With consumer spending in a rut, 2008 is not shaping up as a happy holiday season for many small-business owners. Still, there's nothing like the right gift to take a businessperson's mind off the recession. And at a time when every penny counts, why not pick a present that can also improve a business's bottom line? If there's a small-business owner on your shopping list, these gifts should bring a smile. And if you're a business owner, you just might be tempted to shop for yourself.
1. A video camera or web cam. This isn't just a good gift for a business owner who likes making home movies. Anyone with a business should consider talking about the business on camera and posting the results online. It's now easy for anyone with an Internet connection to quickly view videos, and businesses of all sizes have been taking advantage of that breakthrough. "Video in general is a wonderful marketing tool," says MaryEllen Tribby, marketing consultant and author of Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business.
You don't have to be an expert viral video cinematographer on YouTube to market your business with video. A simple one- or two-minute video on your website introducing yourself or a 45-second video explaining a new product can make a difference, says Tribby. "Your customers need to trust you. Video is a wonderful way for them to get to know you." Avoid making your video sound like an infomercial by focusing on one or two goals: creating a personal connection with the viewer by talking about your life or giving your customers information they can actually use, rather than a mere advertisement.
2. An account for an online invoice system. The mantra for many small businesses during a recession is "Cash flow is king." That's why it's so important to keep a sharp eye on accounts receivable. If you're disorganized, a simple forgetful mistake could be quite costly. For that reason, several services offer online invoicing intended to simplify how small-business owners get paid. Freshbooks and Blinksale are two of the most popular. They allow you to put all your invoices into one coherent system in your online account, which can't disappear into a file cabinet. They also can send thank-you notes to clients and automatically remind you of payments due.
3. Internet postage. With so many small businesses operating purely online these days, a retailer may not need to leave the house to get most things done. But you still probably need to run to the post office to ship out orders, especially during the busy holiday months. That trip, however, can be made unnecessary, too. Several services, such as Endicia or Stamps.com, allow you to print postage from your computer and even print it directly onto envelopes.
4. A donation to a charitable organization. When company cutbacks have to be made, charity is sometimes the first to go. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is planning to decrease its giving next year. But making a donation in your or your business's name could do more than just support a good cause. First, donations to qualified nonprofit organizations can be deducted from your income tax return, which can make them less costly than they appear. Generally, up to 50 percent of an individual's adjusted gross income can be deducted. Second, if done right, charitable support can be a powerful marketing tool in itself. "A good donation program creates a local brand, and that means stronger sales," says Tim Sanders, former chief solutions officer at Yahoo and author of Saving the World at Work . "Organizations that take time to measure that would never [cut donations] during a recession because it would cut into sales."