Navigating the Holidays as a Small Business
The Holidays are a stressful time of year for all of us. Often it is balancing family time, cooking, shopping, gift wrapping - oh yeah and WORK!
The holidays take a special kind of balance. The same amount of work needs to be done, but many people are out of the office. So, managing your time based on projects you need to complete and collaborate on becomes an added element. Additionally, how to effectively communicate when you are going to be out of the office, so others can plan accordingly is important too. Then, there is the holiday gift - how do you show appreciation for your clients. We’re here to tell you about our experience, and best practices we have picked up over the years.
We find it is best to communicate when you are going to be out of the office with as much notice to your clients as possible. But let's face it, people forget (as we all do). Therefore, we also recommend adding a line under your signature (not part of the actual signature, skip a line below your actual signature) and put something like “Vacation December 24 - 27th.” This way, it is there to remind them. Now, we know life happens and advanced notice isn’t always possible, that is why we also recommend turning on your out of office automatic reply, always not just in case of emergencies. Make sure to update it with who they can reach out to while you are out as well as when they can expect you to be back. If you want to leave your cell number for emergencies, that is up to you. Keep in mind, if they call you with an “emergency” (even if it doesn’t qualify as an emergency to you) they are expecting you to get back to them in a timely manner, likely while you are still out of the office. Also, don't be afraid to ask your clients what their vacation time looks like during the holidays. This allows you to get a timeline of what you need to get completed for them before they leave, as well as gives you the opportunity to build the partnership with them asking about their plans. Don’t pry but be thoughtful.
Now, how to tackle the holiday gifts… Whether you own your own business or work for someone, showing your clients or customers you appreciate them is something you should be doing all year. But we know the holidays can bring extra pressure. Often, we wait until the season is upon us to start looking for ways to show our appreciation for those we work with. The reality is, we should be gathering ideas all year. Knowing those we work with will make finding them something to say “thank you” easier when the time comes.
We have worked for companies that have spent an outrageous amount on gifts, often leaving us wondering how our clients will feel about receiving such an expensive gift (“am I overpaying this vendor partner so much that they can afford to buy us X?!?”). Then, the other side of the coin, we've worked with and for companies that send the same gift, no matter the longevity or level of the partnership. This can leave partners feeling generic and undervalued.
We believe there is a science to thanking your clients for their partnership. First, they should feel valued all year long. You shouldn't wait to say “thank you for your business” at the end of the year (i.e. around the holidays). Regular communication and collaboration throughout the year gives you the opportunity to thank your customers or clients for their continued partnership and investments (both financial and time) they continue to commit to your business.
By doing this, spending time with your clients, collaborating, all year, you get to know them. This gives you an advantage when it comes time to send them something for the holidays, or their partnership anniversary (which is a whole other conversation we can touch on later). We can all agree, what you spend isn’t as important as the thought behind the gift. You should approach “thank yous” in the professional world much as you would in your personal life. A thoughtful gift often means more than an overly expensive gift. This isn’t saying be cheap; we are saying be thoughtful. Your clients work with you and your business because you provide value by knowing their business and being a trusted advisor. Take this approach when saying thank you.
For example, if you know one of your clients likes red wine because they have mentioned it, or you have seen them drink it at a conference, a nice bottle of wine with a handwritten note may be a great holiday gift. Or, if you know your client's family has a holiday tradition of decorating cookies, maybe a new cookie cookbook or cookie cutters are the right gift choice.
You don't have to send a gift - a handwritten note goes a long way as well. If there are multiple contacts, think about gift baskets based on the company culture. Remember, it is the thought that counts. The more personalized (for the individual or the company) the better.
Now it is a matter of timing the gift right and determining where to send it. If you are sending your clients a gift to their office, it is important to send it out before they leave for the holiday (think about the conversation you had with them about holiday vacation). If you are sending it to an individual's home, having the gift or card arrive while they are home, anytime during the holiday, is great. This allows them to share your thoughtful holiday wishes, or creative gift, with those they are spending the holiday with. Now, if you know your client is going to be traveling during the holiday, don’t track down where they are going to send their note or gift there. Instead, think about sending it during the holiday season, to arrive at the beginning of the year. Use this opportunity to wish them a happy new year and thank them for their partnership in the previous year.
We know there is a lot of balance during the holidays. We can’t stress the importance of planning and communication enough. Remember, everyone is balancing a lot during the holidays and a little grace goes a long way.