It’s almost December, and that means it’s time to start thinking about business Christmas gifts. Gift-giving can get complicated fast. There are thousands of websites and stores that offer gift ideas for businesses, but just because you can give your clients a tub of tootsie rolls with your logo on them, does that mean you should? Here are some thoughts on the why, the who and the what of giving.
You need to be clear about why you give before you can properly decide on what to give. We give gifts as a simple expression of goodwill and to thank our clients for their business, of course. But if it was no more than that a standard gift basket would suffice for everyone. For a business, especially a small business, there are two additional reasons for giving:
- To remind clients that you are there. Your favorite project manager at the agency or contact person at your client’s company may move on, and they won’t necessarily leave a memo telling their successors in bold print that you are the one to call.
- To remind clients why you are special. Why should they keep calling you rather than that new translator who just contacted them? It’s wise to remind your clients of your unique value on occasion. This is a prime opportunity; don’t miss it.
Make a list of who should be included on your gift list before you order that jumbo pack of personalized pens. (In fact, don’t give cheapie pens at all; more on that later.) Obviously, the list should include any client you want to keep working with. But also think carefully about who you address the gift to. Even if you always work with one particular person at an agency or a direct client, he or she is most likely part of a team that works on the same projects, so you might want to address the gift to the team, or to “Elsa and her amazing team”, for instance. In the case of a direct client, it doesn’t matter if the other team members are not involved in the translation aspect of the project, because by including them you subtly position yourself as a contributor to the team rather than a supplier of a commodity.
Nothing you can order by the barrel for $4.99. Branded pens, notepads and the like are fine to hand out at conferences or in the course of day-to-day business, but for actual gifts you need to go beyond the obvious and the mass-produced. You’re trying to build a brand here, and you presumably don’t want to be associated with “cheap commodity” and “poor craftsmanship”.
It doesn’t have to be expensive; it just can’t look cheap and it has to show some thought. In her blog post http://translationtimes.blogspot.com/2009/11/marketing-idea-of-week.html, Judy Jenner mentions two Dutch-English translators who gave their clients beautifully crafted USB drives embedded in wooden shoes. That’s a good example of intentional gift giving that doesn’t break the bank.
Along the same lines, presentation is important. First impressions matter, so give some thought to the way the gift is packaged or wrapped.
The most bizarre example of “think before you communicate” I ran into is of a freelancer, who shall remain anonymous, who recommended something called “the ex pen holder” as an excellent business gift. The holder is shaped like a human figure and it looks like it’s being impaled by the pens. It’s memorable, I’ll give it that, but I don’t see “voodoo-revenge fantasy” as a good brand-association for your average freelancer looking to strengthen business relationships.
Here are a few more things to avoid.
- Giving a gift to someone of the opposite sex that can be perceived as too intimate. Give gender-neutral gifts if you’re not sure.
- Misspelling the name of the recipient. Always a faux pas, but especially awkward when committed by a language professional.
- Leaving the price tag on.
- Giving gifts to potential clients. It looks like a bribe.
- Giving a discount offer on your services as a “present”. They have to spend money to get your gift? Tacky.
- Gifts symbolizing your country that are made in China. Unless you’re from China. I hope they checked those wooden shoes…
The following points are taken from an article by Dean Foster, expert and speaker on culture in business. I’ve summarized some of his suggestions in my own words here, but you can read the whole article in the International HR Forum at http://tiny.cc/e2vupx.
- Southeast Asian recipients: no white boxes (white is associated with death), and no unwrapped gifts.
- Red (good luck) and gold (success, wealth) are good wrapping colors. (Interesting exception: pens with red ink spell very bad luck in Korea, so I guess a cheap branded pen with red ink would be instant death to that business relationship).
- No little desk clocks for Chinese clients, whether they live in China, Hong Kong or San Francisco. The Mandarin word for “clock” sounds like “death”. As Dean puts it, “clocks are NOT appreciated”.
- The same goes for the number 4, so don’t give sets of four of anything.
- In all Asian cultures: sharp tools represent the severing of a relationship, so sending someone a letter opener with your logo on is like saying “Dear Client, please never send me any business again; we are through. Sincerely, your former language provider.”
- And of course no leather goods to clients in India, where, in Dean’s words, “Hindu traditions hold the cow sacred; put those leather picture frames and attaché cases away.”
While researching the subject I also discovered that there is an interesting grey zone of gifts that are recommended by many people and dismissed or cautioned against by others. I’ll explore those in my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about any memorable gifts you have given or received!