‘Tis the season for client gifts

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Earlier this fall, a reader asked, “Should freelancers bring a gift to a first client meeting?” Now that we’re in the holiday season, client gifts are top of mind…so what’s the savvy freelancer to do?

When I was first starting out in the business, back in the 1900s (I love saying that), my then-toddlers came with me (my daughter sporting a Santa hat) as we made a circuitous route around town to visit each client and drop off a small gift.

As a side benefit, it gave me a chance to explain to the kids what each client’s business was and the fact that our nice standard of living was due to these nice folks — and, of course, the importance of looking someone in the eye and a firm handshake. Eventually my kids were in school and my client base grew too big to make in-person deliveries feasible; but even though I do everything by mail now, the kids still help pack and label the boxes.

So, here are couple of thoughts on the gift-giving process, based on my own anecdotal experience:

  • It truly is the thought that counts. The first few years, when money was tight, my wife helped me pick out stuff from the local swap meet that could be personalized with a little TLC. One year, it was tiny Mexican clay chimineas packed with incense cubes; another, it was craftsy-funky desk clocks. Total cost was under $5 each.
  • Shareables are always popular. Particularly for clients who are in an office environment, it’s nice to have something that can be shared. Far and away the most popular item I ever sent out (resulting in 100% of clients responding to my thank you with a thank you) was an assortment of flavored coffees. This year, I might experiment with tea as well as java.
  • Reader ideas. In response to my original “freelance client gifts” post, Cathy Miller of Simply Stated Business mentioned how well fruit baskets work, while Justin Katz of Flock Of Pixels suggested the offbeat wares of Etsy and ThinkGeek. I remember one Facebook respondent talking about gift cards tailored to client tastes — another great idea.
  • Who makes the cut? My methodology has always been to do a quick look at the total annual billing and pick a number — keeping in mind that I’ll bend the rules for promising clients that came in late in the year, or for good longtime clients who may have just had a slow year. The gifts aren’t extravagant (and let’s face it, they are a tax-deductible business investment), so I tend to err on the side of inclusiveness.
  • Make sure you include a personalized, heartfelt, handwritten note. Seriously, this is the most important part of the exercise.
  • Don’t forget your key vendors and subcontractors! But you already knew that, right?

Do you have other ideas on client gifts that keep on giving? Please share your experiences in the comments!

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  1. says

    Thanks for the shout-out. I do appreciate it. 🙂

    I just finished ordering all mine at the end of last week. I stuck again to the fruit baskets, particularly since a lot of my clients are in the health care business. I typically deal with more than one person so I like the idea of them being able to share the gift.

    Other ideas I have done for individuals is gift cards specific to their likes. For example, if I know they are avid readers, a Barnes & Noble or some other bookstore. If they are vendors, gift cards to office supply stores, like Office Depot, etc. are well-received. Who doesn’t like more office stuff? 🙂

    I have also done jewelry for female clients-nothing extravagant, but earrings are great if you know their style.

    A great holiday, Jake, to you and your readers!

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Always enjoy sharing good ideas — thank you for commenting.

    I have to chuckle, however, at the idea of giving jewelry. Methinks that’s an area that only women freelancers could get away with!

  3. P.S. Jones says

    I don’t send gifts but I do send holiday cards. (Yeah, there’s a post about this on the blog this week.) Because I’m working a small budget, I only send holiday cards to customers I have received money from this year. I buy the nice cards in Target. (Nice=no religious references, costs more than 99 cents and doesn’t look like it costs 99 cents.) Then I write a personal note in each one. People are generally shocked to get a card, shocked that I wrote more than “Thanks for the business” and shocked to get snail mail. I always get great feedback about it in January.

  4. Dr. Freelance says

    Ah, sorry to steal your thunder, P.S. 🙂 Lord knows it’s a topic that will make the rounds in the freelanceosphere, haha.

    You make an interesting point about the benefit of sending cards, which is that you really can cover *every* client cost effectively and not leave anyone out. (Hmmm. I might just have to experiment with a hybrid approach, with gifts for clients above a certain threshold, and nice cards for those under it.) And 1,000x agreement on the importance/shock value of the personal note via USPS. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Susan says

    I normally send baked goods — cookies and/or muffins — that I usually made, but in recent years my daughter has taken over the baking duties. And as a matter of fact she’s intending to start a small (read: just her) business making cookies and this year she’ll have packaging, company name, etc., that the cookies will be in. So I’ll have yummy cookies for clients and she’ll have a little advertising!

  6. says

    Thanks for the great suggestions! I’d been thinking about sending my clients holiday cards for the first time this year. Perhaps I’ll aim even higher and send a small gift as well.

  7. Dr. Freelance says

    @Suzanne, I think you’ll be glad you did — and please make sure to share your results with us.