The Ultimate Guide to Freelance Gift-Giving

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, but is it also the season to give gifts to your editors and clients?

This question comes up every year around Thanksgiving on every forum I frequent and within every writing group I belong to. And opinions run strong on this subject. Some writers (myself included) gift their clients every year. Others strongly oppose, on principle, the notion that solopreneurs like us should send gifts to employees of mega-corporations. And still others take a middle-of-the-road approach: they send holiday cards but not gifts.

So, what should a freelance nurse-writer do?

Well, I’m not here to tell you. I believe every independent businessperson should make her own decision on this subject.

Instead, my ‘ultimate guide’ is all about providing a framework of considerations to inform your own decision about whether or not to gift, followed by my personal process for corporate gifting.

No Expectation of Gift-Giving

Let me start by clarifying that there is no expectation of gift-giving within the freelance writing world. At least, that’s always been the case in the 20+ years I’ve been doing this. You needn’t feel that your editor or client may be expecting to receive a gift from you. If they are, that’s strictly a personal thing. It’s not standard in our industry.

That said, there is a longstanding tradition of gift-giving within vendor-client relationships, at least in America.

It has long been customary in client relationships of all stripes – and particularly within healthcare – for vendors to send gifts to their customers. Heck, I once worked with a doctor who received the gift of a pricey private wine locker at a local gourmet restaurant from a pharmaceutical rep! You can argue the ethics of that (which, by the way, I strongly did with the doctor in question), but the bottom line is gift-giving happens all the time in all types of industries.

I mention this to provide some historical context regarding business gift-giving. You can feel free to consider this history or discard it.

Now let’s look at the four nitty-gritty considerations I evaluate when deciding whether or not to gift a client during the holidays.

1. The Financial Health of Your Business

As I always preach, your first duty as a nurse-writer is always, always to the health of your business. Never make decisions that compromise your financial stability. If you’ve struggled in a particular year, you need not feel guilty about not sending your best client a gift – even if you sent one the year before. (Nor do you need to offer any apology or explanation. It’s frankly none of your client’s business.) You’re never obligated to send a gift. To me, it’s all about expressing appreciation and cultivating the relationship – which you can do perfectly well with a nice card.

2. Financial Value of the Relationship

If an editor gives you a one-off assignment that nets you $350, does that warrant sending a box of chocolates at year-end? Only you can decide that. For me, the answer probably is ‘no,’ though I can think of a number of circumstances that would lead me in the other direction. For instance, if I felt the relationship was worth cultivating, I might send a small gift.

On the other hand, I often work with clients on high-value projects. I’m just wrapping up a $54,000 contract that played out over the course of an entire year. I definitely want to show my appreciation to that client by sending a considerable gift to my contact there.

3. Personal Relationship with the Client or Editor

Another factor I consider in determining whether to send a gift is my relationship with my editor or client contact. Over the years I’ve developed close (yet professional) relationships with a number of editors and clients. I look on them as friends and feel happy about sending them at least a token gift at holiday time.

The relationship with my editor or client also can influence the ‘level’ of gift I send. I have worked with a few individuals who gave me a lot of work, dollar-wise, but were incredible pains in the ass to work with. You can call me Scrooge, but those people’s gifts got downsized or replaced with a greeting card instead.

4. Your Personal Principles

As I said, many people stand against corporate gift-giving on principle. They may feel it’s unethical or cloying, or it may simply make them feel uncomfortable. If that is the case for you, then do not give corporate gifts! It’s not worth compromising your principles over.

If You Decide to Send a Holiday Gift…

If, after serious contemplation and making a business decision you believe is in your best interests, you decide to give a gift to one or more of your clients, then what?

First, remember that business gifting differs from personal gifting from the standpoint that you’re sending clients a gift to express appreciation for work they’ve given you but also to cultivate a lucrative, ongoing professional relationship – as opposed to personal gifting, which is motivated from a place of love. You can ‘love’ an editor, but the business gift should always be a professional token designed to elevate your business in the client’s eyes, create a memorable impression, and elicit additional work. Personal gift-giving may be emotional, but business gifting is mainly pecuniary in nature. Don’t forget that.

I make business gifting work for me by following these steps:

Step One: Create a Gifting Budget

Within your overall business budget, create a line for gift-giving. Your gifting budget might be a fixed dollar amount, a percentage of your gross receipts, or even a percentage of specific contract amounts (which enables you to give a gift commensurate with the value of the contract). It doesn’t matter how you set your gifting budget, only that you do create one and adhere to it. Personally, I try to determine this amount at the beginning of my fiscal year and contribute a monthly amount to my gifting budget so that I have all the funds on hand when gift-giving time arrives.

Step Two: Send Gifts Earlier or Later Than Usual

Your clients are going to be bombarded with vendor gifts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. To make the most memorable impression, I try to schedule my gifts to arrive the week before Thanksgiving. If I fail to get my act together in time to do that, then I schedule them to arrive the second week of January – as a “Happy New Year” gift. Don’t send gifts the first week of January, because many people take that week off from work.

Sending Thanksgiving or New Year’s gifts allows me to avoid any awkwardness surrounding the religious aspect of many December holidays. I would never recommend introducing religion into any professional relationship because it’s irrelevant to your business partnership and because it’s too personal. Even if you know positively the recipient is a member of a particular faith (and even if it’s a faith you share), I recommend never bringing the subject up, not even during holiday season.

Personally, I love the idea of New Year’s gifts because it gives me an opportunity to include a forward-looking sentiment that anticipates my continued relationship with the recipient. But you do what feels right to you.

Step Three: Send Gifts that Stand Out from the Pack

Is it nice to receive a Harry & David tower of treats? Sure. Is it nice to receive Lindor truffles? Sure. Might your client(s) be receiving those same types of gifts from myriad other vendors? Yes, indeed.

Remember that one of your goals with business gifting is to make a memorable impression. To do that, you should send unusual gifts. And I’m not talking lingerie or Cards Against Humanity (see Step Four).

To find memorable gifts for my clients, I look right in my backyard. I always send New Mexico made items, typically consumables like foods, candles, handmade soaps, etc. My clients generally know I’m based in Albuquerque, so these gifts remind clients of me in a very specific way. I try to include a sentiment with the gift that explains a bit about why I chose it. For example, this year all of my gifts came from Los Poblanos Lavender Farm, and I included a note to the client that read, “Many people know my home state is famous for green chile, but fewer realize it’s also famous for lavender. I thought you might enjoy this selection of products from a historic local lavender farm. Happy holidays!”

Another way to make a memorable impression that also can ease any ethics concerns is to make a contribution to charity on behalf of an individual client – or all of them. I know many freelance writers who do this. You can choose your own charity, make the gift, and then send the client a nice card to notify them you’ve donated in their honor.

Step Four: Never Send Intimate or Controversial Gifts

Look, my favorite editor flings the F-word around almost as much as I do. But I still would never dream of sending her a gift that includes profanity. For one thing, our mutual cursing habits are a personal peccadillo, not a professional one. For another thing, she might be opening my gift in front of office colleagues. How might it reflect on her (and me!) if she unwraps my gift at the office holiday party to reveal a framed needlepoint that says, “It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers”?

Um…not good.

Again, remember you are giving business gifts. Professional gifts. They don’t have to be boring gifts, but neither should they be intimate, vulgar, or controversial. You and your editor might have howled on the phone about playing Cards Against Humanity with your families the previous weekend, but that still doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate business gift.

Obviously this also rules out gag gifts like giant dildos, gifts that ridicule or demean people of various socioeconomic groups, political gifts, donations to controversial charities like Planned Parenthood, etc., etc., etc. I mean, I hope you really get this. No matter how friendly or personal your relationship with an editor or client is, choose your gift as if you were sending it to the president of the company. In this context, that MAGA hat you intended to send as a gag doesn’t look so funny, does it?

So where do you stand on the issue of whether or not freelance writers should give business gifts? Are you in or out? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is known professionally as "the nurse who knows content." By day, she uses her nursing knowledge and creative writing acumen to produce content that drives results for clients. By night, she teaches other nurses how to achieve their dreams of a professional writing career. In between, she takes frequent breaks to drink Cosmos and walk her dog, Mitzi. Elizabeth lives in Albuquerque, NM. She has never met Walter White or needed Saul Goodman.


  1. kara-mariekara-marie says

    very funny article. thank you for sharing. For me, I’m good on not giving gifts, for now, once I’m with a client for at least 2 years, I’ll consider it.

  2. AvatarYvonne says

    Very sensible advice, Beth.

    I do like the idea of ‘decorative gourd season’ along with Festivus!

    I agree with Kara in that a professional relationship needs to be developed before considering business gifts.

    When my business becomes established it will be fun to find unique gifts to send to my best clients at the beginning of the new year.

    • Elizabeth HanesElizabeth Hanes says

      Thanks, Yvonne! I agree with both of you that gifts are better within an established relationship that confers significant value.


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