Should freelancers bring a gift to a first client meeting?

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Dr. Freelance: I totally agree with your recent post about the benefits of hand-written thank you notes. I have a follow-up question that I’m hoping you can advise me on: What’s your position on bringing advertising specialties (logoed pens, coffee mugs, magnets, etc.) to a first client meeting?—A Freelancer Bearing Gifts

FBG: I’ll answer the question of whether you should bring a gift to a first client meeting by way of anecdote. When I started my business, I printed up a hundred or so small notepads with my logo and contact information on it to hand out to prospective clients. They were professional-looking, printed on nice paper…but when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t really a “wow” item. They weren’t terribly expensive, yet I don’t believe I received a measurable return on investment.

To make matters worse, when I moved my office, some of the contact info was immediate outdated. (I solved the problem by having the printer trim off the bottom 1/2 inch.) Then, I changed the name of my business and the pads were instantly, completely obsolete. As a result, my family has a lifetime supply of grocery-list paper.

So that’s my own experience. My second data point is something that I learned in a sales seminar, and it goes something like this:

  • If you give a person a pen, they’ll remember it for a few days.
  • If you give a person a pen with your logo on it, they’ll remember it for a few days.
  • If you give a person a nice pen with *their* name on it, they’ll not only remember who gave it to them, they’ll probably hold on to it for a lot longer.

The problem with advertising specialties is that the cheap ones aren’t memorable, and the expensive ones likely aren’t suitable for a first client meeting—it may come across as crass and overtly salesy before you have a relationship. Check your own experience: How many logoed items from your vendors/clients/business associates are in active use? I think my most memorable one was a cool-looking, comfortable baseball hat from Free Range Productions. I wore it all the time.

All that being said, I am a big believer in giving a nice, personal gift on an annual basis to say “thank you” to my best clients. Since we’re heading into the holiday season, I’ll do an upcoming post on items I’ve given in the past and what I’m considering for this year.

So, fellow freelancers, how about you? Do you bring a gift to a first client meeting that’s been successful? Please share in the comments.

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  1. says

    I certainly don’t do this all the time, but I had a new client that brought several new projects-3 white papers, 3 case studies and a press release. There were managers on each of the projects and other subject matter experts I worked with.

    I am out in western US and they are east coast. I sent them a fruit basket as a thank-you. Like you, I also do annual gifts. When I was still in corporate, there were some gifts our clients liked. A couple of the more popular ones were a pen with a highlighter tip on the top (it had a cover to keep the highlighter from drying out), a small tube of sunscreen lotion-yes with logos. 😉

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks for commenting, Cathy. I like the fruit basket idea, since it can be shared with co-workers & therefore makes your client look good. It appears your experience dovetails with mine, which is that sending a thank you after a project is completed or on an annual basis is the appropriate time to spend the bulk of your “gift budget.” Small chotchkes won’t hurt and you can certainly have fun with them, but they’re not likely to be a major source of client cultivation/retention.

  3. says

    I usually give my clients a custom papercraft business card holder. You can download one yourself at – they cost me less than $1 each and are pretty memorable and unique. They are pre-perforated and scored and hold themselves together (no glue/tape needed). I’ll build it with them sometimes. It’s more geared towards the creatives, but account teams seem to enjoy them as well.
    I also send my top billing clients personal gifts every year. I try to keep them unique and tend to buy from interesting online markets like etsy or thinkgeek.

  4. Dr. Freelance says

    That’s a fun item, Justin. What I particularly dig is the fact that it involves an activity and isn’t just a giveaway, and therefore it’s guaranteed to be more memorable (the lack of which is my primary objection to most ad specialties).

    It’s also the type of thing that makes me wish I had a modicum of artistic talent, ha!

    Love flockofpixels as a biz name/web addy, BTW.

  5. says

    All of my previous “corporate” jobs were pretty low on the totem pole; I never sent gifts and only received them on occasions like “Administrative Assistants’ Day.” So, the first time I had a client meeting with a partner who was a bit more experienced and she suggested I bring coffee and cookies or something, I was dumbfounded. “But,” I said, “it’s a *business* meeting. Do I really have to bring presents?”

    We got the client-she remains one of my best-but I still think it was weird in a I-don’t-usually-suck-up kinda way. But, maybe it’s more normal than it felt. The annual gift idea is certainly something I will be implementing.

  6. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks, Dava—and you cracked me up with “Do I really have to bring presents?” Honestly, I could see how bringing a consumable item would be less suck-up-ish/self-serving-seeming than “hey, here’s an item with my logo on it.” I might give that one a try for a future intro meeting, and will report back on the results!