Do you want buzz for your biz? Do you want to create new customers? Do you want current customers to stick around? Do you want people to love your business? Of course you do. How do you do it? I have a one-word answer for you:

Free.

Studies show that there is no more powerful word in advertising than 'free,' and, it turns out, the same is true in both customer acquisition and retention. Offering both current and potential customers alike something extra, something for nothing, is the sort of value-added bonanza that creates and cements relationships.

Consider all of the ways that offering customers extras at no extra cost, and especially something they did not expect to get for free, can help your business:

1. It creates interest.

Let's say you are a new business and you want to attract attention. What is the best way? Social media? Pay-per-click? Maybe, but just maybe the answer is to offer something people want for free.  That will surely capture their attention.

This sort of loss-leader strategy is tried and true and works because:

  • It allows people to try out a product or business with no commitment
  • It gives them a chance to get a feel for the goods
  • It makes them feel like they are getting a deal

Back when I was a new lawyer, I made it a practice to never charge for initial consultations. This proved to be an excellent way to get people to give me a chance.

2. It gives people a reason to switch.

While customer loyalty is not what it once was, it is still real; people tend to find products and businesses they like and stick with them. So you have to give people a reason to 1) leave their comfort zone, and 2) choose you when you do.

Freebies do just that.

First, because there is no commitment involved, offering something for nothing makes it easy for the potential customer to check you out. And second, free creates goodwill. As you really do not get a second chance to make a great first impression, giving something for nothing helps foster that great first impression.

3. Free makes current customers want to stay your customers.

This may be the most important reason of all. We all know we are supposed to appreciate and reward our best customers, but how do you do that, really?

Maybe the most powerful way is to give them extra products or services at no extra cost. It is especially useful if you give your customers something they need and are not expecting to get for free.

Let's say you are a landscaper. You might offer to build a raised garden bed for some of your best clients. The hairdresser can refuse payment the next time her best customer comes in. The virtual assistant can send a $0 invoice after the next project.

Do you see how powerful this is? It is a very real and tangible way to show your appreciation for your clientele, and do so in a way that resonates in this economy.

4. Free generates sales.

When you offer value-added extras at no extra price to people, they tend to want to thank you in return. And they do that by buying more from you. Those 'buy 10 and get one free' cards do just that.

First, it makes people want to fill up the card. Second, it makes people want to come back and start again after they get the free meal, car wash, whatever.

5. It is great branding.

Offering new and old customers alike something extra at no cost has long-term ramifications as well. It reinforces the image that shopping with you is smart, that you offer real value, and that you sincerely appreciate their business. Is there a better brand to have than that?

What can you give away? The answer is, what would your customers appreciate? The dentist can give away a free exam. The florist can give a free bouquet. And the columnist? He can give away a great free tip:

Free really works.