Shopping for and selecting appropriate gifts for business associates during the holidays can be a challenge, especially when you're on a tight budget, which I think we all pretty much are these days. During the holidays you want to let the people you work with know that you do care about them, but you don't want to spend a fortune or send something that says you are completely clueless about their likes/dislikes.
I like to ask people what they don't want; that keeps me out of trouble and they almost always volunteer information on what they do like. First, here's a list I've compiled of gifts that my editor and agent friends and associates have told me that they get every year that they don't like, and why:
Chocolate. Every year the most popular gift authors send their editors and agents (particularly those who are female) is chocolate. One box is nice, an editor told me, but fifty tends to be overwhelming.
Homemade Baked Goods. No matter how well-wrapped they're sent, by the time they're delivered they're almost always on the stale side. Also, some people aren't crazy about eating personally-made baked goods because they generally don't come with a list of ingredients, which presents problems for recipients who have dire allergies to things like gluten or nuts.
Cheese and Sausage gifts. Weight- and health-conscious recipients generally avoid these food catalog gifts like the plague; these are also the gifts that are most frequently thrown away because no one wants them.
Alcohol. I was surprised to find out how much booze is still sent out during the holidays, particularly wine. It's not workplace-appropriate, and one wine-loving agent told me that most wines sold via catalogs is of questionable to poor quality.
Gag Gifts. What seems really cute and funny to you is probably going to annoy or embarrass the recipient. The gift you sabotaged to shower thousands of bits of confetti all over your editor, her work desk and her office rug will not be appreciated by her, her boss or housekeeping. Neither will the Playboy sex toy your agent unwittingly unwraps at home in front of his wife and their three preschoolers.
Religious Gifts. Putting more reason back into the season is a popular theme, but unless your faith is shared by your recipient these type of gifts can be as offensive and inappropriate as sex toys.
Some alternative gift ideas that will probably be more welcomed by your biz associates:
Business Card Case. Most professionals have cards and also hand them out frequently in the course of business, so a nice case is likely to be used a lot. For conference-going biz folks look for cases that can hold larger amounts of cards.
Charity Donation. Giving a cash gift to a charity your recipient supports is always a great thing (I recommend first checking out the charity over on Charity Navigator to make sure the donation is being used for the needy and not to line the pockets of a well-paid CEO.)
Desk Stuff. Workspace is always at a premium, so look for items that don't require a lot of surface, such as stacking or tall organizers for commonly-used office supplies (and stock them with some supplies to tempt your recipient into actually using them.) Perpetual calendars are also much appreciated because they can be used basically forever.
Fresh Fruit. Healthier than chocolate, cheese and sausage, and more apt to be actually consumed; look for fruits in reasonable quantities and interesting assortments. Any fruit that can be juiced was mentioned to me as especially nice because it can all be used before it spoils. Note: Grapefruit can be a problem for anyone who is on certain cholesterol meds that require them to avoid it.
Gadgets: If it's related to books or the industry, chances are the recipient owns one already, so you might check with them first. Also, look for devices that aren't as obvious and can be used at work or at home. A couple of things I saw in a gadget catalog that I thought were interesting: gloves that are techno-friendly (with fingertip pads so you don't have to take them off to use gadgets) and a handheld digital scale for luggage (handy for the frequent traveler.)
Personalized Memo Pads. One editor received a basket of different-size memos and sticky notes custom-printed with her name, and mentioned these to me as her #1 favorite gift of all time (make sure you know exactly how to spell your recipient's name, and choose colors and styles that are workplace-appropriate.)
Your Art. If you sew, knit, quilt or create any other kind of hand-crafted art, giving a one-of-a-kind item you took the time to make for your recipient is something that really comes from the heart. My advice is to keep it simple and useful, and avoid enormous-size projects or things that have to be dry-cleaned.
What sort of business gifts do you guys like to give and/or receive? Let us know in comments.