The Perfect Gift

If you’ve given a gift that didn’t go over well, you may have consoled yourself by thinking, “It’s the thought that counts.” But when you exchange gifts in business, there’s less room for error. The items you present reflect your level of professionalism and give the recipients insight into how well you understand them—you want to show that you’ve been paying attention.

Smart professionals know that gift-giving isn’t limited to the holiday season. Sending small presents throughout the year is an excellent way to solidify relationships with clients and business contacts. For freelancers, this can be especially important because it’s an opportunity to showcase your skills and accomplishments, generating interest from potential clients and employers.

How can you determine the best token for every occasion? It’s more of an art than a science, but it helps to understand basic etiquette:

How much should I spend? There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but generally the value of your presents should reflect your relationship with a client. Many firms place limits on the value of gifts employees can receive, so you’ll want to avoid being too extravagant.

Do I have to give holiday gifts? No. In fact, bypassing year-end gift-giving and instead marking offbeat occasions, such as Groundhog Day or Flag Day, can help you stand out.

How do I respond if I receive a gift from someone I had not planned on giving one to? A nice thank-you note is enough to show your gratitude.

Here are some well-considered gift ideas:

Send hometown goodies. Give faraway contacts a taste of your hometown by sending locally grown produce, specialty items or pies from your favorite bakery. Throw in something extra: For example, if you’re sending an assortment of imported teas, add a book on the history of tea-making or an elegant container to store it in. But beware of perishables, and go for healthy foods instead of high-calorie treats.

Give gifts that give back. If you’re at a loss for what to get someone, consider a donation to a charitable organization in the person’s name. Before making your donation, determine the appropriate charity by considering what’s closest to the recipient’s heart.

Wrap up a wearable. Apparel and accessories can be a fun and practical gift for the fashion-savvy on your list, especially if they bear your own design. Or surprise your recipient with a personal creation—a hand-knit scarf, for example—to introduce him or her to a hidden talent. Avoid anything that requires specific measurements, and forego (obviously) intimate items.

Make it useful. The gifts you create, such as desk calendars or address books, may be something your clients look forward to every year. So if you hit on an idea that works, stick with it.

Spice things up by crafting your own wrapping paper. Make photocopies of the brochures you’ve recently completed, recycle makeready sheets from a project you’ve just printed or use your logo as the design. It’s a subtle way to promote your brand.

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