Holiday Survival - Business Style
By the time you read this article, you should be in the full swing of the 2004 holiday season. There’s nothing quite like this time of year. When else could you go out, spend a bundle on food, parties, more parties, more food and, oh yes, presents for those special people in your life, and not feel the least bit guilty about all that excess? Yes, this is the most magical, most fun-filled, most hectic and most stressful time of year. Not only that, if you’re not careful, it can be the most devastating time of year for your business also.
We thought we would take a moment from this year’s festivities to throw a wet blanket on some of the revelry. Don’t get us wrong; we enjoy the holiday season as much as other people. Unfortunately, we have seen and/or read of the horror that can come of a wholly improper approach to the last 31 days of the year. We hope to spare you some of the pain that others have felt.
Holiday Business Gifts
It is almost impossible to discuss business matters and not bring our Uncle Sam into the discussion. This year, we want to point out that he is not the Scrooge many people make him out to be. Sam is a wonderful jolly fellow who believes in giving gifts to business associates. In fact, he believes in it so much that he allows you, the businessperson, a deduction of up to $25 per person for business gifts. Now, before you start stringing two or more $25 gifts together to give an associate a meaningful gift, let’s make one thing perfectly clear; the $25 per person limit is an annual limit, not a per gift limit.
So what kind of gift can you give an associate or a customer for $25 per person or less? The list is endless, but could include a tin of cookies, a nice pen, a donation to that person’s favorite charity and any of numerous items available for $25 or less. You are limited only by your imagination, your associates’ or customers’ taste and, of course, the $25 limitation itself. If you exceed the $25 limit, you just created a nondeductible expense. Congratulations!
Seriously, though, don’t just send the same thing to each customer if you can help it. Many times what impresses one person may be of no consequence to another. The key to a successful gift is making it fit the recipient. Do that and you have just strengthened your relationship with the recipient.
Everyone likes to receive positive mail and there’s nothing more positive than a card that expresses well wishes from a business associate. Well, cash is often nicer, but let’s not go overboard. There are a few practical considerations you need to be aware of when deciding which card to use. First, consider your goal in sending the card. Are you simply trying to build goodwill? Are you trying to make a statement about who and what you and your business are about? We aren’t talking about what you sell so much as your statement of ethics and values? Are you mainly just trying to thank someone for the past year’s business? Maybe it’s about all three, but the answer will go a long way in helping you decide your greeting card approach.
For example, one business felt it was important not only to thank their clients for past business, but also to make a statement about their guiding principles. In this case, it was a Christian organization and the owners decided to mention Jesus Christ in the card. Similar value statements could be made about other religions and belief patterns by using cards geared toward Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or similar references. Even the use of a generic Season’s Greetings card geared generically to the "Holidays" can speak volumes about the senders belief patterns for those who wish to think about the reasons why a particular card was used.
While some may wish to make a religious or ideological statement, many people these days simply wish to let their associates and customers know they wish them all the best in the current season. If you are addressing a diverse clientele, this may be the safest way to approach this holiday ritual. This may be their way of acting on their convictions by seeking not to offend during the holidays.
It might be argued that any card you send to your customers and associates that you have a reasonable expectation of offending someone because of religious content is the wrong card to send. We suggest that as long as you 1) know the risks you are taking of mailing a particular type of card, 2) the potential rewards of your choice and 3) you can sleep at night knowing you made the decision that was right for you, there is no wrong or right approach.
Parties and food
Our suggestions in the area of parties and food are not binding and certainly everyone has their own tastes. About all we can say is don’t overdo the parties or the food. This time of year you probably get more party invitations than you do during all the rest of the year. Let’s face it; it’s nice to receive an invitation to a party. That’s somewhat of a validation of your worth; someone likes you.
This kind of thinking can get you into deep trouble. Putting aside the additional calories you will rack up at each party, you also have friends and family to consider as well as your own health. What good will it do for you to make all the holiday parties if you can’t climb out of bed Christmas morning to watch the children’s faces light up at the gifts "Santa" left. Pace yourself.
Sometimes euphemistically referred to as adult beverages, alcoholic drinks can get you into trouble faster than any other holiday "tradition." We could say "just say no" to alcoholic beverages at any company function you control, but that might be highly impractical. You may have many guests who specifically expect an open bar or at least some spiked eggnog and realistically, the real danger is with those few people who choose to drink and then drive before the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
So what can you do? Well, you could close the bar far enough ahead of time to give party guests time to metabolize the drink. Certainly, you must have a professional bartender serving alcoholic beverages. These people are trained to spot someone who has had too much to drink and then deal with the person in a professional manner. This should relieve you of the liability (for the most part) and leave you with a customer who is more or less happy with you, even if they hate the bartender. You might also want to locate any parties where alcohol will be served at a club or restaurant rather than your home or your business premises. Anything that removes you from control, limits your potential liability and that is a good thing.
One last thing you may wish to do is make sure there are plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages at the party. For many people, parties can be stressful and one way to cater to the stress is to keep the hands and mouth busy. Giving your guests a safe alternative to alcohol creates a win-win situation.
The present season is meant to be a time of joy and reflection on the past year. If you don’t approach it in that manner, you can become stressed-out and, yes, near suicidal by the end of this joyous season. Take control of your time and do only what is right for you. In the end, that will also be what is right for your customers and associates.
Oh, and one more thing - Season’s Greetings and may this holiday season be the most peaceful and joyful season you have ever known.