3 Reasons Your Business Plan is Useless

5 Creative Ways Business Owners Can Give Thanks to Their Customers and Employees

Kathy Simpson

’Tis the season to be thankful and express our gratitude to others. Thanks extended regularly can generate good will and make your business memorable. And that can lead to more business with customers, greater productivity among employees and maybe even faster payments from your business partners.

Here are some small ways to give big thanks, and they don’t have to cost a lot.

Offer perks, prizes or pick-me-ups

Everyone likes a gift – especially when it’s unexpected. These ideas can be a win-win for the recipient and your business:

  • Gift cards, discount coupons and special deliveries for your customers or vendors reward loyalty, can help bring in repeat business, and are a good way to promote your services and products.
  • Employee rewards, whether tangible or not. A holiday bonus or even a small monetary gesture of appreciation can go a long way with employees. An extra (paid) day off around the holidays can also give time-pressed staff a much deserved break. Sometimes a little extra time is the most valuable.

Make it personal with a card or a call

If you are recognizing someone specific, make sure it’s sincere and timely. Expressing your thanks in writing or a personal phone call is one way to do just that. The person will know you took the time to go the extra mile.

“A handwritten note is a powerful tool for small businesses,” says Emily Carter, state director of the Connecticut Small Business Development Center. “Taking the time to follow up with a personal message will strengthen your relationship with customers and help you to stand apart from your competition.”

A phone call can do the same. With the prevalence of electronic communication, sometimes just hearing a real voice on the other end can have special meaning.

Give a shout-out social media style

Leveraging social media platforms, such as your company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, is a great way to show public recognition to many people at once. Launch a mini thank-you campaign. Design and share a photo thanking your supporters. You could also post or tweet a list of the top ten things your business is thankful for.

Celebrate those who helped make the year a success

Holiday season usually means busy budget season for businesses. Planning festivities might be the last thing on your mind. But hosting an appreciation event doesn’t have to mean splashing out on a lavish soiree.

Consider these low-cost options for your employees:

  • Potluck it! A potluck party can be fun and inexpensive. Make your event employee-only and encourage everyone to make their favorite dish.
  • Wait until the offseason. You’ll be able to negotiate a better deal with popular holiday venues in January.

For your customers and vendors:

  • Host an open house. To help draw visitors, offer a main attraction, such as a wine tasting or raffle prizes for the first 50 customers.
  • Deliver a fruit basket, floral arrangement or holiday goodies to select clients.

A little goes a long way

However you choose to say thank you, remember this: gratitude is infectious and a little goes a long way. Plant the seeds of appreciation now and set the tone for a prosperous year.

What tips do you have on the best ways to say thanks? Share your ideas with us by posting a comment below.

58 Responses to "5 Creative Ways Business Owners Can Give Thanks to Their Customers and Employees"
    • Adeline Border | November 17, 2020 at 8:45 am

      I absolutely love this article and would like to feature it in my non-profits quarterly newsletter. Who could I talk to in order to make this happen?

      • Hannah Stacy | November 19, 2020 at 3:37 pm

        Hi Adeline – Are you looking to link to the article?

    • Natalie Fairchild | November 12, 2020 at 7:17 pm

      We have been working with clients that now want to do Drive-Thru Holiday Parties! The employees drive thru the company parking lot with different stations with gifts, prizes, Santa and our Espresso Bar! I love how creative people are being!

      • Liz Macauley | November 16, 2020 at 3:49 pm

        That is creative! Thank you for sharing, Natalie!

    • Anissa Smith | November 12, 2020 at 9:15 am

      My company has become quite creative in using Zoom. Last week we had our annual retreat online and it was great to use breakout rooms to catch up. This year our after hour activity was a Mixology class via Zoom and everyone received a Charcuterie Goody Box so that we could snack while making and drinking alcohol and non-alcohol drinks.

      We also do a Friday Fun Lunch once a month via Zoom. Many delivery services (ie.. Doordash, GrubHub) have created plans that allow individuals to order their food online under one account although the delivery addresses are different.

      These activities have kept our Team connected and engaged during a very challenging period.

      • Liz Macauley | November 16, 2020 at 3:52 pm

        Thank you for sharing, Anissa!

    • Michelle L, Administrative Manager | November 11, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Through the “new normal” we’ve realized how much we’ve taken for granted as a company. Realizing not everyone has the same corporate dynamics, I thought it important to mention that we employee a little over 20 full time employees, and all have their own office space (excluding shipping department) so it’s really easy to socially distance. Fortunately, we have a President that cares deeply about his work family and supports our personal lives so has made it a practice to have the events I’m about to list during the regular M-F work week. Everyone works hard and makes sure tasks stay on track.

      Our norm before COVID: monthly potluck luncheons made up of two teams (so basically you relax on your month off and didn’t have to cook). The corporation pays an hour for us to come together and enjoy each others company, as well as the variety of food offerings (gone). A potluck Thanksgiving meal with everyone on board (gone). An annual summer outing for employee and one guest, (as an example, look up Cabbage Island Clam Bakes, Maine) scheduled on a Friday, paid for by the corporation, with an additional 4 hours paid to attend (gone). An annual August potluck BBQ picnic on our company grounds (gone). Monthly LUNCHEON year end party at a nice restaurant (chosen by employees), paid for by the corporation, which included 4 hours of extra PTO to attend, with fun gift swap (gone).

      We’re a company that doesn’t deal face to face with the public. but take web, phone and fax orders from around the U.S., have international distributors, so it was a sacrifice not to have someone available to answer phones or emails at these paid hour, and half-day events. But you know what? Our customers LOVE that we treat our employees so well, so didn’t mind us not being readily available on these few instances. Employees give at several of the events, but the corporation gives something to offset and show its appreciation. Each event built moral and brought employees and departments together.

      The quandary: What to do year-end with the new norm after already feeling like we’ve sacrificed so much? We’re ordering in individual meals so employees can eat in their own space without the fear of physically distancing. For those who choose to participate, departments are having their own internal gift swap, as well as managers buying a gift out of their own pockets for the employees they manage. Also, where Christmas lands on a Friday, we’re gifting employees 4 hours PTO on the 24th. Even though we’ve lost business due to a mandated shutdown, we’re still going to budget in year end bonuses.

      Although no “family” is perfect, we have very little employee turnover. A long line of individuals in the community who would love to get their foot in the door. There have been the few “takers” and “complainers” who haven’t worked out, but ultimately you reap what you sew into your employees.

      Hope his helps other companies with ideas going forward! 🙂

      • Liz Macauley | November 16, 2020 at 3:56 pm

        Thank you for sharing, Michelle!

    • George Schank | November 9, 2020 at 11:09 am

      My crew are all part-timers, so they aren’t working with each other every day. Holidays are our busiest time. So, we usually wait until after the holidays, and have an evening dinner at a fine steakhouse/seafood restaurant. Spouses welcome and encouraged. They all look forward to the event.

      • Liz Macauley | November 9, 2020 at 2:06 pm

        That sounds like a great way to show your appreciation. Thanks, George!

    • Debra S | November 6, 2020 at 10:09 pm

      Due to COVID I am pondering what to do for our employees for 2020. We are a small (10 person) family-owned business. Weekly we provide a Friday treat (cookies, muffins, fresh fruit, etc.) and with Covid we have tended to buy individually-wrapped treats (including bananas, mandarin oranges, as well as baked goods that come wrapped). Throughout the year we have a treat to recognize an employee’s birthday. For the winter holidays we have had a lunch on our last day before closing (from just before Christmas until the first work day after new years). After the lunch we give everyone their holiday bonus and paychecks for the break.
      For this year perhaps we will add a paid holiday to everyone’s last paycheck but I’m still trying to figure out the best option. I’m eager to hear what others might be doing.

    • Barb Lippmann | November 5, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Our clients are the backbone of our small company. Every December we give large poinsettia plants and they are so appreciated as most are no longer allowed to accept gifts.

      • Liz Macauley | November 9, 2020 at 2:07 pm

        That’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

    • Patrick | November 5, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      CA$H is the best way I’ve found to say thanks. In the case of my customers it’s usually a “free” purchase when they least expect it!

      • Liz Macauley | November 9, 2020 at 2:07 pm

        Great point! Thanks for the comment, Patrick!

    • Sharon Ako | November 5, 2020 at 12:06 pm

      I like these ideas they are very helpful. The company I used to work for had a chili competition where employees brought their best pot of chili. We all got to taste and judge it. The winner got a jar of money that the staff contributed to in order to participate ($1-$2) in the competition. The upper management team also threw in some extra money and bonus company logoed gifts to make the reward more appealing. I thought it was fun and it didn’t cost too much for the business or the employees.

      • Liz Macauley | November 9, 2020 at 2:08 pm

        That does sound fun. Thanks for sharing!

    • Carla Holub | November 5, 2020 at 10:41 am

      What are business owners doing for December 2020?

    • Denise Brown | November 5, 2020 at 10:23 am

      So what is everyone thinking about doing this year with the social distancing and face mask rules in place for staff?

    • Dan Lewis | November 5, 2020 at 10:08 am

      Some pretty harsh commentary here! Rather than just bashing (or defending) an idea, how about describing the organization? For instance, a 10 person, single office group may find a potluck a great idea; but, a 300-person, multi-layered corporation, where the managers don’t show up…yeah, that would be a bummer. I worked for a company that would do both employer-funded and “group-funded” events. The owners (and most of the managers) were the life of the parties, though. As a company, they jokingly claimed to be in competition with employee’s family and friends to be their first choice of where to be. Funny thing is, years later we still get together for our kids’ weddings and graduations; alas, we’ve met at a few funeral homes, too. Sorry for the meandering, but, some of these comments saddened me. If you can’t share what’s in your kitchen with your co-workers, it’s time for a new job.

      • Hannah Stacy | November 5, 2020 at 10:37 am

        Great points Dan! Thanks for the comment.

    • Melissa K | November 5, 2020 at 7:36 am

      We host a nice holiday dinner every December for all employees at a nice venue, and we give away prizes. I know everyone has a great time, and I think the employees do appreciate it. We always give away a grand cash prize too. Before covid we would do a monthly lunch order in at the office. Since Covid, I have tried to send out gift cards to employees.

    • Lisa | December 3, 2019 at 4:06 pm

      We have a staff potluck every year since we started the company (10 years and counting). We do a potluck because everyone has their own interpretation of what food is and it assures them that there is at least one dish they can eat. We also chat, play a gift exchange game which everyone enjoys. As a small company, I think everyone would rather do a potluck than go out of business for the company to host a holiday extravaganza. Of course, we also go out of our way to be kind, thank each other every day for the work we do and to support each other. Which is so important always, but especially in the day and time. To know you’re appreciated, people look forward to seeing you and spend time together can be very heart warming. My staff love what they do and we all have fun doing it. That wouldn’t be possible without appreciation, why just provide that on one day? Then a potluck doesn’t seem so nasty as to say bring your own food. For those of you who host the whole shebang, next time you have a party, look around you and see who is actually taking in the entire event. I’m sure there will be some that didn’t get to enjoy what was being served, whether due to food allergies, etc.

    • Shirley | November 30, 2019 at 9:26 am

      We take our first shift (60) to a buffet for holiday lunch. Then second shift (28) has their dinner at the buffet later.
      They love it – choice of all kinds of food and desserts.
      No mess no clean up — I just pay the bill.

      • Chloe Silverman | December 2, 2019 at 7:17 am

        This sounds great! Thank you for the comment Shirley!

    • Carrie | November 29, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      Pot-lucks do feel a little like extra work sometimes, and I have noticed the same people contribute and clean up. Monetary gifts are always welcomed, but as an office coordinator, extra time is precious. An extra day or a getting to leave at lunch time the day before the holiday can be a significant stress reducer.

    • Christiane Johnson | November 28, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      I do not have employees, but for my customers I have gift certificate with a drawing every other week, until Christmas, with the first one at Thanksgiving. Also each buying customer gets a little token in their bag: a little note pad in the form of a peach or a watermelon. It might not be much, but it is the thought that count and so far they all loved it.

    • H Siwinski | November 27, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      Just want to say thank you for all the great ideas in the newsletters you send me. I know how much work goes into these and as a small, new business owner with limited time and money I really appreciate this extra service.
      Thank you!!!

      • Chloe Silverman | November 27, 2019 at 8:14 pm

        We are so glad to hear that you are enjoying these! Thank you for commenting!

    • Jerry Arnold | November 27, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      Over the years with different jobs, some of the best memories were the at-work holiday potlucks!! We were at work anyway & this was a chance to see family traditions & foods from coworkers! It was a great team building experience. If you have to work thru the holidays, you might as well eat well!!

    • Carolyn | November 27, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      We have a veterinary hospital with a small staff-under 20. Years ago we had them choose between a hosted dinner party and getting bonuses. They chose bonuses! Now as we have evolved to the present time we give the bonuses but also host a potluck. We rent the location, provide the main course, drinks, serving supplies, and some desserts. The employees enjoy being together in a non-stressful setting where they can relate to each other as just regular people. They enjoy showing off their favorite recipes. There is no pressure for the ones who prefer not to attend. It is a family event with gifts for the kids. We have done white elephant gift exchanges (hilarious) but normally do not have a gift exchange. This is fun and the employees actually look forward to it.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 27, 2019 at 8:16 pm

        Such great ideas! Thank you for sharing!

    • Timmerle Kelly | November 27, 2019 at 11:22 am

      It’s interesting that out of all the wonderful ideas in the article, the one that jumped out at everyone, and almost the only one commented on here, is the one about potlucks. If we ignore that suggestion for a minute, extra paid-off days, depending on the industry, are always a favorite gift for employees. For clients, customers, vendors, and donors, hand-written notes that are personal and meaningful go a long way. Non-sales phone calls to thank a person and connect better relationally are also well-received. Good conversation starters – “Tell me about your holiday plans.” “What is your family’s favorite way to celebrate the holidays? “Where are you from originally?” “What is your favorite holiday memory?” Getting to know those we serve helps connect us better for the future.

    • Cheryl Flury | November 27, 2019 at 11:20 am

      A pat on the back with a “thanks for being a loyal dedicated employee.. I know you’ve played a part in my success “ now that would go further ( I’d be even more delicated motivated and loyal) than a potluck ., a gift card or dinner. Just sayin boss.

    • Dan | November 27, 2019 at 11:17 am

      My employees throw their own potlucks for birthdays and special occasions. I will sponsor a barbeque lunch 3 to 4 times a year and once a month provide lunch for a well deserving department.
      If the employees want to have a company wide potluck and show off their culinary skills (yes Karen, the glass is sometimes half full not half empty) it’s completely up to them.

    • Lynn | November 27, 2019 at 9:06 am

      As a small business owner, you know how valuable your employees are. For the holidays we (my business partner & I) cater a lunch at the office, hand out bonuses in a Christmas Card, always telling each employee how much we appreciate everything they do for us. When everyone has had their fill, we send them home with the rest of the day paid. We do this on the 23rd or the last working day before the 24th. We also give the 24th as a paid day off. We also give the employees a paid day off for their birthdays, they can take the day whenever they want to, we either buy a cake or pizza (employees pick) for their birthday and a 50.00 gift card to their favorite restaurant, presented in a birthday card with a handwritten note in it. We find it important to do things throughout the year, not just at the holidays. A surprise small lunch or closing early with pay goes a long, long way.

    • Cindy | November 27, 2019 at 8:51 am

      We have a staff of 13. We always host the Christmas party. I plan to do everything, but it never fails- others want to know what they can bring! So most times they will add appetizers and desserts. I’ll do everything else. I’ll have a game planned and a fun way to exchange gifts. We all look forward to the evening each year.
      I also plan quarterly birthday parties. I bring everything to the office- cake, chips/dips, cards and gifts.
      But there will be days during the year when nothing is being celebrated and someone will bring a snack. They just wanted to try something new or share something they had tried somewhere else.
      I guess we have embraced- “The way to your heart is through your stomach!” Lol

    • Herschel Thach | November 27, 2019 at 8:41 am

      Isn’t it amazing, you gave 7 suggestions and most of the comments surrounded food. I was thinking back to when I had employees and discovered the more I did as an employer the more complaints I had that I hadn’t done enough. My solution, I stopped. Today I use contract employees and they provide me with gifts showing their Thankfulness and Gratitude for the opportunity to serve. Amazing! I will never have employees again.

    • Teresa Kocher Bock | November 27, 2019 at 8:37 am

      My company does a Christmas potluck and provides the meat and drinks. The employees sign up to bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert and there are prizes for the best dish-voted on by their peers. I do not believe any employer is intending to be cheap or insult anyone by having a potluck. This is a way to get everyone involved and participating in the event and bring employees closer together.

      There is always something to be thankful for!

    • Tom | November 27, 2019 at 8:29 am

      I have to agree with Karen 100% and a little surprised at the number of comments defending Potluck Dinners. Churches and entities like non profits who struggle to turn a profit or break even have events like this. As a business owner I would never let my team know that we’re having a company lunch or dinner and ask each of them to bring a dish to pass. That’s a lot to ask from your team who does so much to help your company grow. It says the boss or owner doesn’t want to part with his/her money and wants one more thing from you beyond what you already contribute on a daily basis.

      Let’s talk about good ideas here which some of you have commented and shared above. What I do is noted below.

      1. I give all of my employees a freshly harvested turkey before thanksgiving which is a small way of thanking each of them and also making their Thanksgiving dinner a little easier. I’m always surprised how everyone looks forward to this each year.
      2. The money we would have spent on a year end party is disbursed into holiday bonuses which everyone appreciates.
      3. Instead of our salary employees being forced to take unused vacation before the year end or loose it completely, which used to be our policy, I pay them each what they have left. So if they have two weeks left out of the four they get, they get a check for two weeks of pay. There’s nothing worse than working hard, not using your vacation time and then loosing it all together.
      4. We send out Thanksgiving Cards instead of Holiday Cards to customers and employees so they arrive before turkey day. No one really does this. You typically see everybody in the world sending Holiday Cards out but not Thanksgiving.

    • Lori Kleinschmidt | November 27, 2019 at 7:55 am

      As a nice way to thank the people who help our business run like clockwork we place a nicely boxed homemade (or bakery) cinnamon Apple coffee cake, and thank you card, on everyone’s desk the week before thanksgiving. It’s nice to receive a holiday treat before everyone is sick of sweets. It’s also a nice holiday breakfast if you have houseguests. We also thank our clients in a similar way. We do about 30 gifts each year.

    • Cindy | November 27, 2019 at 7:53 am

      There is a place for a potluck gathering and they can be a lot of fun. But for an end-of-the-year or holiday get-together, I think it is nice for the employer to make the employees feel appreciated and to treat them. We always have a nice cocktail party with hearty apps and desserts at one of our local, popular restaurants. Our employees really appreciate the gesture and we feel like it is a nice gift for all they do for us throughout the year.

    • Jeff | November 27, 2019 at 6:21 am

      As a small business owner with 26 employees they try to stay together as a family, one persons job always impacts another in the chain of workflow, we have had potlucks that the employees love, we supply the main dish and all the fixings and the employees bring small things to add their flare, everyone enjoys and relaxes, for some of my employees they don’t have much family so we are the surrogate and helps them enjoy the holiday season.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 27, 2019 at 7:09 am

        This sounds so nice! Thank you for the comment!

    • Bruce Gardner | November 27, 2019 at 6:14 am

      Just saying Thank you goes a long way. I make sure to thank everyone, including the people who sort the mail or cut the grass. I find a lot of enjoyment saying Thank you daily. It is fun to see the other person’s smile.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 27, 2019 at 7:09 am

        We agree! Thank you for commenting, Bruce!

    • Alex | November 27, 2019 at 5:41 am

      I agree 100% with Karen. Potluck invitations during the Holidays, are insulting. I assure you Management is not doing a potluck anything during the Holidays. As she said, it says they don’t want to spend the time or money on their employees.

    • Jacqueline Church | November 26, 2019 at 11:02 pm

      I’m with Karen: a department might have a potluck at someone’s house as a team thing. But for a COMPANY to ask the employees to fund and prepare their own event that’s supposed to be the EMPLOYER’S chance to thank the employees? Tacky. Sends all the wrong messages. Better to do nothing at all.

    • Steve | November 26, 2019 at 10:20 pm

      Karen seems like a joy to work with, not sure I’d want her at the potluck anyway.
      We rarely do potluck but they are always well received and very fun.

    • Betsey Roberts | November 26, 2019 at 4:21 pm

      At our office, we generally take employees and spouses out to our favorite restaurant. Afterward, we meet back at the office to have dessert and coffee (potluck) to open presents. Families are invited. It’s a blast and no one is allowed to be on a diet.

    • Leslie Smith | December 19, 2018 at 11:43 am

      I don’t have employees but for committee meetings with volunteers or get-togethers with girlfriends, potlucks are so fun! I find that people like to show-off their kitchen prowess and their best recipes. A twist on the potluck is every person brings an item for a salad bar and as the host I would supply the greens and a basket of rolls, or bring a topping for baked potatoes.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 20, 2018 at 1:07 pm

        Thank you for your comment, Leslie.

    • Darlene Lutty | December 12, 2018 at 11:10 am

      We go all-out for a nice Holiday dinner at a nearby winery for our employees and their significant others. We usually schedule potlucks in the Summer or Fall when we aren’t crazy busy. We order chicken and make pasta, while employees offer to make their favorite dips and deserts. Those that don’t care to cook will bring pop or buy a veggie tray. It only takes an hour or so, but it is a relaxing atmosphere that everyone seems to enjoy. We, too, are a small, close knit family run business…we rely on each other all year and this is a nice social break that we all look forward to.

      • Hannah Sullivan | December 12, 2018 at 2:28 pm

        Darlene, your employee outings sound so fun! Thanks for sharing.

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    • Starla | December 5, 2018 at 10:16 am

      I used to work for a company where we had regular potlucks and they were always so much fun! Usually the company would provide the main dish and basics (plates, utensils, paper products). They were a great way to build a team feeling among the employees as well as the employer. it was a smaller (15-25 full-time employees) family-owned business and most of us were long-time employees, so that may have made a difference in how we approached the potluck.

    • Sheila | November 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Wow. I didn’t think of it like that at all. As an employee, I actually like to get together with my co-workers in a non business setting to network in a less stressful environment. Of course, I’m thinking that the potluck is also with basics provided by my employer – our contributions would be supplementary, not the main dishes!

    • Karen | November 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      As an employee, an invitation to a potluck from my employer is an insult. It says: “I don’t want to do any work or spend any money. Instead I want YOU to work, unpaid, and spend your own money to prepare for this party. Happy Holidays!”

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