By now, you've probably ordered and shipped gifts to your clients, joint venture partners, and other stakeholders.

But that may not be the best way to give gifts, according to John Ruhlin, strategic gifting expert and author of Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention.

Sending gifts during the Christmas season is a sure way for your gift to not get noticed at all, Ruhlin said when I interviewed him recently.

There are better ways to give gifts to increase referrals, open up business opportunities, and help you close deals. Ruhlin calls these gifts "artifacts," because they remind the recipient of you for months, even years, to come.

Five Ways to Give Standout Business Gifts

1. Don't give gifts when they're expected.

Everybody gives gifts during the end-of-year holidays. If you do the same thing, then your gift will be "one of 50 or 100 gifts sitting on that client or employee's desk, amongst the chocolate, nuts, fruit baskets, and gifts cards," Ruhlin says.

Your gift will be a hundred times more impactful if you send it on unexpected times of the year, such as Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day.

"When it's the only gift they get at that time, your dollar goes a hundred times further," he explains.

2. Make the gift about the recipient, not about you.

Another big mistake companies make is giving away gifts engraved with their company name and logo. That makes the gift tacky and nobody wants to use it.

Put the recipient's logo or name on the gift instead. "When you make it about the other person, they don't forget where it came from and they value it more," Ruhlin says, "You get a double win."

3. Take care of the recipient's inner circle.

Sometimes you're giving a gift to a top executive or successful entrepreneur who already has everything, and you can't possibly think of what to give. You don't want to give the usual executives gifts, like golf paraphernalia, ball game tickets, or bottles of bourbon. Executives are hard to impress, even with expensive gifts.

One way you can stand out is by giving them a gift that will be appreciated by their inner circle: their spouse, assistant, or children.

"Eighty percent of the gifting we do for ourselves and our clients is for their inner circle, to make them look good to their spouse, their assistant," Ruhlin reveals.

4. Give really thoughtful gifts.

We say "It's the thought that counts," usually about an embarrassing gift. It's become a cop out when we not only put very little thought in a gift, but also very little money.

Ruhlin says that, in fact, "it's not the thought that counts; it's the thoughtful thought that counts."

Giving a gift just so you can check off your to-do list doesn't matter. What does make a difference is putting plenty of thought into your gift, so that you come up with something high-quality, "practical and meaningful and personalized."

And giving a well thought-out gift doesn't have to involve a lot of money.

"If you cannot do a gift at the [price] level that you want," Ruhlin advises, "take an hour or two and write a handwritten note and talk about how much they mean to you. Really pour your heart out onto that paper."

5. Give without expecting anything in return.

The beginning of this article mentioned the benefits of giving "artifact gifts." But if you gift with the intention of getting referrals and other forms of business from the recipient in return, then it you'd be disappointed.

The kind of gifting that brings benefits is one that stems from "radical generosity"--your genuine desire to show appreciation or make somebody happy--not because you want to manipulate them into helping you. So give with no strings attached.

Artifact gifting can have long-term results.

"Nobody is playing in that ocean," Ruhlin says, " and so when you do it and do it well, it stands out, not for 24 hours; it stands out for 24 months or longer."