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Bowling for Business: Holiday Gift-Giving—Think Outside of the Box

There is value in sending personalized holiday cards to clients

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 6, 2010 and in the Biz Press on December 8, 2010.

Making a trip to the post office during the holiday season used to be an exciting venture. Eager to read hand-penned personal greetings and catch up on news about family, friends and business associates, I braved the crowds and returned home to tear into elegant, foil-lined envelopes with quivering fingers.

Such is no longer the case. These days, pre-printed postcards, generic newsletters, stamped signatures and email blasts communicate one central theme—that the sender is too busy to take time to communicate directly to me.

So when it comes to sending a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa greeting this year, I have one recommendation for you: make it count.

Rest assured you can do this regardless of your budget.

For Free—

Although you can create an email card for free, in this case, the adage applies: “You get what you pay for.” After all, if you are able to do a quick Internet search to locate free e-cards, so can your intended recipients. And do you really want to communicate to them that they are worth nothing to you? Better to skip the holiday greeting altogether.

If, instead, you opt for an inexpensive gift, set a realistic budget and stick to it. But don’t be cheap. Giving away pencils that cost .19 apiece communicates that you are either a skinflint or in dire straits, neither of which is your likely goal. Better to send a nice card than a cheesy trinket.

It’s perfectly acceptable to opt for a greeting card. Just take the time to personalize it instead of assigning the task of rubber-stamping your signature to a junior staffer. While it’s not necessary to invest both time and money to create a holiday greeting, you should do one or the other.

Boxed gift cards are available at just about every possible price-point and in just about every discount mart, supermarket and drugstore. Select something that is both professional and appropriate for your line of work. For example, if you own a restaurant, you could send cards that feature mouth-watering photos of food. But this is probably not the case if you own a string of laundromats.

On a Limited Budget—

Since we live in an increasingly electronic world, there is nothing wrong with sending an e-greeting, as long as it has been customized for you. This is especially appropriate if you own an Internet-based business. If you decide to go this route, don’t go it alone. Instead, hire a designer to incorporate your company logo, slogan and personal sentiments.

After all, no matter how altruistic your holiday benevolence, recognizing your customer-base during the holidays is, at its core, a marketing endeavor. After all, gifts (which are not considered to be entertainment) are legitimate, tax-deductible business expenses. Please check with your accountant or tax professional for details and limitations.

Another popular budget-friendly idea is to donate to a charity. Give your clients a list of three or four charities you’d like to donate to on their behalf and let them pick the one they like. This way, the business gets the tax write-off. So it’s a win/win for everyone.

Again, I make no claim to know anything about business accounting. So, where tax deductions are concerned, please check with someone who knows what they are doing. I recommend Ron Drake of TABS.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you choose to purchase gifts for your clients this holiday season, select something that will expertly promote your brand while appealing to the kid in all of us. Granted, this is a tall order. But nobody ever said it was easy to play Santa Claus.

The same rules apply to gift-buying in the business world as they do at home: it’s the thought that counts. So think through your options before slapping down your credit card:

  1. Would you like to receive the same gift? If not, why would your vendors, customers and cohorts want one?
  2. Is the idea fresh or stale? Several years ago, the “it” gift of the season was a digital picture frame. These days, even the electronically-challenged have figured out how to upload their SD Card to create slide show screen savers on their PCs or laptops. So try to select a gift that is timely.
  3. Some gifts stand the test of time because they are good. Don’t be afraid to buy something your clients might already have.

Case in point? Pens.(Pun, intended.) Sure, everyone has one. But there is no such thing as having too many writing utensils. They are easy to personalize, simple to store and inexpensive to mail. In fact, the perfect pens might be just the ticket for reviving frenzied holiday-trips to the post office.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Mountain Marketing Group. Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.