Sometimes when you do something long enough you start to think it's common knowledge.

Take purchasing a domain for example. Over the years I've purchased hundreds of domains, many of which were terrible choices, but it became a bit of a hobby for me and it's fun finding new and unque domain names. It reminds me of when I collected comic books and baseball cards as a kid. I really enjoy purchasing a new domain name and imagining the business I could build around it, knowing full well I will most likely never actually do it. That may sound dorky to you but it's the truth!

Today I'm going to show you how easy it is to purchase a domain. I'm not going to get into how to choose a domain name, though I will leave some resources for you at the end of this article.

I personally use Godaddy.com for all of my domain purchases, regardless of where I host my websites. Though I personally find Go Daddy to be a poor choice for web hosting, they do offer great deals on domain purchases and their user panel (Domain Name Server, or DNS) for managing your domains is relatively easy to use, even for a novice. The other reason that I like using Go Daddy is that I can centralize all of my domain names in a single location and it doesn't get messy if I need to change hosting providers for my website.

If you don't end up using Go Daddy, no fear.  The registration process is pretty much the same with all of the major domain name providers.

*If you plan on only purchasing one domain in the foreseeable future, you may want to consider just purchasing your domain name from the web hosting provider that you eventually use.  It will make things a little easier for you to have everything with a single provider.

Just follow the steps below and you will have your very own domain name in about 5 minutes.

Sign up for an account at Godaddy.com

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Signing up for an account is straight foward and only takes about a minute. Below the sign up form are a whole bunch of tick boxes asking you how you would like to be contacted and if you would like to subscribe to a few newsletters. Read it carefully as you don't want to be bombarded with emails from them.

Choose a Domain Name

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The next step is to choose a domain name. Once you enter the domain name you are looking for, you can hit the big orange “Go” button and Go Daddy will search to see if it is available.

Choose from the available domain names

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As you can see from the image above, garyshouldis.com is taken (I own it already). Go Daddy will show you the results for that domain name and let you know if it is available in several other popular domain extentions like .net, .org and.biz. If you look on the right, it will also show different varients of the domain name you entered, like “bestgaryshouldis.com”, which is a bit corny….but who doesn't like seeing the word “best” in from of their name!

If I am purchasing a domain to use as a business, I almost always opt for the .com extention as it is by far the most popular. The only acception I will make is if the business will be doing business solely in be a particular country, in which I may opt to use the country domain extention. An example of this is Canada, where the country specific domain extention is .ca and is very popular. In contrary, .us is not at all popular in the U.S., even though it is technically the country domain extention.

If you are purchasing a domain for personal use, such as your name or a personal blog, you may opt for a different domian extention like .me or .org.

Once you have settled on a domain name, you are ready to checkout.

Purchase your new domain name

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I have decided to purchase the domain “garyshouldis.org” to add to my personal collection of “Gary Shouldis” domain names. As you click through to the registration process, you need to be aware of a few things with Go Daddy.

They are the Kings of the upsell and are a bit sneaky in the checkout process. Be sure to read everything clearly and only choose the options that you want and nothing more. An example above is the default for my domain registration is for 5 years. If you are not sure you will still be using this domain name in a few years, I would opt for only a year or two, then renew it again once you have an actual website in place and you know you will need it for the next several years. The other reason I don't like to register for too long a time (with the exception of this website, which is registered for several years) is that Go Daddy will be constantly sending you coupon offers for new domain names as well as renewing existing domain names, so you will always have opportunities to save after you purchase your domain.

Privacy and Doain Protection Options

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Your domain comes with standard registration, which includes a public listing in the WHOIS database directory. The WHOIS directory is public for anyone to find the name and contact information for any domain name. If you do not want to have your contact information listed in the WHOIS directory, then you can opt for a private registration, which is an additional charge. Most of my domains are not private and I haven't had any spam problems, but it's a personal choice.

Activate Your Domain

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The next section in the registration process is a bunch of upsells, where Go Daddy asks you if you want to add email and hosting to go along with your website. I do not use either service with Go Daddy and advise you to look at other options for email and web hosting that are much better choices and at a better price. A great and free email service is Google Apps.  Check out the resources at the end of the article for a few web hosting options.

If you choose not to purchase email or web hosting from Go Daddy, make sure none of the tick boxes are checked and you're not paying for anything you don't want to.

*Go Daddy gives you a bunch of free starter services, including an email address when you purchase a domain with them.

Finally Ready to Checkout

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You're in the home stretch. Here you should make sure you are only paying for what you want, in this case a domain name with a 1 year registration. If you look in the “Order Summary” box on the right, you will see a option to enter a promo code. If you don't have one, do a Google search for “Go Daddy Promo Codes” and you will see tons of results with coupon codes. Almost all of the time you will be able to find one to get an additional discount off of your order.

When you have reviewed you order, just hit the “Continue to Checkout” button to go to your payment page and you are done. You have just purchased a domain! Give yourself a pat on the back as millions of people around the world still have no idea on how to accomplish this feat.

Congratulations on your domain purchase

As you can see, purchasing your own domain is relatively easy.  There are lots of places to purchase domains, host your websites and find cool domain names.  I have listed a few options at the end of this article.   I personally use all of them and find them to be a good starting point for beginners.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions about domain names, web hosting and pretty much anything else related to internet marketing.  Cheers, Gary

Online Resources for domains, web hosting and domain name research

Domain Name Research

Panabee.com

Nameboy.com

Purchase Domain Names and Web Hosting

Godaddy.com

Hostgator.com

Weebly.com

Bluehost.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

 

Thinglink – a free tool where you can make the images on your website interactive.  Take an image on your website and add multiple tags inside the image that link to various websites.  Great tool if you are an affiliate or  if you just want to place additional details to an infographic or other descriptive image.

 

Slideshare – A great way to share your slideshow presentations, PDF's and video presentations.  An active community of users that attracts over 60 million visitors a month.  Great tool for sharing your expertise with others and for establishing yourself as an expert in your niche.

 

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

If you are part of the Twitter Universe, you know that is can sometimes (mostly actually) become a steady stream of useless noise and shameless self promotion. Unfortunatly, too many people take the “Spray and Pray” mentality with their tweeting, resulting in an endless stream of litter on the walls of everyone that follows them.

If used correctly, Twitter can be a tremendous tool for business owners and individuals alike. One of the best, and most efficient ways to use Twitter is to schedule your tweets throughout the day,  at times when your followers will most likely hear and respond to your tweets.

One great tool that I have been using for several months now is Buffer App and it has actually made tweeting easy and shall I say fun?

What is Buffer?

Buffer is a neat application that lets you schedule tweets at pre-determined days and times that you choose. Once you have setup your tweeting schedule, simply use one of several Buffer Apps to tweet anything you like.

Some of the highlights of Buffer

  • Create a custom posting schedule that suites your audience
  • Once you create a posting schedule, just add tweets into your Buffer and they will automatically be scheduled. You do not have to schedule individuals tweets
  • Chrome, Safari and Firefox extensions available. You can also use a bookmarklet if you like
  • Free account available (up to 10 tweets in queue), paid versions also available
  • Mobile app available for Andriod, other mobile platforms can use Buffer's “email to Buffer” feature
  • Full analytic data on your tweets

Once your sign up for an account you are ready to get started

Download the Extensions and Apps That You Will Need

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You can install extentions and add ons for most of the popular browsers on the market, with the exception of Internet Explorer. If you are still using Internet Explorer as your web browser, please re-consider. I currently use the Chrome extension as well as the Android mobile app. I find both of these give me the flexibility to “Buffer” a good peice of content from pretty much anywhere.

Once Your Extentions and Apps are Installed, You are Ready to Buffer

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When you find an article that you would like to add to Buffer, simply click on the browser extention and the Buffer App will load as you can see above. If you look, you will notice that I have two Twitter accounts and a Facebook Fan Page available for posting. Yes, Buffer is adding Facebook to it's Buffer Queue!

Once you select which accounts you want to post to, you can post it immediently or add it to your Buffer queue and have it posted at a later date.

You can use Bit.ly or J.mp to shorten your tweets, or if you use Bit.ly Pro, you can use you own custom shortener via the Bit.ly API. As you can see from the url above, I have my own custom url shortener courtesy of Bitly.

A buffer tip that I learned from my good friend Evan Carmichael is if you highlight text in an article and then hit the Buffer button, it will replace the default Buffer text, which is the headline. Sweet!

My Buffer Stream

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Once you login to Buffer, you can view your recent posts as well as pending posts. You can edit, re-schedule and delete tweets in queue from this page. You can also post directly from inside Buffer. A neat feature of Buffer is that if you are short on things to tweet about, you can hit the “Inspire Me” button, which will load a recommended post for you to tweet. Most of them are just quotes, and an oocassional plug for Buffer, but it's still cool.

The Settings Page

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From the settings page you can choose which days and times you would like Buffer to post your tweets. The more days and times you choose, the more you will post. Keep in mind you will have to continually add tweets into your Buffer queue as it gets depeleted very quickly if you schedule frequent posts. If you are using the free account where you can have 10 tweets in queue, you will find you are constantly adding content to keep your Buffer Queue full.

If you look on the left side of the image above, you will see the area where you can choose which url shortener you would like to use. If you are using a custom url shortener via Bitly, you can enter your Bitly user name and API key here to activate it.

Buffer Paid Options

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Buffer also has Pro and Premium plans priced at $10 and $99 a month. If you are a power poster or manage several Twitter and Facebook accounts these may be options to consider. The premium plan allows for unlimited accounts, making it a great option of you are managing accounts for clients. I currently use the free plan but will most likely be jumping to the paid plan soon as I use it so frequently and am getting tired of constantly having to add conetent to my Buffer Queue.

Buffer is a great tool for Tweeting Responsibly

While I use tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetadder, I find myself using Buffer more and more. I think it's because the Buffer button is avalable to me anytime I want to add content…..I don't really have to think about it or do any work, which is great. Also, for someone like me  who is obsessed with Google Reader, Buffer makes it easy to add lots of great content in a single sitting, without the fear of annoying my Fans and Followers.

Give Buffer a try, you may find it's a nice compliment to the tools you are currently using. I know there are tons of great Twtter and Facebook tools out there, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

 

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

 

Zamzar –   Zamzar is a free online tool that lets you convert documents into a wide array of conversion types.  While you do not need to register in order to use the service, if you do you will get additional features such as increased upload files, document storage and better security.  I use this to convert PDF documents into Word Docs for easy editing.

Join.me – A free and really simple screen sharing tool that is powered by LogMeIn.  The free version includes up to 250 viewers, chat and file sharing features.  The Pro version includes a bunch of additional features bu the free version has enough for most small business owners

 

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

The days of backing up your files on a USB drive, or for those of us from generation X, on a CD or disk (does anyone remember the 5 1/4″ floppy disk?) are over. While it has taken a sometimes rocky path with reliability and security issues, cloud storage has taken center stage and has become an essential part of the way we store and share files.

Last year my three year old Dell desktop finally died on me. Actually, it was the hard drive that crashed.

I had three years of personal and business files stored on that computer. I also had about  two thousand photos on there, almost all of them of my three children. In most cases, I would have cried (internally at least), and shuttered at the thought of explaining this colossal mishap to to wife (I am the designated IT guru of the family).

But luckily, I had everything backed up. I installed a nifty service called Sugar Sync about a year earlier that automatically backed up all of my files to their server. It took me approximately thirty minutes to download all of the files from my former hard drive onto my new computer. I'm writing this article to say thanks to Sugar Sync for saving my butt and to let others know about this extremely useful service.

What is Sugar Sync?

Sugar Sync makes it really easy to backup, share and access your files, anytime, anywhere. It's an online cloud storage solution where you can store, and share your documents, images, video and audio files with virtually no work on your part. The backing up and syncing of your files is fully automated!

A quick list of features for Sugar Sync:

  • Sync your files automatically between multiple computers and on other devices such as your smart phone
  • Choose which folders you want to backup and sync. Sugar Sync will save your five most recent copies of a file in case you need to backtrack
  • Mobile apps. Sugar Sync has a mobile app for every platform. You can carry around and instantly access every file on every one of your computers
  • Easy collaboration. Have multiple people work on a single document and everyone's copy will automatically stay up to date. No more emailing dozens of file versions to each other
  • File sharing. Share files and folders with friends and co-workers. Set permissions and even set passwords. You can also make files public and share with the world via a public link
  • Your first 5 Gigabytes are totally free. Paid plans available if you require more storage

Getting Started with Sugar Sync

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Signing up for Sugar Sync is quick and easy, once you are registered, you will be prompted to download the desktop application. This is the program used to automatically backup the files on your computer.

Sugar Sync Training For First Time Users

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The first screen you see upon logging into your account is the welcome page. This page outlines six tasks for you to complete. It's set up as a hands on tutorial to get you familiar with the service and you are rewarded with an extra 125 megabytes of storage for each task completed. I recommend that you take a few minutes and go through each step. Not only will you get extra storage for free, you will become familiar with all of the features available in Sugar Sync.

 The six tasks for you to complete are:

  • Installing Sugar Sync on your computer
  • Installing Sugar Sync on your mobile device
  • Sharing a file via a public link
  • Sharing a folder
  • Uploading a file via email
  • Sharing your referral link with friends and on your social networks. This is a way you can earn additional free storage

Select Folders To Backup On Your Computer

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Backing up and syncing folders with Sugar Sync is easy. Just right click on the Sugar Sync icon on your computer and select “add folders to Sugar Sync”. The popup will appear where you can select which folders on your computer you would like to sync. Unlike Dropbox, Sugar Sync allows you to select folders that are located anywhere on your computer, allowing you to store folders anywhere you like.

Once you have completed this step with all of your computers, you can login to the Sugar Sync dashboard and see your files stored “in the cloud”.

Sugar Sync Web Dashboard

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As you can see, the online dashboard is pretty clean and easy to read. From here you can:

  • See how much storage space you have remaining
  • See the folders that have been synced from each of your computers and mobile devices
  • Upload, share and delete folders and files
  • Access and modify your account settings

Sharing Files is Easy with Sugar Sync

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When you select the option to share a folder, you will have several options. The options are similar if you only want to share a single file.

  • Set permissions to allow the recipient to only read the file, or allow them to add and edit the file from their computer
  • Set a password if you like
  • Send via email to specific people
  • Get the public link to the file and share with everyone. You would use the public link option if you were sharing this file on a website or a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn

Sugar Sync's Magic Briefcase

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When you sync files from a computer, those files will be synced to Sugar Sync's servers (the cloud). If you would like to have files synced and saved directly onto all of your computers, you would use the Magic Briefcase folder

Files stored in the Magic Briefcase folder will automatically be synced not only to Sugar Sync, but to all of the computers you have added to Sugar Sync. When you install the Sugar Sync desktop client onto your coputer, Sugar Sync will automatically add the Magic Briefcase folder in your My Documents folder. Simply add files to this folder to have them available and synced across all of your computers.

Share The Love For For Additional Free Storage

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Sugar Sync offers the best deal around for earning free storage. For every friend that you refer that joins Sugar Sync, you will both earn an additional 500 Megabytes of free storage. If your friend signs up for one of the paid plans (which start at $4.99 a month for a 30 Gigabyte plan), you will both earn a whopping 10 Gigabytes of storage.

The one thing I forgot to mention is security. While there is always a risk with storing files in the cloud, Sugar Sync offers security levels for transferring and storing files that most of their competitors either don't offer, or only offer with a paid subscription plan.

There are plenty of free and low cost cloud storage solutions out there, offering something for everyone. I find that Sugar Sync offers the most comprehensive set of features, all of which are included with the free plan. Many of their competitors only give you these features with a paid subscription plan.

As you can see, Sugar Sync offers a treasure trove of features beyond just backing up your files. If you aren't currently backing up the files on your computer, be warned, you never know when your hard drive will crash on you. With so many free and low cost options available to backup your files, there is no excuse not to.

What system do you use for backing up your important files?

 

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Enloop.  A free (paid versions available) online tool that will automatically create a detailed business plan for you.  While templates are created based on the data you enter, you can still fully customize all parts of your plan.  You can read my review of Enloop, A free and easy way to create a business plan.

Inumbr.  Create a virtual phone number for your business and choose where and how you want to calls to be routed.  A low cost and productive way to have a dedicated business number without the traditional costs of a phone line.

 

If you are serious about customer service in your business, you need to stay on top of what your customers are saying about your business.  The business that stays in tune with its customers will always grow with their needs and wants.

Are you using Social Media for your business?

Whether you do or not, you still need to know if your customers are talking about you online.  Online can be anywhere, from Twitter to Facebook to an online forum.  Businesses that ignore Social Media often find that there are ongoing discussions and debates going on about their business, and they are not part of the conversation.  If people are talking about you, good or bad, wouldn't you want to have the opportunity to thank them or to offer your side of the story if it was negative?

Below are three simple tools you can setup to monitor your business name online and to be notified when people are talking about you.  They are all free and fully automated, it should only take you about 10-15  minutes to set all of them up.  Once you receive an alert, you will have the opportunity to look like a customer service fanatic when you jump out of nowhere to thank your loyal customers or to offer a fast solution to another customers problem.

 Google Alerts

Google is chock full of free services for the small business owner. Google alerts is a powerful free tool where you can setup email notifications directly to your inbox if your business name (or other term you enter) is mentioned (and found by the Google bots) online.  You can have it set to notify you with any mention anywhere, or just on certain platforms such as blogs or discussion forums.

using google alerts to monitor your business name

 The form to fill out is very simple and is self explanatory.  The only thing you will need to know is to use quotation marks around the name of your business when you enter it in Google Alerts.  Why?  Using quotation marks tells Google to only give back results for the exact phrase, in the exact order you specified.  If you just enter you business name without quotation marks, Google will return results for any page that has those keywords, regardless if they are in order or not.  Example would be “the small business playbook” as opposed to just entering….the small business playbook.

 

Twitter Alerts

There are a few options for setting customer alerts for Twitter, the one that i use is Tweet Beep.    It's super easy to setup, just sign up for an account and add your Twitter handle.  You can then monitor a keyword or phrase and can set the type of alert, whether a hashtag, mention or keyword search.

set twitter alerts for your business

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter has its own search function, but as of this writing you cannot set up custom alerts.

 

Social Mention

Social Mention is just like Google Alerts except it monitors over 100 social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Digg.  After entering a keyword or search term, you will receive some great analytics as you can see from the screenshot below.

use social mention to monitor your brand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Mention is a great addition to using Google Alerts and ensures that you are pretty much monitoring everything online when it comes to your business and brand.

Tips On Using Custom Notifications

  •  Set custom alerts for both your business name and your personal name.  If you are a local business with close relations with your customers, sometimes they will mention you by name so be sure to cover both bases.
  • Set alerts for key terms for you business.  Set alerts for terms a potential customer might use if they were looking for a service like yours.  An example would be if you were a realtor in Denver, you may set an alert for “looking for a house in Denver” so you can try and reach out to the person who wrote, Tweeted or posted the comment.  You'll have to be creative here but there is lots of potential to grab business if done right.
  • Set alerts for your competitors.  Stay up to date with what's happening with your competitors.  Did you're key competitor just royally screw up with one of its customers?  Jump and and offer a solution!  Did your competition just announce a new service offering?  Stay up to date on what they are doing.

 

 Start using custom alerts today, it's free

Setting up alerts for your business name, your personal name and key phrases on each of the above services will only take about 10-15 minutes tops.  You cannot be everywhere at once, these tools will act like an army of website and social media monitors waiting to report any activity directly to you.  All for free!

If you are not monitoring the conversations of your customers online, guess who might be?  That's right, your competition.  Take your customer service to another level and start joining the online conversation.

image courtesy of photostock 

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

 

Knowem – A free (paid options available) service where you can instantly look up your business name, personal name or username on hundreds social media websites.  Securing your business and personal names on major social media sites is crucial for maintaining a consistent  brand image across multiple websites.

Dropbox – A cloud storage service that also makes for a great team collaborating tool.  Dropbox will install a folder on your computer where it sinks all files directly to their cloud storage servers.  Share, update and add files…..all synced in real time.  Dropbox currently offers 2GB for free, earning more if you refer friends.  Check out my article on Dropbox.

When you're first starting a business, you probably did a competitive analysis to see how you measured up to your competition.  You were probably told by your consultant or “expert” that you need to know everything about your competitors so that you can create your unique selling proposition, or  USP, to differentiate you from the rest of the pack

While it is important to conduct a competitive analysis so you understand your competitor's products, pricing and value propositions, they are not your biggest source of competition.  You cannot create a competitive analysis for this competitor.

Why?  Because the biggest competitor to your business is Customer Apathy.

 

Why Customer Apathy?

Most customers won't leave your business because they are unhappy with you or the service you deliver.  They leave because they are indifferent to your business.  There is a lack of engagement, passion and general love for your business.  These customers might stay with you, but they will just as soon leave if they find another offer more appealing than yours.

Customer apathy is impossible to gauge when you are first starting out as we just assume that everyone will fall in love with our business, just like we did.  Not true.  It takes an enormous amount of work and time to build a loyal customer fan base, much more than just providing a “good” service or product.

If you are a small business owner, you are most likely doing the best you can with the resources and knowledge you currently have.  That means you are most likely already providing a quality product, good customer service and to some degree, building relationships with at least some of your customers.

I haven't included businesses that produce poor customer service, a crappy product and do not run their businesses according to any sort of standard.  Businesses like these will eventually close their doors as this is an unsustainable business model.  An old Chinese proverb states “Do not open a shop unless you like to smile”  Definitely true.

 

So What Do You Do?

The first thing is to understand that being “good” is usually not enough.  People may enjoy your service or product, but are they loyal?  Do you trust that they will stay with you if you had to raise your prices or a competitor opened down the street?  If the answer is no, you need to start some serious bonding with your customers.

Deepen the relationship.  Take the time to solidify the relationships with your key customers.  Do you follow them online?  Do you know what kind of work they are involved in?  Get to know them outside of your business.  This doesn't mean hanging out with them but rather showing interest in their lives outside of your business.  Do they love sports?  Do they do volunteer work?  Find out more and start building some meaningful relationships.

Highlight your best customers.  Give them center stage in your business.  Do you highlight your customers in your newsletters?  On your website?  Be creative in how you can incorporate your customers in your everyday business.

Let them know you appreciate them.  Continually thank them for their business and let them know just how much you appreciate it.  Hand written note cards will do more for customer loyalty than any marketing campaign could ever produce.  Don't just send out a mass email thanking everyone, give your best customers individual attention.  It will mean alot more to them.

Read the tea leaves.  Being able to sense the mood of your customer base is vitally important. Always have your antennas up, looking for that steady customer that appears disengaged with your business.  Have a plan to approach them and start deepening those customer bonds.

Go Beyond Superficial Bonding

If you want to build really strong relationships and have loyal and engaged customers, you need to make relationship building a contact sport.  Get in there, ask questions, get to really know your customers.  The more ties you can build with a customer, both inside and outside of your business, the harder it will be for them to leave you.

Your goal should be that if a customer did decide to leave your business, for whatever reason, they will feel really bad about it.  They may even apologize to you.  If you can get that, you know you'redoing a good job with your relationship building.  An apathetic customer would never take the time to explain why they are leaving.

What are you doing today to turn that customer apathy into customer loyalty?