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Business Gifts

Show your appreciation while promoting your business.

It's good business to let your customers and suppliers know how much you appreciate their continued support all year long. But the holiday season provides an opportunity for saying "thank you" in a more formal way--by giving a special gift from you and your business.

Your relationships with valued customers and suppliers can be strengthened by the selection of the perfect gift. To determine whether a proposed gift is a good idea, imagine yourself as the recipient. If the gift is one that would make you smile and that you'd take pleasure in showing others, it is likely an appropriate choice. If not, you should generate a short list of viable alternatives--or else avoid the gesture altogether; gifts need not be expensive, but giving a bad gift as a token of appreciation is worse than giving no gift at all.

One decision you'll need to reach before settling on a gift is whether it should reflect your interests or those of the recipient. Although there's no hard-and-fast rule, it's safest to offer a tasteful gift that in some way reflects your business. That's the natural link between you and your customers and vendors. This will also allow you to purchase appealing gifts in larger quantities and take advantage of volume discounts.

Another important decision involves whether or not to personalize gifts with your company's name. Some gifts lend themselves to personalization more naturally than others. For example, if you're planning to give a gift that the recipient will use daily--such as a mug, a mousepad or a pen--it's a missed opportunity not to personalize it with your business's name and telephone number. This saves your customers from having to search through their phone books or Rolodexes to contact you in the future, plus it reminds them of your generosity every time they use the gift. Similarly, the engraving of your business's name on more expensive gifts--such as gold pens and crystal clocks--extends feelings of goodwill throughout the year.

A great alternative to personalizing gifts is to include a free sample of your product with your gift. If you manufacture and sell decorative magnets, for example, you could include one inside a gift basket of holiday treats. If yours is a service-based rather than a product-based business, a customer-appreciation voucher for a free appointment can serve the same function. This is an effective way to link your holiday generosity with perceptions of your business in the minds of your customers.

Naturally, you may not be able to afford giving gifts to all your customers and vendors, even though you value them highly. You also may not want to give the same gift to each of them. So when you're compiling your gift list, keep the "80-20 rule" in mind--that in most cases, 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers, and the majority of your vital supplies are generally provided by only a handful of suppliers. Consider buying gifts only for your best customers and your most accommodating suppliers. If you can afford to purchase a small gift for almost all your customers and suppliers, the rule suggests that you should give about one-fifth of these people a more special or more generous gift than all the rest.

Holiday gifts for customers and suppliers go a long way toward expressing your appreciation--and ensuring your continued success--in the New Year and beyond. Browse through our round-up of great gift ideas:

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Business Gifts.

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