Most small business owners are not thinking about sending year-end greetings as they prep for Trick-or-Treaters. But really they should.

Now is the perfect time to plan how you will express your gratitude to your customers, suppliers, and employees as we approach the end of another year.

There are myriad ways to send greetings; electronically may be the most effective, but it can be seen as impersonal. Handwritten cards always make the best impression, but this might not be practical if your customer list runs into the hundreds or thousands. In that case--and good for you!--send customized cards with a photo about your business that really makes a statement.

Whatever the approach, remember these key constituents:

Customers -- There's nothing like a "Thank You for Your Patronage" message, accompanied by sincere best wishes for the coming year. For your best customers, sending a gift is appropriate. There are many companies, such as Wine Country Giftbaskets, Omaha Steaks, and Edible Arrangements that specialize in nicely packaged corporate gifts. They are frequently very well received. After all, who doesn't love receiving a gift?

Prospects -- The future is an open book with those who are yet to do business with you. Make a concerted effort to reach these customers yet-to-be. Send a branded greeting card to anyone whose business card you have received in the past six months. It might be a chance to reengage a prospect whom you did not keep in touch with. Conceivably, your card might hit at the right time -- when your potential customer is looking to buy.

Vendors/Suppliers -- However you classify those you work with outside the company, they are just as important as those who walk through your doors. Be sure they hear from you. Perhaps you might invite your longest established contacts to your office party. Start planning your celebration now. If you are having your company party off-site, book early so that you don't get shut out of your favorite restaurant or event space.

Employees -- If your company is small enough, send handwritten cards to your employees' homes. (Dropping it on their desk is not quite the same.) Bigger company bosses should, as a minimum, send greetings to their management staff--and consider the up-and-comers as well.

An alternative approach: If you think your greeting will get lost in the December holiday shuffle, try Thanksgiving greetings in mid-November or New Year's greetings after January 1. Timing may help you stick out from the crowd.

With a little planning now, sending greetings to your customers and suppliers doesn't have to be an end-of-the-year rush. Plan ahead so that you don't feel overwhelmed as the holiday season approaches.