Make friends with your customers and reap the benefits.

These friends don't create any rules, standards or expectations. Courtney Gibbs, Ellen, Cathy Trueba and Maureen Corbett catch up during a girls' weekend in Chicago.

I met Cathy when I was a freshman in high school and we were both competing for the junior varsity cheerleading squad. The first words I spoke to her were, “Have you ever broken your nose?”

She replied, “No.”

Ugh. What did I know about making friends? Prior to high school, I had a best friend from kindergarten through eighth grade. The problem was, we never liked each other very much. Once we hit high school, my not-so-likable best friend found a new, trouble-making crowd and we broke up. So, I ventured into the angst-filled battlefield of high school as a lonely, tactless, defensive soldier.

“Have you ever broken your nose?”

She laughed at the absurdity of my question just as I realized how brutally rude it was. Cathy taught me how to be a great friend. Here’s the key: Have fun together. That’s all there is to it. Sure, you may grow to trust a friend - if she honors you by telling the truth. You may grow to respect a friend for his integrity or accomplishments. But to make a friend, all you’ve got to do is have fun.

Cathy and I both made the cheerleading squad, so we spent lots of time together. Our top priority was to make the other one laugh.

Cathy was a friend magnet, and through her I met Courtney and Maureen. Courtney, Cathy and I bonded in drama class and barely made it through a play practice without busting up and one of us heading to the principal’s office to do penance. After high school, Maureen and I went to college together in San Diego and then joined up with Cathy in Vermont. There, we waited tables and skied and dated each others boyfriends without ever having a cross word. We had fun, and nothing and nobody got in our way.

Recently, Cathy, Courtney, Maureen and I met for a girls’ weekend in Chicago. We picked the Windy City because it was just one airplane flight away from each of us. We flew in from Utah, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin and, without an awkward moment, picked up where we left off - picking on each other and going for the laugh. We’ve been friends for 34 years.

Isn’t that something? What does it take to keep friends like that? It starts with fun. It starts with sharing a common reality and acknowledging it, by a look or a laugh. And it sticks around because you don’t ask too much of it.

Making Friends In All The Right Places

Fun helps - in friendship, marriage, parenthood and business.

If you have managed to stay married for more than 15 minutes, you’ve probably shared a few laughs. Having kids is bonding because kids are hilarious. It helps.

January is the perfect month for reviewing what’s working (or not working) in your life, and making positive changes. I encourage you to touch base with an old friend. Reach out with a phone call. Share a “remember when” moment and go for the laugh.

What keeps a friendship from lasting forever and ever? It’s not the years in between the times you make contact; it’s laying down an expectation. Don’t expect anything from your friends. Don’t create any rules or standards of friend-like behavior. If your birthday comes and goes without a card, get over it. If she marries the wrong guy, well, so what? If he forgot his wallet at the pricey restaurant, offer it up. It takes the pressure off both of you if you just accept your friend as is, without any strings attached.

If you love going into your shop every day, you probably have a few friends on your team. Being a friend doesn’t mean you’ll be a good employee or co-worker. It is wonderful when you find friend and great team player all wrapped up together.

Make Friends With Your Customers

You’ve heard it before, in every sales seminar you’ve ever attended: People buy from people they like. If you have fun with your customers, they are going to buy - and buy more - from you.

In those sales seminars, you also probably heard about customer retention. That is a constipated term. Pitch the term and embrace the concept. To be a good customer, one should communicate in good faith and honor the terms of the business agreement.

As a business owner or salesperson, you may hold these expectations of your customers. Let’s say one of your customers has met this expectation and you had fun working with him. Why not make it a point to expand this relationship? You could have even more fun with someone who has just poured money into your small-shop coffers.

Here’s a great way to build your business ...
1. Create a list of 25 people for whom you have worked and enjoyed the experience. (Note: If you can’t think of 25 people to put on this list, you are not that much fun. Get thee to a Dale Carnegie class or a Club Med ASAP.)

2. Next to each person’s name, think of one nonbusiness-related, interesting thing you know about that person. (Note: If you can’t think of something, “Google” them and do a little investigating. You’ll be amazed what comes up when you “Google” someone.)

(Double note: You might as well “Google” your own name, if you haven’t already by the time you have read this far.)

3. Do something nice - fun! - for one person on the list this week. Next week, pick another name. Here are some ideas:

  • Based on what you know about each person, keep your eyes open for a news items or upcoming event that would be interesting to someone on the list. Act on it.
  • Send a handwritten note letting him know that you appreciate him as a good customer and as a friend.
  • Include a refund check for your business services - with “Just Kidding” inked across the signature line.
  • Send her a box of cookies with her picture printed on the cookies. Find the picture on her Web site and contact
  • Leave a message on his voice mail if the Sox beat the Yankees if you are a Sox fan and he lives and breathes Yankees.
  • Take it like a man when the Yankees win.
  • Invite her to play golf. If you both regularly play golf.
  • Send over a book that you recently read and enjoyed. By Stephen Colbert or Bill O’Reilly.
  • Subscribe to his online e-zine.
  • When you run across a press clipping about her - good news only - send it to her.
  • Refer a new client to him.
  • Trick or Treat in her neighborhood (with an age-appropriate kid in a costume) on Halloween.
  • Is he a business owner? Buy two tickets to see Jeffery Gitomer when Jeffrey comes to town. Jeffrey is a fun sales trainer and you will both enjoy and learn from him (
  • Don’t forward off-color e-mails or anything that may be interpreted the wrong way. People have lost jobs, businesses and lawsuits by crossing the line. If you know where the line is and if it is really funny, you might want to send it.
  • Invite her and her kids to use your NBA season tickets when you won’t be using them. And not just for when they are playing the Clippers.
  • Week after week, do something fun for one of your customers.

    Hold your customers to reasonable standards of behavior: good-enough communication skills and on-time payment. As a friend, expect nothing. They may delight you in unexpected ways.