It's almost that time of year. Get excited for awkward office parties, white elephants and forgettable client gifts. We've all received some version of them. Maybe it was a branded paperweight, deluxe box of glorified airplane snacks or generic bottle of wine waiting to be re-gifted. This year can be different.

Don't settle when sending client gifts.

As a startup, clients work with you because they believe in you. They're loyal despite of your buggy product and lack of documentation. If they preferred an incumbent, they would have hired IBM. So don't pretend to be IBM when it comes to the holiday gifts.

Here's how to wow clients with personal gifts that don't cost a fortune:

1. Avoid expensive

You can't afford fancy gifts anyway. The money would probably be better spent on a key hire or marketing campaign.

That appears to leave two options: either settle for a mediocre version which no one really wants or spend more than you can afford on that 18 year old Macallan.

Neither option is appealing.

2. Avoid cliches

We're all familiar with the socially acceptable genre of client gifts that includes things like a bottle of booze, fruit basket or flowers.

They're easy to order, require minimal planning and are unlikely to offend. They are equally likely to be re-gifted or end up in the trash bin.


Because they show little personal touch. Anyone could have sent or received them.

The point of a gift should not be to check a box. It should be a heartfelt recognition that your idea could never have become a business without that clients' support.

Show them how much their support means to you. Here's how:

3. Embrace the unexpected

Spend time getting to know each of your clients, investors and partners on a personal level. Over the course of the year find excuses to ask about their favorite music, hobbies, vacations and passions. To help keep track, write a quick note in your contacts. That way you can easily refer back as the end of year approaches and you begin brainstorming gift ideas.

Find fun ways to weave those personal touches into your gift. Your gift doesn't have to cost much, just demonstrate two attributes: 

  1. Effort: time is everyone's most precious resource. Your gift should show that you spent more than a few seconds to select something; that you invested time and effort to discover this gift.
  2. Uniqueness: the goal is to deliver something that stands out from the crowd. It should be obvious that this gift was intended for the recipient and no one else. 

To help stimulate your creative juices consider these examples: a vintage record for a music fan or travel guide for an upcoming vacation. 

4. Don't take yourself too seriously

My team baked each client a bath of cookies and included silly photos of our baking mishaps, including the burned batch we had to discard.

It would have been easier to buy cookies. They probably would have tasted better too. But that would have missed the point. We wanted these to be the product of our own hard work.

You don't have to bake. Find a gift that feels authentic to your personality.

5. Avoid email

Sure, sending a thank you over email is efficient. Emails are easy to send, but also easy to skim and discard.

Instead, send a hand written note. It's inefficient, but that's the point. Don't just dash off a short "happy holidays!" Take the time to draft a meaningful message reminding the recipient how they helped you this year.

  • Be specific. Ideally, refer to a specific conversation, deliverable or deal that made a difference to you. Explain to them the impact it had on your business and make it clear that you don't take their support for granted.
  • Tone matters. Be true to your personality. If you don't usually sound like a Hallmark card, now is not a good time to start.