Career Advice

Should You Send Holiday Gifts and Cards to Freelance Clients?

By Debbie Swanson November 20th, 2014

With the holiday season approaching, it’s time to think about gifts you’re going to buy for the important people in your life. Freelancers may not have a Secret Santa in an office with coworkers, but what about the editors, agents, and others you work with regularly? Does a gift to a client come across as good cheer or a marketing ploy?

It’s a dilemma many freelancers face this time of year.

“I was a bit worried about doing this because I didn’t want to appear to be pushy or desperate to drum up business,” said freelance writer Lisa Evans, who plans to send cards to colleagues this year. “I’ve realized that my relationships with editors are more than simply asking for work and getting an assignment. It’s about building rapport.”

For those still trying to decide if sending cards and gifts is a smart move, here are some thoughts on the practice.

Cast a wide net

While editors might be obvious targets, don’t forget to look at the big picture. Think of the source who came through at the eleventh hour and the writer who passed along a lead that turned into one of your best gigs of the year. Thanking these individuals can be rewarding for you and a pleasant surprise for the recipient.

You can minimize the sycophantic angle of sending gifts by including everyone who was instrumental to your year’s success, not just those who pay you.

Snail or email?

Given the convenience of email and online platforms with cookie-cutter messaging templates, it can be tempting to just fire off a batch of greetings at once. However, considering you’re trying to make a personal connection with the recipient, New York freelance writer James O’Brien believes an electronic greeting risks getting lost in the shuffle.

“This is an audience that receives an influx of emails per hour,” O’Brien said. “Sending your card by email devalues the experience, while a personal note will stand out.”

On the other hand, since those in the publishing industry are supposed to be media-savvy, they may view an electronic greeting as creative. New York freelancer Cynthia Potts is a fan of social media or email greetings, and suggests you let your level of relationship guide your choice.

“If it’s someone you’ve only worked with casually, an email or social media greeting is fine, whereas if it’s someone you worked with closely, you may want to send a paper card or other gift item,” she said.

Keep Santa in hiding

Always be careful about your choice of card. Humor can be misunderstood, and assuming someone celebrates a certain holiday always has the potential to backfire.

Similarly, no matter how adorable your twins look in holiday outfits, your family photo card probably shouldn’t go to business acquaintances. In a nutshell, your holiday card should feature a neutral photo—perhaps a wintery scene—and offer a general wish for well-being.

As Evans said: “No mangers or religious imagery.”

Take the time to hand-write your name on the card. And don’t tuck your business card inside; if the recipient knows you well enough to be receiving a card, they should have your number.

Oh, you shouldn’t have

Many freelancers fear sending anything more than a card is too obvious of a marketing maneuver. But under the right circumstances, a gift can be a thoughtful way to thank those worthy of it.

“Give them to someone you’ve worked with for a period of time, or [worked with] on a large, intense project, such as a book,” Potts suggested. “[Sending them to] someone you would like to work with, with as a way of opening the door or introducing yourself, could be off-putting.”

Insert a brief note with your gift to make sure the recipient knows it’s not part of a mass mailing. For example: “John, two years ago, you were one of the first editors to buy my work for a national magazine. Thanks for helping propel my career forward!

Keep it going year-round

While most people will only send cards and gifts around December, you can set yourself apart by targeting other points throughout the year.

“When your editor has gone through a big life event—they’ve had a baby, gotten married, won an award—it’s nice to recognize that,” Potts said.

Reaching out regularly allows your colleagues to see more of your personal side, something that helps you stand apart from the crowd of other freelancers competing for jobs. Evans explained how connecting with a little personality can have long-term benefits:“If [editors] are thinking about doing a feature on the health benefits of having pets, for example, and they know that I have a cat and a dog, they may think of me first when assigning the pet story.”

And even if the client sends back a Bah Humbug, you can always take comfort in the fact that it never hurts to be nice and talk about your pet at the same time.

Image by EMprize
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