The bad news? You should do this, and it will take a little effort – yes, that’s just one more to-do in an already packed season.
The good news? It won’t take much effort.
Put in a little, gentle, personalized work towards thank-yous and holiday greetings. Don’t send out a generic email to clients. Don’t just show up at their holiday party. Don’t even send out a form thank-you card, unless you take the time to personalize it for each client.
The stink of the completely generic holiday greeting is quite distinct; it smells remarkably like that cranberry-scented candle people get strangers in a Holiday Swap. Sending out no-effort holiday greetings is perfunctory, and reads as such.
Go the extra inch – not the extra mile, phew! - with your holiday greetings and end-of-year thanks. If you’re in the same city as your client – and it doesn’t feel weird – drop off your card or small thank-you gift in person. You may get in some real face time, which strengthens relationships!
At the very least, MAIL a card; we all get much more email than physical mail these days, and actual letters and cards can be a real treat. Email can slip through the cracks, and doesn’t have that same I-went-out-and-got-a-stamp-for-you-darnit glow. Personalize cards with specific messages to each client; it’s not that hard to scratch out a handwritten note, and it significantly ups the chance that your thanks will be a) acknowledged and b) remembered.
Think about the holiday cards you receive each year. The ones with thoughtful notes are more meaningful than the pre-packaged cards that contain a single scrawl: best wishes, Your Generic Friend.
This is an opportunity to lean towards your strengths; if you’re a brilliant graphic designer, make a really nice card that’s relevant to your business (and shows off your skills!). If you’re a writer, use that superpower to craft a great little message to your client. At the very least, buy a nice, high-end card (quality shouldn’t matter, but it does) and write a personalized note. This can be short and sweet:
Thanks so much for a great year! I’m really proud of the work we did together – the site looks fantastic – and look forward to doing more in 2017!
Happy and Healthy Holidays, [Freelancer]
Recapping your work together, saying thanks, and expressing your enthusiasm for continued collaboration is about all you need to do… it’s totally savvy, and it’s always appreciated.
DON’T feel like you need to buy gifts for your clients – this is not some archaic ritual of tribute / bribery (“I gave you graphic design work in September; BRING ME YOUR FIRSTBORN”). A card is sufficient, unless it’s not common practice in your industry.
However, if you have a particularly close or longstanding or fruitful relationship with a client, a small gift is never unwelcome. Here, it’s okay to go vaguely generic: personalized touches are great (if you know Bill likes golf, go for golf), but it’s fine to aim broadly at Things People Generally Like: food, wine, flowers, donations in their name to charity. I personally like to either donate in a client’s name or get them nice things that can, theoretically, be re-gifted – I’ll never know!
Doing an end-of-the-year wrap-up and saying “happy holidays” to your clients is a nice thing to do; it is also, quite honestly, smart. It’s an easy, low-effort marketing tool – reminding clients (who may know you mostly as a deadline, an email account, or an invoice) that you’re alive and an important part of their team. Holiday greetings are a good excuse to recap your work together and celebrate mutual accomplishments, as well as express enthusiasm for a new year.