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.
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:
- Would you like to receive the same gift? If not, why would your vendors, customers and cohorts want one?
- 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.
- 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.
Make sure you network the right way in the right place.
While saving money to return to college my sophomore year, I did a short stint as an international flight attendant with a little-known charter airline called Arrow Airways. I was delighted to work one particular flight from Denver, Colorado, to Gatwick, England because one of my fellow crew members was a hunky Italian named Alberto.
When we landed, I quickly accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. Although his accent was thick, I was sure he said he would be taking me to an Italian restaurant called Apple Luigi’s. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at our destination in downtown London, which was not a fine Italian eatery called Apple Luigi’s but a gay men’s club called Harpoon Louie’s.
Why would I share this humiliating story? Because the lessons I learned apply to successful networking for business:
- Shut up and Listen.
- Kill the Agenda.
- Check your Six.
Shut Up and Listen
Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, pay attention when you are chatting with someone. If you practice active listening, you will stand out because most people approach networking events with mouths open and ears shut. If I had spent more time listening to Alberto instead of trying to impress him with flirty banter, I might have ascertained that he was not a viable romantic prospect.
More recently, I participated in a speed-networking event where organizers asked participants to rate fellow networkers. The top three had this in common: they listened more than they spoke. If you want people to think highly of you, listen to them.
Entrepreneurs often have “Type A” personalities who like to manage everything, often to their own peril. The reason I was surprised by Alberto’s revelation is because I came to the party with my own romantic agenda. But even though my time at Harpoon Louie’s isn’t what I had expected, I ended up meeting lots of interesting people. So, even though I had to find my own ride back to the hotel, the evening wasn’t a total waste.
Try to make the best of your circumstances because you never know what might unfold. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the Processional Effect. As a Christian, I call it the Sovereignty of God. Whatever your belief system, try to let things happen naturally instead of trying to control the world. You might be surprised to make a friend, land a new client or learn something new.
Make sure you’re in the right place. Although you should go with the flow no matter where you end up, try to start off somewhere that makes sense. Before selecting networking groups to join and events to attend, figure out if regular attendees fall into your target market. Since I was interested in meeting someone I could date, Harpoon Louie’s was not an ideal location.
The good news is you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way. Take a tip from me and network for maximum results on any budget:
When it comes to finding places to network, think outside the box. Networking opportunities don’t occur only at official mixers that are labeled “Networking Event.” You can meet potential clients, customers and associates literally anywhere and everywhere…in the real world as well as Cyberspace.
For those who regularly read my columns, please allow me to repeat myself. The most effective way to network for free is online. Join and maintain social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, above all else, remember to be the same person you are online as you are in the real world.
On a Limited Budget—
In this troubled business economy, when time and money are often in short supply, carefully select which networking groups to join. Instead of spreading yourself too thin by signing up for several organizations, start small. Join one group and take a leadership role. Arrive early and stay late. Volunteer to help set up and clean up so people see you as an active member.
The Sky’s the Limit—
If the funds are available, sponsor your own networking event. This will position you as a leader in the business community and enable you to hand-pick attendees from your own target market. And you can host the event wherever you want…from Apple Luigi’s to Harpoon Louie’s.
Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.