Happy New Year to each and every one of you! I hope your holidays were grand and you’re off to a great start for a stellar year!

Over the holiday break, I spent time reflecting on a topic that comes up every year in the office. Every Christmas season, as a small business owner, I grapple with the same corporate gift-giving corporate giftingquestion many small business owners do: whether we should send gifts to our clients. After all, we truly do value each and every one of them. Each is appreciated, and each represents not only a client, but a friend. However, at the same time, after 15 years in business, we have hundreds of clients. Even the smallest gift, multiplied by hundreds, becomes a sizable cost – not to mention shipping to hundreds. In an ideal world, each gift would be hand delivered, but again, with hundreds of clients that is not feasible. And to the client, who is not considering the volume of gifts that must be purchased, but only what he has individually received — does a small gift look cheap? Probably.

I’ve gone through the mental arguments about segmenting clients… you know them:

  • maybe we should only gift the new clients each year… (but what about our loyal clients who are with us year after year? Don’t they deserve to be included?)
  • perhaps we just gift the biggest clients… (I never get far with this thought – the small clients are no less appreciated)
  • what about only gifting the long-term clients… (after 15 years in business, how do you define long term? 10 years or more? 5 years? 2 years? )

The list goes on and on… ‘those who use us for multiple services’, ‘those who spent $XXX or more this year’, ‘those who…’ it’s a no-win situation: any segmenting choice leaves out clients for whom we are grateful.  So, what’s a small business owner to do?

In years past, we’ve made  nice-sized donations to area nonprofits ‘in honor of our clients’. This year, we ‘adopted’ a teenage child from the American Children’s Home and provided a generous Christmas for him. Both of these were ways that we could give back in honor of our clients, but they were gifts which were in honor of the generic ‘bunch’ of all our clients. While we were happy to give a gift that actually helped someone, and these gifts made our staff feel good, I don’t know that any single client felt our appreciation was directed to him/her by these efforts. (I should add that we regularly support non-profits throughout the year; our support of them would not stop based on whether or not this was our ‘Christmas thanks’ to clients.)

We have, in fact, gifted clients at Christmas over the years, gifting all clients the first few years and later segmenting them. I just never felt good about this, and always worried that one of the clients who did not receive a gift would discover that they’d been left out. Being a small business owner myself, I know how I’d feel if I happened to see a gift at some other business from one of my long-term vendors knowing I had not received one.

So, friends and colleagues… I ask you: Did you gift your clients this Christmas? If so, what was your strategy?