What should you gift your clients for the holidays?

Show you care

Client holiday gifts present a particular pickle for me every year. My thought process invariably goes something like this: “Should I just get them all wine? But wait, what if someone is a recovering alcoholic? OK, so maybe I’ll get them each something unique and personalized. But I’ve only been working with this client a couple of months and have no idea what he likes. So how about just making them all some swag branded with my logo? That’s too impersonal, right? Maybe I’ll just make a donation in all my clients’ names. That’s great, but I want them to have something to open up and hold in their hands, darn it!”

This year, I decided that instead of dwelling on my internal monologue, I would go ahead and ask other small business owners what they do for their clients for the holidays. Perhaps not surprisingly, they seemed to fall into three camps, too: branded swag; unique, personalized gifts; and gifts that give back.

Branded swag

“You can really set yourself apart from your competitors by showing that you genuinely care.” ~ Jared Carrizales

One way to keep you and your company top of mind with clients is to send them some branded swag. It’s easy to buy pens, notebooks and other items in bulk and personalize them with your super-cool logo. You can even brand bottles of wine. This approach works particularly well if you work with a lot of clients or if you want to send a special client gifts to everyone in their office.

Branded SwagJared Carrizales, founder of SEO firm Heroic Search, found the tastiest way to send branded gifts – cookies emblazoned with the company’s super logo. “In my opinion, holiday gifts are like an ‘X factor’ in client relations. It’s something that’s not directly tied to your work as a provider, but you can really set yourself apart from your competitors by showing that you genuinely care.”

The only potential drawback of a branded gift is that your client will know that you most likely didn’t buy this gift for only him or her. But if your branded gifts are useful or nifty enough, they likely won’t care.

Personalized holiday gifts

When I know a client well, I try to purchase a holiday gift with that personal touch. Maybe it’s an inside joke (ask me about the voodoo doll garbed in the brand colors of my client’s biggest competitor) or just something else that shows I’ve listened when we spoke.

Evan Robinson, photographer and director of ECR Creative Studios, does the same thing:

“Instead of stressing about last-minute gift ideas, I keep a small notepad with me and write down each new client’s interests or recent hobbies after every meeting we have. Come holiday time, a quick reference to those notepads and trip to Amazon Prime ensure regularly unique, appreciated gifts reach my clients.”

Some small business owners even cleverly wed their gift with their own work. Tyler Zey of Easy Agent Pro helps real estate agents market themselves on the web. Check out Tyler’s creative approach to client gift-giving:

“Last year, we made a personal holiday website for each of our clients. It was a winter wonderland with their name (or business name) placed into the thank-you message. At the end of the message that displayed over the winter wonderland, we placed a Starbucks gift card code. They also got emailed the Starbucks gift card code. People loved it!”

Just be careful about getting too personal with a personalized gift. This is a professional relationship after all!

Give to give back

I have one freelancer friend who simply chooses three non-profits and then gives her clients a chance to pick their favorite. From there she makes a donation in their name. This avenue allows her to interact with her client in a meaningful way while also doing good. And frankly, sometimes clients receive more cookies, candy and cupcakes than they can stomach this time of year, so a donation can be a refreshing change.

Veronica Sinclaire is managing director of Social Gem, a company that makes ethical jewelry and literally sends underprivileged girls to school. She puts her money where her mouth is and always sends her clients fair trade products, like coffee or chocolate. In her words:

“The best gifts have beauty that’s more than skin-deep,” she said. “Fair trade and one-for-one are the best gifts for business customers, not only because they double the giving impact, but they also put a positive spotlight on your business, as aware, caring and engaged.”

Before making a donation, it’s always worth it to double check and make sure that charitable organization you’re giving to is 100-percent legit.

The reason for the season

Before you stress too much over client gifts, take a step back and remember the reason it has become traditional to send client holiday gifts in the first place. It’s to show that you appreciate working together, and hope to continue the relationship in the future. When you remember that it truly is “the thought that counts,” you just might find it’s a little bit easier to pick out that perfect gift.

Image by: JD Hancock via Compfight cc