It's that time of year when calendars, cards, and candy fill up workplaces. That's why small-business owners need to be a bit more creative with their holiday gift giving to stand out among the crowd, says Alice Bredin, a small-business adviser at American Express. She says that despite being all too common, gifts are an important marketing move. Smaller companies have gotten the message, making room in their tight budgets for holiday presents. This year, such firms plan to spend an average of $1,065 on gifts for clients and customers–about the same as last year and up from $923 two years ago, according to an American Express survey. Top gifts included fun items such as restaurant and retail gift certificates and donations to charities on clients' behalf.
Without the marketing budget of larger companies, small companies have to work a little harder to make a splash among the mountains of popcorn tins and chocolates. "The bar has never been higher for making the right impression with your gift," Bredin says. But she cautions against spending lavishly when there's just not enough cash for extravagant gifts.
The trick for small-business owners to spend gift money wisely is to "think through carefully who they are and who their customers are," says Bredin. She suggests starting by figuring out what the client enjoys. It makes the gift seem more personal and keeps you from sending a ham to a vegetarian. And while the gift is a marketing tool, she says that companies should avoid being too obvious by, say, plastering a company logo all over an umbrella. Finally, she says that skipping year-end gift giving–and opting to give presents on a less crowded holiday, like Valentine's Day–might be the easiest way get noticed. It's also not a bad way to keep your sanity.