Tried and True Holiday Gift Ideas for Clients and Customers

Choosing the right holiday gift for a client can be a downright harrowing experience.  Clients are often people you don’t know remarkably well, but want to impress. It can be hard to straddle that fine line between buying an overly boring present or leaving your client shaking their head with a gift that’s too over-the-top. And then there’s customization. Do you get all of your clients the same gift? Or pick out a unique item for each and every client? Oh, and there’s always the chance of making a huge blunder, like buying a bottle of expensive wine for a recovering alcoholic. (Bet THAT didn’t come up in any of your project meetings.)

Because we know how difficult it can be to pick just the right present for your clients, we asked real small business owners around the country and the world for their unique and winning gift ideas. Here’s what they came up with. Feel free to co-opt an idea, or throw your own spin on one of these.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Give Unique Art and Decorations

Unique Floral Centerpieces

We sent a floral centerpiece for our clients’ holiday dinner table with a note from my entire office. Often their family and friends were amazed and later became clients as well. – Nancy D. Butler, Motivational Speaker, Above All Else

Swanky Socks

I own Starfish PR, a small PR company. Last year I did something fun and inexpensive. My friend Hayley Mullin owns a company called SockPrints so I custom made socks with a Starfish on it that said “You knock our socks off!” I wrapped them up in cellophane with cookies and handed them out in my Santa hat a few days before Xmas. They were a huge hit! Most of my clients are women so that was easy, but the men enjoyed them too (giving them to their spouse/girlfriend.) – Angela Moore, Starfish PR

Make it Useful

If you’re worried about offending or making the gift too personal, why not keep it useful and work-related?

Twitter Handle Name Tags

I actually just purchased a round of holiday gifts for my clients and its something very unique that I haven’t seen before. They’re twitter handle nametags that our clients can wear while they’re networking. They come from Jen Hearts Art, and the owner Jennifer Cunningham really went out of her way to help me make them as personal as possible. – Shennandoah Diaz, President and Master of Mayhem, Brass Knuckles Media

Help Clients Help Others

The holidays are a season when we all realize just how much we all have, whether it’s family and friends, a successful business or plenty of “stuff” to put up after Santa’s visit. Why not forego “stuff” and donate to a charity in a client’s name?

Feed the Hungry

The United Nation’s recently declared that the 21st century’s first famine is now occurring in the Horn of Africa. Organizations like WorldVision will see that your donation goes to the right place and will send your client a token of their (and your) appreciation.

For example, for a donation of $50 gift givers will receive a bag of coffee from Kenya dressed in traditional East African fabrics hand-sewn by local women. It also comes with a hand-carved olivewood scoop made to benefit over 200 orphans of the Kamba tribe.

Caution! Even a charitable gift can backfire. Before trusting an unknown charity, check sites like GuideStar and CharityNavigator to evaluate a charity’s history and trustworthiness.

Keep it Simple

We all know it truly is the thought that counts. How about a little “thinking of you” gift to avoid the holiday jumble and clutter?

“I send ‘Thank You’ notes around Thanksgiving to my clients of the past year. Included is a holiday-themed lottery scratch off. It’s $1, it’s a small memento, and if they win a buck… awesome!” – Lue Patterson, UrbanOasisDecor.com

“My business is small but we try to make sure and send SOMETHING out each year.
Very few people do anything regularly. Even if we just giftwrap a chocolate bar from World Market it’s important to send something out just to reinforce an established relationship.” – Lys Fulda, Sphinx Group

I own a small business just starting out. Since budget is tight, I have been printing my own logo on homemade candy jars and homemade candles as small appreciation gifts.” – Lisa M. Huey, e-Legal Services

At any company I’ve worked at, it seems that the employees are most excited when a meal arrives. Bagel baskets, pizza parties, etc. seem to get everyone clamoring together in a way that a fruit basket doesn’t. – Karen Eutsler, Director of Marketing, Rendigs, Fry, Kiely & Dennis, L.L.P

Send a Message

Use this unique time to reveal a little more about yourselves or your services.

“For those in the culinary and event planning industries, a way to say thanks to clients is to host a reception. Not only does it allow current clients to enjoy my wares, but it also provides networking opportunities for the attendees. Furthermore, it reminds clients that we’re available and keeps us in demand.” – Chef Elle Green

I do a Client Appreciation night in my home where I have food, wine and pampering products for my clients to lavish in! I also give them a small token gift for attending! – Pam Guyer, HIPP MOMS

“We are focusing on gifts made in the USA exclusively. For a few clients, we have ordered items off a great site called AllUSAClothing.com. We sent scarves Made in the USA and fabricated from 50% recycled polyester. Patriotic and eco-friendly! We are based in the Detroit Metro Area, so we are keenly aware of the economy and to the overall tone – so we want to show our support and put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. Thus our holiday message is we are supporting small businesses and in a small way showing our support for the struggling US economy. This year we will do something very similar and are cruising this site and other retail outlets for something similar!” – Julia Gillespie, Mo

Give “Experiences”

A recent study reported that, when all is said and done, it’s our experiences, not things, that make us happier. So why not take the holidays in a new direction this year and reward your clients with an intangible?

“By far, the best Christmas gift investment we ever made was buying Funsherpa gift cards last year, and we are excited to do the same this year! Funsherpa is a really cool experience gift site, that literally has every interesting experience I can possibly think of – from a day at the spa, to skydiving, to gourmet French cooking classes. For a pretty good price, our employees were able to enjoy something memorable, unique, and fun because of the Funsherpa gift. We got great feedback, and I definitely saw a boost in employee morale. People are still talking about what they did with the gift, which would never happen with your typical corporate Christmas gifts. Since the money we spent went towards an experience our budget was able to make more of an impact and really show our thanks to our employees and made us stand out to our clients.” – Danielle Dy Buncio, Rausch Construction Company, Inc., Chicago, IL

For other “experience” gift ideas, check out Cloud9Living.com, or TailorThreads.com where clients can create customized dress shirts and Chocomize.com where clients can build their own custom chocolate bars!

Holiday Giving Don’ts!

And before you hit the post office or the “buy” button, here’s a succinct list of giving “don’ts” from Etiquette Coach Constance Hoffman of LearnSocialGraces.com:

  • Lingerie: It’s just never appropriate, even if you work at Victoria’s Secret.
  • Alcohol: Some companies prohibit it – and you never know who’s on the wagon.
  • Anything sexual: You might make silly jokes on a day-to-day basis, but a sexually focused gift is just asking for trouble.
  • Anything culturally taboo: Be sensitive to the gift-getter’s culture. Don’t give leather to a Hindu or a Christmas ham to your Jewish client.
  • Personal services that are, well, too personal: Items/gift certificates designed to improve the recipient or that imply that his or her appearance could use a boost.
  • Perfume/cologne: Even if you know what the person wears, this is still the realm of spouses.

Gift Giving and Your Business Accounting

, “Generally gifts for customers and clients are deductible, if the purpose is to promote the business.  Gifts to employees are deductible, but to the extent they exceed $25 you must calculate payroll taxes and include the amount in W-2 earnings.”

Now it’s your turn. What are you doing for your clients for the holidays this year? We promise we won’t tell!

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