The first question to ask, is do you really need to send Christmas cards to your clients and business contacts, and if so why? The answer is 'yes', and for very good reasons. Leaving aside 'the spreading good cheer' aspect, sending holiday greetings is an easy way of showing that you remember, and appreciate, the people you do and have done business with. It generates goodwill for your business by showing that their business matters to you and in turn reminds them of your contribution, or potential contribution, not just in the past but in the future.
But who do you send cards to? Is it everyone with a connection to your business? Do you include your bank manager for example? Well, if you bank with a huge multinational and you only ever deal with them online, or on the phone, then no. But, if you use a smaller bank and have a direct relationship with the manager then yes absolutely send them a card.
Who should you send cards to?
Clients past and present should always be included in your list: if a client is a large company then you send the best wishes to the person or team you dealt with and who gave you the work. It is important not to forget people you outsource work to, or have worked with on projects; sending a card can only help working relationships and good networking means more business.
You could include people whose services you use, like your accountant or legal advisor, if you have a direct relationship with them. This is the rule with anyone other than clients — if you have an actual business relationship with an individual, or small team, and they know you, then sending a card is a good idea.
Christmas card image via Shutterstock.
How should you send cards?
So, you have made your business Christmas card list but what do you send? First of all you need to decide if you are going to send 'real' cards through the mail, send eCards, or a combination of the two. Each of these options have their advantages and disadvantages.
Real cards can be more personal, particularly if you sign and address them by hand. There may be some recipients on your list whose email address you simply do not have, or who you know would prefer the more traditional approach. An added bonus is that if your card is placed on someone's desk in an office there is a good chance it, and your company name, will be seen by other people too.
There are plenty of companies online now which offer personalized greetings cards for businesses, for example moo.com, who have a minimum order of just 25. With them you either choose a pack of several ready made designs, or upload your own images; add a custom message inside the card; and add a logo and or company name on the back.
The main downside to real cards is that they can get expensive and time-consuming to arrange if you need to send a large number of them, you have a lot of overseas contacts or you are simply running out of time to catch the Christmas mail.
Not sending a card at all is actually better than having one turn up in the middle of January because you didn't send it on time.
If time is short or you have a lot to send then eCards could be the answer. There are two types of eCard: an email with the 'card' attached and a web page containing the 'card' the URL for which is emailed to the recipient.
As with 'real' cards, there are many online companies who offer a service where you choose a design, customize it with your own message, choose an audio track in some cases, and then either the card or the link to it is sent to your mailing list. ojolie.com is one such company who provide you with a link to send and you can host the card on your site, or if you prefer, on theirs.
You may also want to consider whether it is a good idea to have eCards made with Flash. At this time of year people tend to be winding down on the work front but getting busier the rest of the time. They will still be checking emails, but they're more likely to be doing so on smartphones and tablets. And of course Flash doesn't play nicely on a lot of mobile devices. Unfortunately most eCard companies use Flash so that is certainly something to consider.
The ecological benefits of eCards are often cited as a reason to choose them over 'real' cards and eco2greetings.com emphasize this with their eCard service by planting 10 trees for every card they sell. The main drawback to eCards is the cost - if you are sending a few hundred it is very cost effective, if you are sending a few dozen it is extremely expensive.
For a web designer, however, there is an easy solution to this: make your own.
You could choose to see this as an opportunity to not just remind your clients of who you are, but also remind them of how good you are at what you do.
If you have image software and an email application then you have the basic tools you need. If you can code a solution, then so much the better.
If photography is part of your skill set, make the most of it; if not, or if you don't want to create everything from scratch, stock photography sites such as Shutterstock, iStock, Getty images and Corbis have stacks of suitable images. And if you want to keep costs as low as possible, free stock image sites like Pixabay have plenty too. As well as photographs and vector illustrations Veer have a list of suggested fonts.
There is also an abundance of clipart around if you want to use it, like these rather nice vintage Santas from The Graphics Fairy. If you really want to add sound try a stock audio site like productiontrax or audiojungle. Some of the stock image sites, like iStock and Gettyimages, also have audio files available. Once you have made your card you can host it on your own site and send out links to it in a personal email, or you could send it as an email itself. And you have just given your business contacts an example of your work that is easy for them to show others.
The only real drawback to making your own is the amount of time it could take to do — and if it is obvious you have spent a lot of time on it, then it may look like you don't have anything else to do.
What should you send?
The final area to consider is the design and content of the card itself. What style and tone should you go for? It's actually easier to define what you shouldn't go for.
Anything with a strongly religious tone is not a good idea, as not everyone celebrates the same, or any, religious festival at this time of year. Stick to 'Season's Greetings' and 'Happy Holidays' type sentiments. For images, winter scenes, abstracts, lights and snowflakes are all quite safe. The exception is of course, if you know the religious views of your recipients and you know they will be happy with a specific reference to Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Yule.
You should also be very careful with humor, it's too hit and miss unless you really know the people you are sending to. Anything too cutesy is probably a bad idea as are well known cartoon characters, and you should definitely avoid anything risqué. Erring on the bland side can be forgiven when it's a business communication but perceived vulgarity will not be, so absolutely no sexual innuendo or toilet humour.
That's not to say that your cards, whatever form they take, should be dull, but it's important that they are tasteful and of high quality. You are presenting your business to people; you want to maintain, or even improve on the good impression they have of you. If you are making your own eCards, you have the rare opportunity to design what you want, without a client looking over your shoulder saying 'No, that green is too greeny...' and the like. You could try something experimental perhaps, like some really great code trick that you haven't found a use for. But don't let yourself get carried away — too many bells and whistles will start to look tacky.
One tip to diffuse any possible 'cheapskate, s/he is too stingy to buy cards' reactions is to incorporate a donation to charity into your eCard. Maybe include a button and each time it's clicked you'll pay $0.05 to your chosen charity. Put a limit on it though, just in case.
...and a Happy New Year
One final point to keep in mind: if you don't get your greetings sent in time don't panic! Send a New Year greeting instead, in January. Be positive about the year ahead, and forward looking; wish your client a prosperous New Year. Make sure it's clearly intended as a New Year card, and not just a late Christmas card.
At the very least it won't get lost in the crowd, and who knows, maybe you'll get your foot in the door on the new job they've been postponing until after the holidays.
And now, all that's left to say on the subject is...Happy Holidays everyone!
Are you sending out Christmas cards to business contacts this year? Did you send real cards or eCards? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image/thumbnail, Season's Greetings image via Shutterstock.