Reader question: “Should I send clients gifts during the holidays?”

by | Nov 13, 2021

Halloween is behind us, everyone is gearing up for the holidays, the radio is playing entirely too much Mariah Carey, and business owners everywhere are wondering if they should send client gifts because “that’s what real businesses do”. But, like most other “that’s what real businesses do” situations, it’s just a cliche. If you’re not a gift-giver, you don’t have to torture yourself with holiday gifts, and not sending gifts won’t make you a bad business owner. There’s plenty of other ways to show appreciation or stay top of mind. You don’t have to go thru the motions and waste your money on some half-hearted gift. (So, feel free to skip the mass-produced gift baskets from those companies that bulk-mail corporate gift-giving catalogues.)

But, while it isn’t a requirement, it isss a nice cherry on top and can help build genuine, personal relationships with your clients, partners, vendors, and employees. So, if you’re a gift-giver that always has unique ideas, run wild. You already know what to do (but, you should still read the rest of this email). If you aren’t a gift-giver and the thought of business gifts overwhelms you but you still want to give gifts, take a step back from the idea of a ‘business gift’ or this being some sorta ‘transaction’. You don’t have to send a stereotypical ‘business gift’. Focus on your relationship with whoever is receiving the gift (the giftee? 🤔) and send whatever you think they might like (and when in doubt, a handwritten note or cookies always works). The goal here is to be genuine and further develop your relationships.


Go into it with a plan :

While you should focus on building genuine relationships and being sincere, you should still approach this with a plan. Create a master list of everyone you’re sending gifts to (eg, clients, referral partners, vendors, employees, contractors, etc). If you work with large businesses, send it to the point person or team you deal with. And, if you do a lot of project work, consider sending gifts to everyone you’ve worked with in the last year and not just active clients, contractors, or vendors. Then, set a budget (either per gift or overall, including shipping), and start planning gifts. If you have a very long list, use a spreadsheet to coordinate everything.


Give employees, contractors, and vendors gifts:

Everyone loves to say their business is a family and they have wonderful workplace culture. But, actions speak louder than words. If you’re giving clients and referral partners gifts, you should definitely be giving employees, contractors, and vendors gifts as well. Your business wouldn’t be where it is without them. Show your appreciation for their hard work and help.


Gift throughout the year:

You don’t have to send gifts during the holidays just because everyone else does. You can send gifts when it makes more sense to your business. For example:

  • If you have a busy season, send gifts after it ends.
  • If you predominately work in a niche that has a busy season (for example, you’re a marketer for accountants), send gifts after their busy season ends.
  • Send gifts at the end of a large project (for example, you just finished a website overhaul or wrapped up a successful marketing campaign).
  • Send simple congratulations cards for life events (eg, a new baby, getting married, buying a house, etc)


Preparing for next year :

There’s a few main differences between business gift-giving and personal gift-giving that we can use to our advantage. Mainly:

  1. your clients aren’t all gonna chat about their gifts with each other (like family or friends might) so you can get them the same things, and
  2. your clients already expect to be systematically asked questions.

Pick one gift category that you’re an expert in (for example, if you’re a voracious reader that finishes 2 books a month, pick books) then add a question about it into your onboarding documents or meeting scheduler (for example, “what’s your favorite book?” Or, “what kind of books do you like?”). Then, next year, send every client a book based on their answers. Or, if you still want something relatively hands-off, add in a question about their favorite dessert and ship that to them next year.


Consider supply chain issues:

The supply chain is still recovering from the pandemic and is all sorts of screwed up. Expect and plan for shipping delays or items being out of stock (or not having enough stock for the number of gifts you need). Be ready with alternative gift ideas like locally crafted gifts from local artisans, a Starbucks gift card with a handwritten note, or, if they’re local, desserts. Everyone loves desserts.


Deducting your gifts:

In the US, you can only deduct up to $25 per gift you gave. And, cash or cash equivalent (aka gift cards) gifts to employees need to be included in their wages. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should limit all your gifts to $25. This isn’t a Secret Santa gift exchange. You’re building and maintaining a quality relationship here. If you can’t deduct the whole thing, so be it.

(Note: The IRS details: IRS.gov)


Action Item:


Write your master gift recipients list.

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