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Strategies to cultivate loyalty among your base.

Small business owners "spend so much time trying to get new customers," laments Ramon Ray, a marketing and technology "evangelist" for both Chandler, Arizona-based Infusionsoft and

Instead, he says entrepreneurs should spend their time (and, presumably, money) focusing on turning existing customers into loyal ones. After all, "it's easier to sell to customers you [already] have than those you do not."

Plus, loyal customers are more likely to boost a small business’ revenue and profits by acting as "brand ambassadors" who refer acquaintances to the establishment in question," says Ray, who will host a free NFIB webinar, "Date Your Leads, Marry Your Customers," February 13, 2013.

"If you want to have a long-term business, you need to keep customers coming back," adds Jason Richelson, founder and CEO of New York-based ShopKeep POS, as well as owner of The Greene Grape, a wine shop, and its grocery-stocked counterpart, Greene Grape Provisions.

Pamper and Promote Customers

Among Ray’s suggestions for small business owners: Follow up each purchase with a note or a thank you card. Also, "find ways to shine a light on your customers." You could do so through an email newsletter or even via social media, he adds. However you go about doing it, though, make sure it promotes them and not you. Another strategy he stands behind: "Train, train, train your employees ... to see your vision."

Empower Staff for Amazing Service

Richelson says the best way to build a business people want to return to and tell others about is "to offer them amazing service when they are in the store. That requires hiring amazing staff and treating them well so that they pass it down to the customers."

Adds Chris Zane, owner of Zane’s Cycles in Branford, Connecticut: "If you want to create an extraordinary environment in your business, you have to engage the people who work there. And you can do that by empowering them to do what’s right for the customer."

Turn Unhappy Customers into Happy Ones

"For customers who are not happy, work feverishly hard to make them so—since they can be your best customers," suggests Ray.

Zane has long lived by the same rule. In fact, the following promise is shared front-and-center on his company’s website: "We, without reservation, guarantee that if for any reason, at any time, you are not completely satisfied with any item you purchased from us, we will gladly repair, replace, or refund your money."

It’s easy to make that promise, Zane says, because, "we look at the lifetime value of the customer, and we recognize that multiple transactions over a period of 20, 30, or 40 years are going to generate tremendous revenue and great opportunity for profit. Whenever someone walks through our door, we don’t see them as a $ 1.69 energy bar customer, or a $ 6 tube customer, or a $ 25 pump customer. Instead, they’re a $ 5,600 profit opportunity if we can engage them in such a way that the next time they think about the products we offer, they have a positive feeling and they want to come back to us."

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