I AM always taken aback when someone asks me how much time I devote to marketing. Every single thing I do is marketing.

Talking to strangers at seminars or group meetings or even in lifts or taxis is marketing. Customer service is part of marketing.

I am an unabashed, relentless, promoter of my services and products. I get the drive from the love I have for my business.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can attract and retain customers, and extend your relationship with them.

1. Learn from others

If you want to improve your marketing efforts, you need to attend seminars, read books and articles on marketing.

Talk to colleagues (a professional friend with whom you share target markets but don't sell the same product or service) about how they attract and retain their customers.

It's important to accept that many of the tips and techniques may not be appropriate for you. However, if you open your mind, you will come up with a version of the idea that may be perfect for you and your business.

2. Connect with people

Don't overlook the effectiveness of the "schmooze factor". That is just talking and having fun with customers. I experienced a good example of the schmooze factor with an airport shuttle service driver recently.

I won't ride in silence in elevators or taxis, so I always ask fellow commuters if they're going or coming from somewhere fun. Well, the driver jumped into the conversation and kept it wonderfully entertaining for the entire 40 minutes to the airport.

We all tipped her at least double what we would have because she made it so much fun.

Be sure that when you schmooze, you keep the talk casual and fun without getting the least bit inappropriate or disrespectful.

3. Keep in touch

Don't let your customers forget you. Keep in touch with them consistently.

One or two months after a sale, write your customers a note and ask them how they are enjoying their purchase. Call or write again on the anniversary of their purchase.

If you see something in a periodical that you think your customers would be interested in, send them a copy of it along with a note.

Write a regular newsletter. Be sure to include information that will be of value to them as well as news about you and your latest products/services and charges.

If you have not gone high-tech, create (or have someone do it for you) a website on the Internet. You'll reach people you might not have expected to.

Your website also works as a sales and marketing person 24 hours a day and never asks for overtime pay!

4. Handy reminders

Give your customers something valuable they will keep, such as little specialty-advertising items on which you have your name printed.

Meet an advertising specialty firm to see what items would be valuable to your customers - things that they would keep on their desks, in wallets or kitchens.

They'll see your name often and when they want to reach you, they can simply take your number off that refrigerator magnet or highlighter marker you gave them.

When I owned a hairstyling salon, I trained my stylists to ask their customers if they wanted to set their next hair appointment. I explained that it was part of our service to keep their hair looking its best.

What can you do to remind your customers when it is time to consider your service/product again?

5. Smart cards

Have you ever given a stack of your business cards to friends or customers for them to distribute? How often do you think the cards actually get distributed?

I don't leave anything to chance. When I was in the hairstyling business, with each haircut, I always gave my clients three of my business cards. I said: "One for you, two for the next two people who tell you how good you look."

Two cards are easier, and more likely to be handed out than a handful. Even if you don't have a hairstyling business, think about how you can make this technique work for you.

Remember, life is a series of sales situations. No matter how successful your business is, don't stop marketing. You have to keep convincing your customers that with you they will get the best and memorable service.

Article by Patricia Fripp, a San Francisco-based executive speech coach, sales trainer, award-winning professional speaker and author of Get What You Want! and Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It. Contact her at PFripp@Fripp.com or visit her website: www.fripp.com