The 2013 Small Business Employee and Gift-Giving Guide

One of my favorite holiday songs is, “It’s the Most Won-der-ful Time of the Year.” Changing the lyrics to “It’s the Most Cash-Zap-ping Time of the Year” may be a bit more apropos for small business owners, however. Adding to all the craziness that goes along with the holiday season and year-end small business frenzy is the gifting conundrum. We would all love to be able thank our employees and clients the way Oprah treated her studio audiences. But without a balance sheet resembling her bank account, it’s necessary to show our appreciation on a much smaller scale. But how?

Gift or party?

First, we need to determine exactly what our employees and clients want. There were some important and enlightening results from the recently released Land’s End Business Outfitters’ 2013 Holiday Business Gift Survey. Not surprising, there was a 12 percent increase over 2012 in the number of American workers (78 percent) who would rather receive a great holiday gift than have an office party. Many employees (and employers, for that matter) view the annual office party as an extension of the work day, and some even resent the demands on their personal time in an already frantic season. Alright, we’ve taken care of what they don’t want. Now let’s see what tops the “most wanted” list.

Saying thank you to employees

According to the survey, most employees’ preferred gift from an employer is a holiday cash bonus (45 percent), followed by gift cards (23 percent) and apparel (11 percent), beating out an extra day off at 6 percent. As a small business owner, you can gift any of these suggestions without busting your budget. In fact, one creative employer incorporates all of these most wished-for items into one fantastic gift!

Kelly Delaney is the Pastry Chef and Proprietress at Cakes for Occasions, a small business in Danvers, Massachusetts. This is her business’ busiest time of the year, so finding time to celebrate after working 12-16 hour days is next to impossible. About 80 percent of her thirty employees are women, and Delaney found a special, fun and affordable way to thank her employees. In early November, she takes all of her employees to a local mall for a surprise shopping trip. Each is handed an envelope with a $100 bill and specific instructions inside, which say: “You have an hour and a half to buy something; you have to spend the entire $100; you have to spend it on YOURSELF — not your children, spouse, or anybody else. You only. Keep your receipts and meet me at a restaurant located in the mall when you are done.”

Delaney says the reactions, especially from her mom employees, are priceless. After the surprise shopping spree, she has dinner waiting at the designated restaurant for her team. During dinner, they play a version of “Show and Tell,” with each employee sharing her purchase with the team. Kelly Delaney says it’s not only a great morale booster and team builder; it’s also a relatively inexpensive bonus to give.

Showing customers you care

It’s time now to take care of the backbone of your small business or start-up: CUSTOMERS! These all-important people also had a chance to weigh in on the Land’s End Business Outfitters’ 2013 Holiday Business Gift Survey. Most, over 39%, want practical items that can be used outside of the workplace.   The preferred gifts are:

  • apparel-bags/totes (38 percent),
  • food (28 percent),
  • drinkware (22 percent)
  • pad folios/writing instruments (18 percent).

Here’s possibly the best-trending result from the survey for any small business on a budget: most business owners are spending less than $25 per client on gifts! Only one-third are spending $25-$50 per client. As a great example of incorporating that all important personal touch into gift-giving, take a look at what financial advisor Shanna Tingom is offering her clients this year: Tingom’s hobby outside of the office is baking pies, with apple as her specialty. She has offered to assemble an apple pie for each of her client’s holiday meals. She will assemble, freeze, and box them with baking instructions, allowing each client to bake the pie to perfection at his or her discretion. Tingom says if everyone says ‘yes,’ she will end up putting together 50 pies! Talk about being the “apple” of her clients’ eye!

No matter what you decide to do in regards to the 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Season, keep this in mind for the upcoming tax season: the IRS allows your business to deduct up to $25 for business gifts you give to any one person per year. There is no limit on how many people you can give business gifts to during the year, nor on how much you spend for those gifts. But, your business gift deduction is limited to $25 per recipient.

What holiday gifts ideas have you implemented for your small business employees and customers? And what gift would you most like to receive?


Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.

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