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Planning for the holidays needs to be done now

Wed., Oct. 19, 2005, midnight

NEW YORK — The holiday season often seems to creep up on all of us, including small business owners. All of a sudden, Thanksgiving arrives, and tasks like planning for a staff party and gifts for customers have gone undone.

The result is often last-minute panic and spending too much out of desperation. Savvy business owners have already put together a to-do list, so these sometimes sensitive agenda items can be taken care of in a thoughtful manner.

Take a holiday party, for example. You first need to figure out what kind of party you can afford, and whether you want to have one for your employees, one for customers, or both.

If your business is doing well enough that you can afford a party away from the office, then you need to book it now. If you want to have an offsite party, but fear it will be too expensive, now is the time to see if one of your customers or suppliers wants to hold a joint party with your company.

If you have a small staff, you might decide to take them out for a pleasant lunch or dinner. Again, make your reservations now. And you might want to think about having it early in December rather than late, when employees start taking time off.

You also should think about whether you want to give your employees a gift. If you do, you should try to select gifts with some sensitivity — management consultants will tell you that employees want to feel valued and appreciated, so forget mugs, pens and baseball caps with your company’s logo.

Giving something personal, say, a book, CD, or article of clothing, can seem like a thoughtful idea, but unless you are quite sure of your employees’ tastes, you’re taking a big chance. Many owners have found that the best route is a gift certificate — to a bookstore for the office bookworm, or a music retailer for the Sheryl Crow fan.

Cash is likely to be welcome, but so is time. You might want to give your employees a gift of some extra days off during the holiday season; everyone is likely to be quite appreciative.

And in a year that has seen great tragedy in this country and places like Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, all devastated by natural disasters, you might find your employees will appreciate a donation to charitable causes rather than buying them gifts. You might even ask each to choose a charity.

For gifts to clients or customers, again, forget the little doodads that will likely land in the trash in a few weeks. You can follow some of the same guidelines as you would on gifts for employees. Or you can offer them discounts; whether you deal with the public or other businesses, everyone wants to save some money.


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