An American Editor

November 2, 2015

On the Basics: Approaching Holiday Season Brings Recurring Question: To “Gift” or Not to Gift Clients?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As the end of the year creeps up (or rushes at) us, it’s time to think about whether and how to show appreciation to our clients for keeping us in work and in — I hope — good shape financially.

I’m a firm believer in doing something around the holiday season to let clients know that I appreciate their business. This isn’t bribery; it’s a thank-you gesture and, to me, a genuine one. I know that my clients could go elsewhere and hire someone else — a freelancer who is cheaper, better known to them, or more persuasive than I am — and I’m glad they don’t. I enjoy working with them and want them to know that I don’t take their business for granted. I do my best to convey that throughout the year, but a holiday thank-you gift is a formal way of doing so, and a classic gesture of appreciation.

There’s another advantage to giving clients thank-you gifts: Sending a gift, no matter how modest, is a great way to remind someone that you exist and are available for new projects. Every time this topic comes up in discussions among colleagues, at least one person says that sending a thank-you gift (or vacation alert!) results in at least one client getting in touch to say something like, “What great timing — your gift reminded me that we could use you for such-and-such a project” or “Thank you so much for the gift and, by the way, this made me realize that we have a project for you.”

I don’t send thank-you gifts to past clients who haven’t sent me any work in the current year — but a holiday card certainly doesn’t go amiss, and often generates a similar positive response.

I keep my client gifts simple and inexpensive; something practical that won’t spoil, but isn’t extravagant. That’s for a couple of reasons. For one, some clients aren’t allowed to accept gifts at all, or gifts above a given value. For another, extravagance doesn’t feel appropriate or comfortable — and isn’t affordable.

Some colleagues send food — Rich Adin often gets his logo made into chocolate bars! — but I stay away from edible gifts because they don’t last and I don’t know if clients have allergies, although I do sometimes include packets of coffee or tea with mugs. In earlier years, I’d scour craft fairs throughout the year for purple mugs and use those for client gifts; in recent years, I’ve aimed for something more professional while being equally “me.” I’ve worked with a local colleague who has a promotions business to find items that can be imprinted with my name, logo, and website URL, as well as my phone number and/or e-mail address if they’ll fit. The only disadvantage of that approach is that the minimum number for an order might be far more than you need, but you can always use the extras the following year, or — especially if you purchased wisely and not holiday-centrically — in other ways throughout the new year — to new or prospective clients, to valued colleagues, even to friends and family (after all, they can be good sources of referrals for new business).

I’ve sent ceramic coffee mugs (purple, of course), travel mugs for hot and cold beverages, calendars, candles with holders, and similar items as holiday thank-you gifts. I’ve also done certificates for “Valued Client” and “Client of the Year.” With every gift, I enclose a personalized note, a pen with my name and contact information on it, and my business card.

Timing for client gifts can be a challenge. Many of us are especially busy with both work and family obligations from November through December, and fitting client gifts into your time and budget isn’t always easy — it isn’t just choosing and ordering the gift(s), but signing the cards, and doing the packaging and shipping. I always start with great intentions of getting mine in the mail by mid-December (or even around Thanksgiving, for the fit with thankfulness), but don’t always manage to fulfill those intentions. Instead, I often send my client gifts in early January as new year’s greetings and wishes. No one seems to find that off-putting, and some clients have said it’s a welcome way to start the new year.

Clients aren’t the only ones who might be on your gift list. You might be thinking about gifts for friends and colleagues — or even yourself — as the holiday season approaches. If so, here are a few suggestions, some of which are, admittedly, self-serving.

  • Copies of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer,” a booklet I’ve written and produced to help colleagues get a better start on freelance success. While it’s primarily aimed at writers, much of the information is useful to anyone in the publishing or editorial field, from editors and proofreaders to indexers, photographers, website developers, graphic artists/designers, desktop publishers, and more.
  • A gift certificate for registration for the 11th annual Communication Central conference, coming up in the fall of 2016. The cost of registration should be the same as for 2015 ($225–$350 for both days, depending on whether you are a subscriber to this blog, member of a collegial professional organization, or previous attendee, and when you register), and hotel rates are usually around $125/night.
  • Fun and/or practical gifts for editorial professionals, such as:

• mugs with grammar and punctuation rules from the BBC (, among others;

• the newest versions of various style manuals;

• my “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” booklet and other useful publications from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

• subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers magazines, or Copyediting newsletter;

• the new edition of Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace;

• subscriptions to online style manuals and updates;

• memberships in or registration for events hosted by professional associations, such as the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), EFA, Society for Technical Communication (STC), National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), etc.;

• work-related jewelry, such as earrings or necklaces made using Scrabble keys and miniature versions of style manuals;

• a pair of so-called editor’s pants;

• grammar books or refresher courses; and

• gift access to EditTools, PerfectIt, and Editor’s ToolKit PLUS 2014 for greater editing efficiency and productivity.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.



  1. You can order notecards and other merchandise with relevant New Yorker cartoons at

    (Wait till the end of the workday to click on this link. You can waste hours here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)



    Comment by Diana Schneidman — November 2, 2015 @ 11:21 am | Reply

  2. Other useful books for oneself, colleagues and even clients include Jack Lyon’s _Microsoft Word For Publishing Professionals_ and his _Macro Cookbook_, and Louise Harnby’s _Business Planning for Editorial freelancers_ and _Marketing Your
    Editing & Proofreading Business_.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — November 2, 2015 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  3. I hesitate to ask this, but what are editor’s pants?


    Comment by Vicki Adang — November 10, 2015 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

  4. There’s a clothing company in NYC that advertises “editor’s pants” that appear to just be plain black pants, I think on the stretchy-legging side. Here’s one link with info:

    In my book, anything I wear constitutes “editor’s pants” when I’m editing!


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — November 11, 2015 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks, Ruth. I think I’ve seen those before and couldn’t figure out what was so special about them to earn the description “editor.” I agree that whatever I have on is “editor’s pants.”


    Comment by Vicki Adang — November 11, 2015 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

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