Expressing gratitude can mean more than good manners in a professional services practice: The right kind of thank you at the right moment can also increase your business. What should you give and when?

“The most important thing is to say thank you with a note at the time of the referral and again in person when you see who made the referral,” noted Oklahoma-based CPA and Enrolled Agent Peggy Johnson.

“Anything from Barnes & Noble gift cards to Starbucks gift cards,” said EA Walter Gowens, of Prudential Vanguard in New York. “For some clients, I have a birthday cake delivered. For one business client, I have a catered lunch delivered each Christmas Eve.”

“Everybody likes to be appreciated,” Johnson added. “For multiple referrals or special referrals, I sometimes give an appreciation gift, usually a gift certificate that I obtain from another client, thus gaining goodwill with both the purchase of the gift and the giving of the gift.”


Pocket knives to cowbells

“Almost one quarter of our clients are year-round business clients; we give out appreciation gifts at the end of the year to the top 50 to 75 clients, measured by their sales for the prior 10 months,” said Laurie Ziegler, an EA at Sass Accounting in Saukville, Wis. “The value of the gift is usually $10 to $15 each. We try to make it useful but also customized, so that when they use it, they think of us.”

“Our clients really like this gesture,” Ziegler added. “We get all of our giveaways from National Pen; they are awesome to deal with. We’ve done a Swiss-type pocket knife, a jump [portable hard] drive and a multi-tipped screwdriver, just to name a few. This year we’re again leaning toward a technology item, since those are in high demand.”

Promotional swag at the likes of National Pen now extends far beyond fridge magnets and logoed baseball hats. Offerings currently range from carpenter’s tools, stadium cushions and spray-on sunscreen to earbuds and wine accessories.

Vistaprint, another long-time mail-order staple for businesses looking to express themselves on pens and post-its, has also branched out into computer mice and keyboards, manicure sets and dinnertime cowbells, to name just a few gifts.


‘They wanted to save them’ 

The site Helpscout offers additional gift ideas for your best clients:

  • Business books that influenced you and your practice.
  • A donation in the client’s name.
  • Fee discounts.
  • A customized movie poster with your client in a starring role.
  • A small, by-invitation party or after-hours gathering in your office.

Other Helpscout ideas include offering to buy a good client coffee when you’re in their neighborhood. The site also advises that when sending food, consider clients dietary restrictions or preferences.
“We always send birthday cards to our clients. One of the best and one of the least-expensive gifts we ever gave out were simple Hershey bars wrapped in 1040s that were cut to fit the bars,” said Bill Stewart, an EA at San Juan Financial Ltd. in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “Less than $1 each. People wouldn’t eat them. They wanted to save them.”

“It’s not something big,” said EA Arlene Rheinfelder, at Prescott Tax & Paralegal, in Prescott, Ariz. “We give out pens and these cute keychains that have a flashlight, tape measures and bottle openers. All are purchased through National Pen and have our logo. Per client, it costs less than $2. It’s worth the money to see my clients smile when they pick up their tax returns and get an unexpected surprise.”

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