How to get around a restrictive gift policy

Most of us respond well to gifts, but it can be impractical, unethical, or even illegal to give tangible or cash gifts to clients. Here are a few alternative ideas for “gifts” you can give your clients (and situations in which these gifts are appropriate).

Life Hacks

Someone who rides the subway every day might not think to look up an article on how to ride the subway better.  When your client shares some information about what they’re going through, you can capitalize on this by finding a “life hack” article that may help them. Recently, my colleague Regina and I were trying to set an appointment with a client. He replied that he was in the middle of budget season. How could Regina and I give him something of value to get him through the next couple of weeks? Budget season means Excel, and it was easy to look up a blog post on with a few useful tips and tricks on using Excel.

Why this might work: Even if Regina’s client doesn’t read the article, we think he’ll appreciate the fact that we tried to put ourselves in his shoes. This can help move the relationship forward.

When not to do this: Don’t go overboard and act like the person who has 10 solutions for every problem. Also, don’t do this around personal topics like family life, religion, or health – keep your CQ (creep quotient) low.

Vet the info first: Before sharing any link, read the article yourself and think about whether it’s useful. Don’t share articles that are obvious click-bait or full of pop-up ads.

Event Invites

We assume you can’t score tickets to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Find out topics your client cares about or activities they enjoy and invite them to a local event that pertains to one of those topics. (I fully admit that this is easier in urban areas). Eventbrite has tons of free events – you can get tickets and then offer them to clients.

Bonus: if it’s a topic your client cares about, the client is likely to see people they know at the event, and you’ll automatically broaden your network by being warmly introduced.

How to tell what your client cares about: Look at the content they’re posting or engaging with on LinkedIn or Twitter. Assuming it’s professional and not embarrassing, you can find events that jibe with their interests.

Compassion and gratitude

Jumping into the breach with a compassionate word is not a “trick” – it can, and should, be part of who we are. It is more than all right to send a brief note of encouragement or sympathy to a client or a business associate who has suffered a loss or been around a disaster. Don’t be afraid to shoot a quick email to someone who lives in where something bad has just happened, saying the news made you think of them and you hope they and their family are all right. It’s the human thing to do.  If you’re wondering how to respond when something like this happens, reach out to someone you trust as a coach and get their help.

Pro tip: If you’re sending a handwritten sympathy note by mail, this is one situation where you should not use business stationery. Buy some notecards with blank insides and keep them on hand for this purpose.

Handwritten thank-you notes make you stand out from the crowd – they add meaning to a relationship and tend to be re-read. If the thought of writing a thank-you note terrifies you, watch this space – help is coming soon!

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