Guidelines and Tips for Holiday Business Gifts

business giftsThe holiday season is approaching! Although the holidays are supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” many adults find the holidays stressful, with gift-giving topping the list.

As a small business owner, you have the extra burden of selecting gifts for your customers, employees, and service providers. Making these decisions can induce headaches, so we’ve compiled some guidelines and tips to ease the pain of selecting holiday business gifts.

Guidelines for Holiday Business Gift Giving

Choosing gifts for clients, employees, and service providers can be challenging. Balancing budget and time constraints with thoughtfulness and appropriateness isn’t easy. These guidelines will keep you on the right path.

  • Avoid gifts that are too personal or can be misconstrued—such as lingerie, perfume, or jewelry.
  • Avoid giving gifts if you’re involved in a bidding process—whether someone wants to do business with your company or vice versa.
  • Avoid giving cheap promotional items with your company’s logo on them. These “gifts” are seen as advertising and are insulting to receive. It is better to give no gift than a cheap, thoughtless gift. If you use a company logo on business gifts, make sure it is tastefully done and doesn’t look like an ad.
  • Be aware that many companies have policies on the amount and types of gifts that employees can accept. Expensive gifts may be prohibited or put the gift recipient in an uncomfortable position. If you have doubts, consult with the HR department for guidance. Most companies permit employees to accept token gifts, usually valued at $25 or less.
  • Be sensitive to religious beliefs. Not everyone celebrates Christmas! Although December is a traditional time for gift giving, make sure the sentiment and gifts are appropriate for everyone. Many businesses focus on the new year to keep things more general. For example, thank customers for their business during the past year and your hope for a continued relationship in the new year.

Determining A Gift Budget

Your company’s finances will determine the gift budget. If your bottom line isn’t healthy, don’t feel obligated to give gifts—that isn’t good business! A thoughtful, hand-written card expressing your thanks is acceptable and has more value than a generic box of candy.

Most companies start with a set budget amount to spend on gifts. In this case, the amount spent per gift will be determined by how many gifts need to be purchased.

For example, suppose your gift budget is $1,000, and you’ve decided to spend $500 on employee gifts, $400 on customers gifts, and $100 on service providers. You would now create a list of everyone in each category who will be receiving a gift. Be sure to write it down. Don’t rely on your memory alone! You then divide the budgeted number by the number of recipients in each category to get a price range for gifts.

Things to remember when determining your gift budget:

  • When determining the cost of the gift, remember to include the costs of customization, tax, wrapping, tags, cards, shipping, and delivery. It adds up quickly!
  • You can deduct no more than $25 of the cost of business gifts you gave directly or indirectly to each person during your tax year.
  • A “one size fits all” budget may not always work. You may want to adjust gift amounts depending on the relationship. However, use caution with this approach, especially when giving gifts to employees. For more detailed guidance, see the tips sections below.

Tips for Client Gifts

Most companies give gifts to their clients once a year during the holidays to thank them for their business and maintain the relationship. Although there are no fixed guidelines for dollar amounts, many small businesses use this formula:

  • $100+ gift amount for clients that gave $15,000+ in business
  • $50 to $100 gift amount for clients who gave between $10,000 and $15,000 in business
  • $25 to $100 gift amount for clients who gave less than $10,000 in business.

Other factors include how long you’ve been in business with the client and how many times they have referred your company.

When choosing a gift for your most important clients, use information you’ve gathered during the relationship to select a personalized gift. Do they play golf? Perhaps a golf-related gift is appropriate. Did they mention being a fan of a local sports team? Maybe tickets to an upcoming game would be a good choice.

The key is thoughtfulness combined with appropriateness. You don’t want to give a gift that is too expensive, but you don’t want to skimp either. Appropriate gift ideas for clients include:

  • Food or fruit baskets
  • Flowers or plants
  • Scarves or ties
  • Tickets to events or performances
  • Briefcase or leather portfolio.

The thought and personalization accompanying a gift are as important as the gift itself. Be sure to include a handwritten card or gift tag with the gift. In-person delivery is another way to show your commitment to the relationship.

If your business is a retail business with many customers, consider a “gift substitute,” which can include things such as:

  • An open house with food and drinks
  • A discount coupon for future purchases
  • A “friends and family” discounted shopping day
  • A greeting card with a gift-like item, such as a calendar.

Be creative and have fun with it! The gift substitute is meant to thank your customers for their business in a meaningful and thoughtful way.

Tips for Employee Gifts

Most employees expect a token of appreciation near the holidays. For employee gifts, the key is to give the same gift or similar gifts of the same value to avoid perceptions of favoritism or unfairness. Employees will talk amongst themselves!

One solution is to give bonuses, which most employees prefer to a gift. Bonus amounts can vary depending on the employee. Also, bonus amounts are confidential because they are considered to be compensation.

If you don’t have the budget for employee bonuses, give a gift that appeals to everyone, such as a gift certificate to a nearby lunch spot or a gift basket filled with goodies. Just be sure the value is the same for everyone!

A personalized card expressing thanks and appreciation should be included with any gifts. Take a moment to recognize hard work and dedication to the company—employees will appreciate it!

Tips for Service Provider Gifts

Service providers include the people who provide services to your company on a regular basis—postal workers, UPS or FedEx drivers, janitorial services, virtual assistants, consultants. Be sure to make a list to ensure that you don’t forget anyone.

The gift amount will depend on your relationship and what type of services they provide. For example, a gift for a consultant will be more generous and personalized than the gift for your UPS driver.

Most delivery drivers cannot accept cash or gifts outside specific ranges.

  • USPS Mail Carrier: can accept non-cash gifts valued at up to $20
  • UPS Driver: can accept non-cash gifts valued up to $25
  • FedEx Drivers: can accept non-cash gifts valued at up to $75

If you’re giving to a group rather than an individual (such as a cleaning crew), give a gift that can be shared, such as a basket filled with goodies.

Again, a handwritten card expressing your appreciation should be included, with or without a gift. Even if the physical gift is small and unassuming (such as a small bag of coffee or box of chocolates), include a personal note with it.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article will help reduce your stress as you navigate the tricky task of giving business gifts. Remember, the most critical part is to express your thanks and appreciation in a thoughtful note. The gift itself will depend on your budget and relationship with the recipient. However, the heartfelt sharing of your thanks and appreciation is free and always of value.

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When Promoting Brand Awareness On Facebook, Learn the Rules

A strong presence on Facebook is a must today for businesses who understand the importance of building brand awareness. Yet if a business’s social media page fails to follow the rules, Facebook may suspend the site. Reinstatement takes time and effort—which takes away time spent doing the actual work of the business.

 

Not to mention the downtime—all those days that the business won’t have a Facebook presence. Customers, not able to find the business, may think that it has shut down.

 

And they’ll go elsewhere. The very opposite of why the business got into social media in the first place.

 

Instead, before that happens, take a little time to look at Facebook’s page guidelines, as the social media gurus at SMC Pros advise.

 

Facebook Page Cover Pages and Profile Photo Guidelines

 

For example, know what content a company can and cannot post on its company’s page. No matter what products a company sells, it cannot feature them on its page’s profile picture or cover page, unless the company manufactures them itself. For instance, a café that sells Pepsi products can’t post a photo containing a Pepsi or the Pepsi logo on its cover photo—even if the “Come on in…we’re open” sign in the front of its store has the Pepsi logo on it. Plan cover photo and profile photo shots to conform with this rule.

 

Facebook Link Sharing Guidelines

 

Similarly, if a company shares a third party link from its page, it must not edit any of the parts of the post’s preview. Our hypothetical café, then, can’t take a link from an official Pepsi promotion, change the wording on the preview to feature itself, and then post it on its page. It must post the preview as is. It can, however, create content in the text box provided beneath the link.

 

Watch out for Imposters

 

Facebook also protects a business’s right to administer the official company page. Although other users may create fan pages to support the business, it mustn’t pose as the company’s official page. Keep an eye out for imposters and report them to Facebook’s support team. Most companies, however, encourage fan pages that don’t try to pose as the official page. Such pages can help the company’s brand go viral.

 

Facebook Information Collection Guidelines

 

If a business plans to collect information from its page’s users, it must emphasize that the company—not Facebook itself—is collecting the information. The business must notify users that it wants to collect information, and it must get consent from the user to collect and use the data. Automated data collection is forbidden without prior permission from Facebook.

 

When businesses post a call to action (CTA), they must handle responders’ requests carefully. They must not use the information the responder provides (email address, phone number, etc., for anything else than to give the service or goods requested in their reply to the CTA.

 

To use it for more than that—such as in a mailing list—a business must get the person’s consent. A good way to do that is to use a double opt-in for email and other subscriptions. With many automated email providers, such a feature is built right into the platform.

 

Facebook Promotions and Offers Guidelines

 

When a company uses Facebook to promote an offer using its special tool, a company can only run the promotion for a limited time. It must clearly disclose restrictions and the expiration date. The business, not Facebook, will be responsible for any disputes that arise. It may offer only those products the business manufactures or sells for the manufacturer. Facebook’s offer creation tool cannot be used to promote a company’s website, contact information, or to offer gift certificates or gift cards.

 

Contests and other promotions, such as promotional gear giveaways, must state the rules, eligibility requirements, and the terms of participation. Contestants and participants must release Facebook of all responsibility. The sponsoring company must make it clear that Facebook has not endorsed, sponsored or administered the promotion. Participation must not be conditional on liking a page, downloading an app, or checking into a location.

 

As with offers, the company itself must take on all the risks and responsibilities associated with the promotion. A company may not notify winners using Facebook, whether through the message platform or through posts.

 

With only a little time and energy invested in knowing the rules, a business can use its Facebook page to promote its brand easily and effectively.

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How to Brand a Small Business with a Distinctive Image

Small businesses often consume themselves with the tasks at hand—so much so that they forget to brand themselves with a distinctive image that can attract the very customers they need to thrive. Here are some tips shared by brand consultant Maria Ross in the April 13 edition of Entrepreneur:

 

Culture, Not Product, Defines a Brand

 

Whatever the product or service, a business has a distinct culture. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, define what makes a company unique, and market to those people who are a good fit with the company’s goals and lifestyle. Spread the word about the brand through social media, which can attract brand fans quickly without spending the bulk of the advertising budget.

 

Prioritize Customer Interactions

 

Keep the lines of communication open to foster a sense of community among customers. Listen to their ideas and incorporate those that fit with the company’s brand image. Knowing why customers feel as they do can help a company tailor its image to better reflect the brand. Conversely, when customers know that there’s a real-life person listening to them, they become more loyal to the brand than ever before.

 

Define the Company’s Tribe

 

The group of loyal customers and fans that follow a brand grows out of the culture that the company has developed. When a company defines that group and caters to their needs, loyalty grows even more. Savvy businesses will capitalize on that loyalty by providing ways for brand fans to identify each other in a crowd. Whether by T-shirts bearing the brand logo or by membership in an exclusive social media group, the tribe’s cachet grows its brand awareness elsewhere, too, as others outside the group want to hop on the brand’s bandwagon.

 

Create Partnerships with Like-Minded Brands

 

Although a company won’t probably partner with its competitor, it can, however, build brand strength by partnering with a company whose business dovetails with its own. For example, Coke may not partner with Pepsi, but will certainly partner with athletic teams who sell carbonated beverages at their games. On a smaller scale, a high-quality small restaurant who doesn’t yet have a liquor license may partner with the wine shop down the street for a “bring your own bottle” dining experience in which the wine shop’s fine wine pairs perfectly with the restaurant’s gourmet meals.

 

Maintain Focus and Vision

 

A brand doesn’t build overnight. Have patience and maintain focus on the company’s long-term goals. Never waver from the brand image, though some minor tweaks may help spur it to success. Build on the positive attributes of the brand’s culture, promote it by word-of-mouth and by inexpensive marketing tactics (think social media, email list building, coupons for people who introduce their friends to the brand, etc.).

 

Maintain the values upon which the company was founded. Nothing shakes a brand’s core fans more than a company who suddenly veers off course. Just ask Coke, who almost lost its shirt when it changed its flagship product back in the mid-eighties. Fortunately, it steered back on course and recovered. A small company, however, may not recover from such a deviation. Stay on track, and the company will finish strong.

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What Makes Custom Apparel Effective? A Case Study.

What Makes Custom Apparel EffectiveIn a Feb 14, 2006 article in MarketingSherpa.com, research analyst Hope Hopkins explains why custom apparel, such as t-shirts, are more effective than online ads, print ads or even television ads at promoting a business. In 2004, her group conducted a survey of consumers to see which types of promotional materials yielded better results. Her results: stunning.

More than 76 percent of the consumers taking part in the research remembered brand names of companies who gave away promotional items. Only 53 percent could remember a company’s print or television ad. Online ads were even less memorable. Just over one-fourth of the consumers could remember companies who ran online ads.

Though online advertising is all the rage, companies who manufacture custom apparel out-earn their online competition by a factor of three. The reason, says Hopkins, is that promotional items are put to good use. These items create a focal point for the consumer every time they are used. In the case of promotional wear used to market a business, the clothing becomes a focal point for other potential customers, too, who see the company’s logo on the back of wearers.

73 percent of consumers who used promotional products reported that they wore it or used it one time per week—or even more often. Nearly half used the items every day. That, Hopkins says, gives the brand “[l]ong-lasting,” “repeat exposure.” The image on the logo, it would seem, sticks in the mind of the user more than one seen in print, online, or on television.

A brand’s favorability rating also goes up with consumers when they receive a promotional item. Referrals rose by a whopping 500 percent, compared to mail or email marketing. Compared to other kinds of marketing a business, referrals went up by 22 percent.

Twenty-five percent of the consumers planned to do business with companies who gave them promotional custom apparel to market their business. Over fifty percent of consumers shared that they has already done business with the giver. Promotional merchandise, it seems, does the best job helping companies overcome the challenge of marketing their business.

Out of sight, out of mind, it would seem. Consumers who received custom apparel could better remember the name of companies who gave them the custom imprinted apparel. More than 75 percent could remember the name of those companies over an entire year’s time. Print ads fared much worse. Just a little more than 50 percent could remember companies’ names whose newspaper or magazine ads they had seen only a week earlier.

Of those who had received custom apparel or promotional products during the previous year, 34 percent of them were either wearing or carrying the item the day of the random survey. Most of the consumers kept their promotional products for over a year. When it comes to promoting a business, these useful giveaways have the most longevity.

The provide value for the consumer. More specifically,  tailored to the target demographic and provided value for the consumer. The more useful the item, the more likely the consumer is to use it. If the item is worth more, the consumer will be more impressed by the company’s largesse. Having a unique appearance that conveys the brand’s image in an eye-catching design is also a plus.

For example, if a company’s target demographic is those people interested in winter sports, a warm hoodie or jacket bearing the company logo would fit the bill. If, on the other hand, a company specializes in high-end fashion, perhaps a high-quality polo shirt would be a better fit to promote its brand.

The results of Hopkins’ study reveal that no matter how much a company brands its business through high-tech digital ads, it is still far better for a company to promote its brand through high-quality, useful promotional merchandise.

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Brick and Mortar Solutions for Business Marketing Challenges

Brick and Mortar Solutions for Business Marketing ChallengesNot all marketing challenges for companies who want to promote their businesses are best met by tweaking their Web presence. Some of the most effective solutions to the marketing challenges organizations face in building awareness of their goods and services are real-time, real-world promotional items created by brick and mortar companies. Giving away promotional apparel builds brand awareness among potential customers in a subtle, but most effective way.

 

Even companies who specialize in Internet marketing have used promotional apparel with great success. Take, for example, Sujan Patel, the founder of Single Grain, a San Francisco-based digital marketing agency. In his article, “How Giving Away T-Shirts Made Me Over $500K in Revenue,” Patel shares his story about how he used promotional apparel to catapult his startup company into one of the most successful marketing firms in the Bay Area.

 

Patel, a marketing genius on the digital front, found an ideal way to promote his online business through a real-world solution. Yet he stumbled onto this marketing idea quite by accident, according to his story.

 

In the beginning, Patel ordered t-shirts bearing his company’s logo for his own use. Although he had plenty of success in the marketing world, he wasn’t exactly a clotheshorse. In fact, he admits to being “lazy” when it comes to shopping for clothes. With his branded t-shirts, he thought, he would “never have to go clothes shopping again.”

 

His first order, he recalls, was somewhere in the vicinity of 25 to 30 shirts—many more shirts than his closet could hold. He decided to give the extra shirts away, so he used his personal Facebook page to notify his friends to see if there were any takers among them. To his surprise, his supply of shirts ran out in a matter of hours. Patel’s marketing genius kicked into high gear as he sensed the momentum building.

 

When the demand outstripped the supply, he created an email list from the names of his friends who were too late for the first giveaway. He ordered a new supply of shirts, sent them to his grateful friends along with a personalized note in every package. Thanking those friends who chose to wear the t-shirts to market a business in which they had no stake was essential to Patel’s newly-hatched marketing plan. Gratitude, it would seem, is contagious—even in promotional efforts.

 

Not only did he gain a treasure trove of contact information of people who wanted these shirts, but he created good will with every personalized note. With this one move, Patel had a list of people who loved to wear promotional apparel and had positive vibes about Patel and Single Grain. The next time he created t-shirts to promote his company, he would have a group of people at the ready to spread awareness about the Single Grain brand throughout the Bay Area.

 

And so he ordered again—what he calls “Versio[n] 2.0. The second t-shirt created such a buzz about his Single Grain brand that Patel decided to launch the third incarnation of his t-shirt. This time, it was an intentional promotional effort, in a rainbow of colors and in much larger numbers. His goal: to give “a few shirts” to everyone who expressed interest. Not only did he provide t-shirts to his friends and colleagues, but he also donated some of the shirts to a charity.

 

His goal was just to develop brand awareness with his shirts with an innovative logo, and, of course, the name of the company. At this point, there were over 500 people in the Bay Area who regularly wore the shirts in public. He and his co-workers began to use the shirts as “uniforms.” Because the area in which Single Grain was located was filled with fellow startups, the innovative logo design and company name attracted plenty of attention, which brought instant awareness of the Single Grain brand.

 

Going forward, Patel tasks his design team with creating a new logo for a fresh look at least once a year—sometimes more often. With every design came more interest from his growing email list of Single Grain t-shirt fans. Like promotional wear from big companies such as soft drink manufacturers and sports teams, his shirts were developing a fan base of their own. Without a word, the apparel built awareness of Patel’s company throughout the area.

 

Not only did it create more buzz in the community from fans wearing the t-shirts, but his and his colleagues’ own use of shirts bearing the company’s logo also gave Patel and his employees more opportunities to “give [their] 30-second elevator pitch and hand out business cards…” These conversations provided even more opportunities for Patel to raise awareness of his brand.

 

As for Patel himself, he wasted no opportunities to strike up conversations with potential clients. Since he was always clad in his company t-shirt—even when working out and while doing his daily personal tasks—the entrepreneur had plenty of chances to grab new business. Plenty of it, it turns out. Those conversations about town led Patel to dig up $200,000 in new client work, which in turn, built up a network of satisfied customers who referred Patel to big-name corporations.

 

Overall, the t-shirts raked in $500,000 in new business. In Patel’s case, the growth in brand recognition produced from this promotional wear also attracted the attention of huge companies such as Cisco, Wells Fargo, HP, Apple, and more. It snowballed from there.

 

What is even more amazing is that Single Grain operates with only a tiny advertising budget—most of it spent on t-shirts. Those shirts took Patel’s company from being a complete unknown to becoming a familiar face in the San Francisco area. They built real awareness of a new, relatively-unknown brand.

 

Single Grain now attracts a lion’s share of the Bay Area’s digital marketing business through word-of-mouth and from referrals. That kind of trust came about because people developed a comfort level with the company through its having become a familiar sight throughout the city and its environs. They maintained that level of trust by adding top-quality service on top of the brand recognition initiated by the t-shirts.

 

Patel gives businesses who wish to use his formula to catapult their company to success some excellent advice. First of all, he advises, new businesses need to keep quality foremost when designing promotional apparel. After all, the apparel represents one’s company. If a company’s promotional apparel looks tacky, its reputation will take a nosedive. That’s not the kind of brand awareness a startup company needs at its start.

 

Patel chose a top t-shirt manufacturer, American Apparel, to make Single Grain’s shirts. Including the tastefully-designed logo, the shirts each cost Patel anywhere from 10 to 15 dollars. Although his budget was tight, he realized that people wouldn’t wear shirts that were uncomfortable, which bore a cheap-looking logo, or that had overtly promotional text. Because he began by creating a shirt that he himself wanted to wear on an everyday basis, Patel created a shirt that his friends and colleagues wanted to wear as well.

 

Not only were the shirts comfortable, but they were also well-designed. The shirts sported a tasteful logo on the front, a well-chosen slogan on back. That’s all.

 

Patel also advises business owners who want to use promotional wear to create brand awareness to wear the garments wherever they go. Creating opportunities for striking up conversations with potential clients is a key ingredient in the success of such a program.

 

Companies must bear in mind that this tactic will bear fruit in the long run if they are consistent in wearing the apparel. “People,” he shares, “start to get curious.” This inherent curiosity creates a drive in people to ask questions. Even if the person him or herself does not become a client, a business does create brand awareness among the general public. That awareness, in turn, leads to the sort of trust that gives a company the edge in word-of-mouth advertising—even future recommendations.

 

Patel also advises companies who market their business using promotional apparel to be sure to thank those people who wear it. Recognizing these people’s contribution to a company’s success creates even more positive feelings about the brand. The people, in turn, feel invested in the company’s success and wear the apparel more often. Patel, it would seem has found an inexpensive way to rise to the challenge of promoting a business.

 

Single Grain and its innovative founder have attracted much attention in the Internet marketing world for using brick and mortar marketing tactics to draw attention to their marketing prowess on the Web. Other businesses, both brick and mortar and online, have also experienced success marketing their services by using t-shirts and other promotional apparel to build brand awareness in customers and potential customers.

 

Matt Hunckler of Verge, a company who helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses by forging connections with resources and investment capital, says this about promotional apparel: “Great t-shirts is the only marketing expense we’ve ever invested dollars into.” For Hunckler, marketing his business is a fun, yet simple affair.

 

Verge hands out t-shirts to people who join their network of entrepreneurs, as well as to those who attend their conferences. A t-shirt with an attractive logo, Hunckler discovered, has the power to spark productive conversations about a business’ products or services. It is especially effective, he shares, if the wearer inspires others with her or his confidence. He adds, “It’s like wearing sports gear. People will only [wear] your logo if it looks good and, more importantly, believe in your brand.”

 

The president of HighRankWebsites.Com, Mike Perez, also agrees with Patel. His company, which also specializes in Internet services, has found success in marketing his company using tangible merchandise such as t-shirts. Like Patel, though, he cautions readers not to look for cheap marketing solutions. He says, “Our team wears [t-shirts bearing the company logo] all the time as well in and out of the office because they are so comfortable. If you try to go for the cheap ones nobody will wear them and it defeats the whole purpose.”

 

Of course, brick and mortar companies, too, can benefit from this inexpensive, but effective marketing tool. Cameron Herold, the former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, one of the world’s largest junk removal companies, used t-shirts to market his business at a conference. Four representatives of the trash removal company wore t-shirts featuring a “huge corporate logo” on the conference floor. In the midst of a crowd of business people wearing suits, he and his company representatives stood out. He shares, “[M]any people thought there were at least twenty of us walking around because they saw our logos so often amid the masses of suit jackets.”

 

Perception, it would seem, is reality—at least in the world of marketing. The bandwagon approach is alive and well. If a company has a standout logo imprinted on quality apparel, people will notice. They will, of course, want a piece of the action. They, too, will want to wear such attention-grabbing apparel. And so a mass movement is born. A movement which any company would want to be at the center of.

 

Herold makes a great point. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel a part of a group. To belong, to connect, to be a valued part of the “in group” is a deep need for many people. To belong to a tribe, perhaps—to use the latest marketing buzzword. He refers to those who jump on the bandwagon of corporate t-shirt wearers as “a brand army.”

 

There is indeed a sort of camaraderie among those who consider themselves part of a tribe. Such a feeling builds brand loyalty—something that can’t be bought with million-dollar TV ads or a full-page spread in the local newspaper. Indeed, in Herold’s words, people become more than just “walking billboards.” They become “brand ambassadors.”

 

In all of these cases, whether the companies provided online or brick and mortar services, each of them used a real-world solution—t-shirt marketing—to overcome marketing challenges to become successful in their niches. Other businesses, too, can use branded apparel to market their products and services with equal success.

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