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Buying Holiday Gifts

Thank your clients and employees--and show off your good taste--by choosing the best holiday gifts.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Studies have long indicated that the cost of acquiring new customers is far more than the cost of retaining existing ones. The same goes for your hardworking employees--naturally you want to hold on to your shining stars. You can do so with corporate gifts and incentives.

In today's job market, keeping your employees happy is critical. Offering a beefy benefits package isn't your only option. Gifts and incentives will keep employees smiling. Same goes for your clients-your thoughtfulness could keep them from taking their business elsewhere.

Even small businesses can find ways to work gifts and incentives into their tight budgets. Investing in a gift will cost you, but it's a long-term investment in the relationships you have with your employees and clients. That easily outweighs any price tag.

You appreciate your clients and your employees; it's well worth it to take the effort to show them.

What are gifts and incentives?

It's important to realize that corporate gifts are not promotional items. Giving a gift or incentive is completely different from giving a promotional item-save your logo-laden tchochkes ("CHOCH-kees") for trade shows.

Corporate gifts are given to clients with whom you have an ongoing working relationship. They can also be given to your very own employees to recognize outstanding performance or for a personal achievement like a promotion or birthday.

Take note that sales incentives differ from gifts. They recognize employees who reach a certain goal-and employees work to achieve these goals in order to get the incentive. Incentives can range in value and type but are usually more extravagant than corporate gifts.

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When to buy for clients

You may immediately think of the holiday season as the time when businesses give corporate gifts to their clients. But there's no gift giving protocol that requires you to stick to the holiday season. In fact, you can separate yourself from the pack by giving in the off-season.

For example, think about giving a gift after the completion of a big project you've worked on with your client. Or how about recognizing a special event? Did your client just open a new office? Gifts are a thoughtful way to say "congratulations."

There are definitely many appropriate times to give gifts-there are also times when you absolutely should NOT give gifts. For instance, don't give a gift during a bidding process. It could easily be taken as bribery. And if you don't have a friendly or close relationship with a client, it's best to not to give gifts of any real significant monetary value.

When to buy for employees

Like clients, holidays are a popular time to buy for employees. It's a good way to say "thanks for a great year" and the best time to give an annual bonus.

Recognize personal achievements, like birthdays, promotions, and the birth of a child with gifts-even something small is thoughtful and chances are it will be much appreciated.

As far as incentives go, the choices are all over the map. Although you may be most familiar with sales incentives, they aren't just for sales employees. A marketing team that generates a killer campaign by deadline, or an engineering team that gets a great Web site up and running ahead of schedule, are targets for incentives. Consider gifts like cell phones.

Gifts for clients

Now that you've decided when to give, the question is what to give. And it isn't that easy--you have lots of options.

Food is a very popular and cost-effective choice. Chocolate, wine or other liquor, fruits, cheeses-the options are endless. Popular non-food gifts that are also fairly inexpensive include flowers, tickets to events, and items for the office.

Whatever you give, personalizing it can score you big brownie points. Think back to your conversations with your client. Did he or she mention a special hobby? If the gift coincides with the hobby, you can count on your attentiveness being appreciated.

For example, if your client mentioned a love of fishing, a simple book on fishing will do the trick. Even just personalizing an item with their name will be seen as thoughtful.

Stay away from charitable donations-- although giving to a worthy cause can seem like a fail-safe, it isn't very personal. Clients who don't believe in the cause of a particular charity may find the gift offensive.

Gifts for employees

Plaques and trophies are a great way to recognize a special achievement your employee makes. They're personal and can be displayed wherever the employee chooses.

Bonuses are a good idea for employees. The idea may seem impersonal, but you can be sure money will be well received. It can be given as a year-end gift, or as an incentive.

Of course, an incentive doesn't have to be money; it can be a trip, or even a car. Keep in mind that the bigger the incentive, the harder your employees will work for it.

Gift Etiquette

The number-one rule, with both employees and clients, is to not offend! And that doesn't just mean not giving Santa and reindeer-shaped cookies to your Jewish client. There are many other ways to offend that you need to make sure to avoid.

Find out any gift-giving policies-especially with clients. Give a call to the business and ask the receptionist or the personnel department. You may not even realize that your own company has a policy, so check it out before choosing a gift for your employees.

Extravagant corporate gifts (not incentives) are inappropriate. Not only do they come across as bribery with clients, they can make the recipient feel uncomfortable (especially if they want to return a gift).

You may feel like delivering the gift in person, which is fine. Just don't wait around while they open it. On the other hand, if you've sent the gift through the mail, don't confirm arrival by asking the recipient if they've received it. Call the vendor instead.

Where can you get them?

If you don't have time to run to a store and the post office, try buying online. There are plenty of places to buy gifts where they'll take care of the shipping as well.

Better yet, there are sites aimed just at corporate gifts and sales incentives. Check them out for gifts, as well as ideas for gifts.

How much should you pay?

You don't have to spend a lot to make a good impression with your clients or employees.

It's common for businesses to spend less than $50 total for each client gift. It's also common to tailor each gift to specific clients-if they do more business with you, you may want to spend more on them.

Monetary gifts for employees are up to you-they can be a set amount, a percentage of certain earnings, or a percentage of the employee's salary.

If you're a small business and considering an incentive program, a big trip or car is probably out of the question. Instead, consider awarding a day trip to somewhere close by like an amusement park for the family, or leisure-oriented items like show tickets, mountain bikes, a trip to a day spa, or a night at a swank hotel.

Even if you are on a tight budget, you can still give gifts and incentives. Just be creative. Put the word out that you're looking for help. There could be some creative and crafty people right within your organization who are willing to help you out with ideas or the actual gifts.

With all of the options out there, gifts and incentives are affordable. And just think--gift-giving and incentive programs are not just a sign of generosity; they are an important part of maintaining positive and healthy relationships with both your clients and employees.