the frequency of updates, the clarity of them matters, too. Make sure that you organize your thoughts into a logical order so there’s no confusion about what you’ve been doing and what’s left to be done. Demonstrating your powers of organization and attention to detail will definitely win points and garner trust. And when clients send you emails and phone messages, get back to them promptly (don’t wait longer than 24 hours EVER – unless on vacation or over the weekend), even if only to let them know that you received their message and will get back to them soon.
  • Share something that they’ll find interesting or find helpful. Whether they’re directly related to trends in your customer’s industry or applicable to doing business in general, share blog posts, videos or websites that might benefit your clients. Productivity tools and marketing tips are often appreciated and appropriate for just about any type of business. Of course, knowing something about your clients’ particular challenges and goals will help you identify resources that will provide value to them.
  • Support them on their social networks. Actively seek your clients out where they exist on social media – and follow them on those that you have in common. Like their Facebook page. Follow them on Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube. Add them to your Google+ circles. Connect on Linkedin and follow their company page. And then occasionally interact via liking and sharing their posts – especially when they make big announcements or share achievements.

Not rocket science for sure, but all of the above can serve as the launching ground for a stellar customer experience that will keep clients satisfied – and keep them coming back.

Your turn! What are the little things that you do to make your customers’ experience one that stands out from the competition?

4 Reasons Why You Might Be Missing Your Mark as a Solopreneur – And How To Get On Target

Without a doubt, it sucks to work hard on a project only to find that what you’ve delivered doesn’t meet your client’s Target w/dartexpectations. But it happens to all of us now and then – especially to those of us who deliver a service or product that doesn’t have a black and white definition of what’s “good” and what’s “not good.”

As a solopreneur in a creative field (like freelance writing, photography, web design, fine arts etc.), your work naturally gets evaluated and judged through subjective eyes. What you produce has more to it than its face value; it carries emotions and feelings with it. And so, you’re at greater risk of not hitting your mark because that mark quite often isn’t  defined very well for a number of reasons.

You didn’t listen or take the time to understand.

This is probably the easiest pitfall to fix. Be fully, mentally present in meetings and on phone calls with your clients – and take thorough notes. Missing the mark can happen all too easily if you didn’t pay attention. If you think you missed something during your conversations, backtrack and ask your clients to repeat what they shared. And always recap the details and confirm your understanding before you leave the building or drop off the phone call.

You rushed through it.

Nothing will deliver lack luster results more effectively than rushing through a project. Be sure that you’ve allotted enough time to do it justice and focus your full attention on the task at hand. And never, ever multi-task. You can still have other things on your plate, but schedule them for another time. If you find that you’ll have trouble doing quality work because of trying to meet an unrealistic deadline, approach your client about extending it. Chances are your customer would rather have your best output a few days later than something mediocre or worse with a fast turn-around.

They didn’t provide you with enough information.

Sometimes clients will expect you to just run with a project without giving you the direction you need. If you’re not clear on their expectations or the details that need to be included, don’t proceed until you gain some clarity from them. Explain that to do the best job possible and to keep on budget, you need the info up front.  If they can’t – or aren’t willing to – cooperate, it’s in your best interest and theirs to put the project on hold until they can put some meat on the bone.

They don’t know what they want.

Occasionally, you might work with clients who bring you into their projects too early. Because they haven’t gotten a grasp on what they want to convey to their audience, they’ll be unable to provide you with the essential information that you need to do your work. It’s pretty much impossible to meet a client’s specifications if there are no specifications! Though it can be tough to gauge a client’s readiness, use your intuition and look for clues that indicate your customer might need to more fully think things through before contracting your help. Some key signs to watch for

  • They constantly change their minds after giving you direction.
  • They don’t respond promptly – or at all – with answers that you need to move the project forward.

Though tweaking is a natural part of the process when you’re a solopreneur in a creative field, you can avoid the frustration of substantial re-dos by paying attention to your own readiness and that of your clients. Your preparation and focus – and theirs – will make the difference between hitting the mark and missing it.

Ever miss the mark in any of your projects? What was at the root of the problem and how did you get beyond it?

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2 Things You Need To Deliver In Every Customer Experience (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!)

Communication and caring: If they’re MIA in customer interactions – especially the ones gone bad – kiss your credibility and your customer goodbye.  Lesson learned from my vacation experience with an airline that did it all wrong and an airline employee who did it all right.

Groggy, but excited to start our vacation, my family awakened at 3:30 a.m. last Saturday. We wanted to allow plenty of time to travel to the Baltimore/Washington airport, park the car, check our luggage, go through security and board our 8 a.m. flight to Texas.

Despite our punctuality, below is the situation we found upon arrival to the United Airlines check-in area.

A rocky customer experience

Worried? Sure we were. But we figured if things were going to get a little tight, eventually a United representative would call out our flight and expedite our visit to the desk so we could get on our way. So we waited.

And waited…

And waited.

The line hardly budged after an hour, and not a single United rep ventured anywhere close to our neck of the woods to pull people to the front for any soon-departing flights. Nor did anyone offer any explanation whatsoever about the problem in progress.

Getting desperate, we decided to try our luck at the curbside check –in. The line there was also long, but it had to be moving faster than the stagnant one we were standing in. It was. And even more promising was when the attendant asked for everyone in line with an 8 a.m. flight to go inside the airport. FINALLY, they were going to put us through baggage check and send us onward!

So inside we went…only to find what we did before. A long line with no official airport peeps providing any direction. We went back out to the curbside check-in attendant to politely ask what we were supposed to do.

His response, “Go to the back of the line.”

Our observation, “But we were already there, and our flight is leaving in 20 minutes.”

His response, “Not my problem.” (Truth. He really did say that!)

So there we were again…in the same line where we had originally been. Sadly, it still had not moved. In fact, it had grown longer since our first go at it.

As before, no United reps or other airport staff walked to our end of the earth to provide assistance or insight into to what was happening – or not happening as it were.

No communication (not even by email on my smart phone). No information. No alternatives.

Clearly we were going to miss our flight and had no choice but to wait with the other hundreds of people who needed to have their departure plans amended.

Eventually, after about two hours, an announcement aired over the P.A. system indicating that United had delays due to “airport conditions.” Oddly, the same BWI “airport conditions” didn’t seem to be affecting the flight schedules of the Delta passengers who we enviously allowed to cross through to get to their check-in desk. The relief on their faces was insuppressible as they realized they didn’t have to stand in our line!

After another hour, we decided to take our chances and join a few other United passengers in a separate line that we self-proclaimed as the “we missed our flight because of your ‘airport conditions’ so you need to make us a priority” section. Finally, around 10:30 a.m., we were at the desk.

Exhausted and frustrated with no high expectations for anything resembling satisfactory service, we met customer service rep Myra. Myra greeted us with a smile, compassion and a willingness to do whatever she could to get our vacation started as smoothly as possible considering the present circumstances. For two arduous hours, she scoured through the reservation system and talked us through the process as she searched to find suitable flights at BWI and nearby airports that would accommodate our party of 5. Although she surely was feeling stressed and at the end of her rope, Myra never took it out on us. No aggravated tone, no apathy. Just stellar customer service in a situation that seemed completely unsalvageable.

Despite Myra’s best attempts, we had to begin our vacation a day late and from an airport that was an additional hour away from home. Sensitive to the inconvenience we were experiencing, she secured reservations at a Washington DC hotel that was within 5 minutes of Reagan International airport and changed our return flights so that we arrived ½ hour earlier there than we would have at BWI.

Did that make it all better? No. But because of her positive attitude and hard work to make things as right as possible, Myra succeeded in diffusing much of our distress and disappointment.

Will we fly United again? Not sure that we will. But then again, I’m not sure that we won’t. And United has Myra and Myra alone to thank for us not completely wiping them from our list of carrier options. What a difference communication and caring can make – even in the most challenging situations.

Your turn! What customer experience have you had that got turned around (good or bad) by a solitary someone or something?

3 Ways You Should NEVER Treat Your Customers

Although customers aren’t always right, they are the lifeblood of your business. You need them. And though you think they need you in return, the truth is they can go somewhere else if they really want to.

Creating a customer experience that keeps them coming back can be done in many, many creative ways that suit your business and your clients. But there are a few things that solopreneurs universally should NEVER do when dealing with customers:

Take them for granted

With so many external variables (budget constraints, shifts in priorities, hiring talent in-house, etc.) that could come into play when working with a client, don’t assume they’ll be around forever – even if they’re happy with your products and services.  Always make an effort to maintain strong rapport with them, because that could prompt them to do their best to keep you on projects even when times are tough. And always think ahead about how you’ll replace the revenue from them if ever they meet unforeseen pressures and need to cut you loose.

Take advantage of them

True story: Not too terribly long ago, I trained at a martial arts studio that had a very closely-knit community of members. Eager to help the sole owner of the studio, members would freely donate their time to tasks like refilling the refrigerator with water bottles, helping with the kids’ classes, even cleaning the bathroom. Rather than show appreciation, the owner started taking members’ generosity for granted. He would get them to fill in for him when he didn’t feel like showing up to teach or when he wanted to step out for a cup of coffee. Rather than answer his own phone or greet prospective new members when they walked in the door, he instead expected his members to do it.

Bad move.

The members got fed up with it, and the vast majority left. In fact, many of them left to study martial arts at the home-based studio that two of the former members started on their own. All they had learned from essentially running the other guy’s business for him paid off. Now they are his competition.

Treat them like crap

In a bad mood? Who cares! At all times, you need to treat your clients with respect and kindness. That’s not to say you can’t ever disagree with them or share when something doesn’t seem quite equitable. But you need to do it tactfully and in a non-accusatory tone. Your words and actions matter a great deal in building and nurturing business relationships. Nothing can spoil your brand reputation faster than being a jerk – word of mouth travels fastest when it doesn’t have anything nice to say!

Remember, as a solopreneur, you are your brand. And it’s on your shoulders to make that brand one with a reputation of excellence. Always put your best foot forward when working and communicating with clients.


Do you have any examples of businesses that have totally missed the mark in how they treat their customers? How do you approach your client relationships to make them stronger?



Fortune Cookie Friday: “You always bring others happiness.”

Another Friday…another interpretation of a fortune cookie’s inner wisdom. Fortune cookie

 “You always bring others happiness.”

As I think about it, I really, really do like making people happy. I think most people do. And if you’re a solopreneur or freelancer, pleasing clients is one solid way to increase the likelihood of your business thriving and surviving.

What are some of the ways you can make – and keep – your clients happy?

  • Produce quality work – consistently!
  • Be responsive. If at all possible, never let an email to a client go unanswered for more than 24 hours.
  • Show gratitude. Let your clients know that you appreciate them.
  • Support them on social media. Like, comment and share their posts on Facebook. Retweet or favorite their tweets. +1, comment and share their Google+ posts. Comment on their blog articles. The possibilities for generating good will are virtually endless!
  • Recommend their products and services to others.
  • Be accessible. Make sure that they know you’re open to answering questions and exploring new ways that you might serve their needs.

No rocket science involved here; just common sense and awareness of how the little things can make a big difference in nurturing business relationships.

Your turn! What can you add to the list? What ways do you delight clients and keep them coming back?

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