The Referral Gift

Anyone who owns or runs a business knows that word-of-mouth (whether good or bad) is the most persuasive form of marketing. If you are in a service business, then get in the habit of sending a token thank you gift for referrals from other customers or colleagues.

For example, there is an employment attorney I know to whom I’ve referred friends in the past. Whether the referral becomes a paying customer or not, that attorney sends me a thank you card and $5 Starbucks gift card each and every time. Not only am I going to remember that attorney, I’m going to keep referring people to her. By acknowledging even the smallest act, she lets me know that she appreciates me and that tells me that she appreciates her clients as well.

To get into this habit, keep a stash of gift cards and thank you cards or company note cards in your desk. When the referral comes in, take a few moments to recognize the referral source or add the source’s contact information to an online card and gift service and have the service send the card for you.

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Be Knowledgeable about Gift Cards

According to the National Retail Federation, the 2011 holiday season marked the fifth year in a row that gift cards ranked #1 on Americans’ wish lists. The gift card business is lucrative indeed, bringing in almost $28 billion in revenue in the last holiday season alone. That’s up substantially from the $17.24 billion spent in all of 2003 on the cards.

There’s no doubt, we’re buying more gift cards and spending more on them. But, in my view, although they’re easy to buy, they’re kind of a cop-out in most gift giving situations. Before you dive into the gift card kiosk at your local supermarket, consider this: some recipients will never use their gift card, and the majority of them will spend more than the gift card amount … some present, huh?

Then there are the rules to consider before purchasing a gift card. Most gift cards, especially bank-issued cards, come with a set of rules. The federal legislation that went into effect in March 2010 that provides consumer protections for credit cards also impacted gift cards. Generally speaking, a gift card must be valid for at least 5 years from the date of issuance, no fees are allowed for the first 12 months. Some states have stricter laws, which remain in effect. To find out your state’s gift card law, click here. (You will be connected to a summary provided by consumerunion.org.

If you do choose to give gift cards, make it a wise decision. Gift cards do have their place, as a business referral gift or as part of a more personal, practical present for a housewarming or wedding. Keep gift cards in your back pocket, so to speak, the next time you’re faced with a gift giving dilemma. Do your best to find a personal gift if the occasion calls for it.

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