It's hard to believe that the holidays are almost here. That means that the gift-giving season is around the corner. I start to think about holiday gifts in August because I really care what I give.

Exchanging gifts is an etiquette minefield studded with unspoken rules, academician Theodore Caplow argues in a Christmas-themed paper for the University of Virginia. For small businesses, this suggests that how well you handle purchasing gifts for partners and clients -- or other office gift-giving festivities -- may determine, at least in part, the happiness of your New Year.

I like to give gifts that make the recipients feel as if I thought specifically about them. For example, I have a lady who has a cup of tea daily at 3 p.m. I bought her a cute teapot with a variety of teas. I know that she will love this and will think of me when she has her tea.

Since I work with women, I am comfortable giving items like skin care products or a facial. However, I am careful to whom I give these gifts because these types of products can appear to be too personal.

I am also careful about giving food or alcohol. If I know a client is on a diet, I would never give them candies or cookies. Ditto with alcohol. I would only give wine if I knew the person is a wine lover or is not in rehab.

I really believe that if you know your client, it is easy to find the perfect gift. I have given a clock (old-fashioned looking) to one client who is always late. Since I knew her, I knew she would get a giggle out of it and not be insulted. I have also given cellphone covers that capture the personality of the person.

My gifts fulfill two purposes: they make the client happy and they serve as a constant reminder of our relationship.

Kathy McShane is managing director of Ladies Who Launch, Connecticut. She can be reached at or

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