As the holiday frenzy kicks into gear, you may find yourself faced with the often perplexing ritual of choosing gifts for your top clients. That task should be less about trying to impress your clients and more about expressing what your relationship with them means to you.

Gifts that show that you took time to consider the meaning behind the gesture carry the most emotional weight, says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist Business Development in Montreal. The most valuable thing you can give during the holidays, she adds, is time and attention. And that can mean going out for a meal with a client or simply writing a personal note to go with your gift.

The following are suggestions on how you can approach selecting a gift for your top clients:

> Share a new discovery
The days when you got your personal assistant or your spouse to chose fancy presents for your favourite clients are long past, Gilbert says. Nowadays, many advisors are taking it upon themselves to think of gifts that reflect their own personality.

You don’t need to drain your budget and impress clients with luxurious items. Instead, offer a gift that addresses something you enjoy or an experience you’ve had over the year, Gilbert suggests.

For example, you can give clients a book that had a profound impact on you, or a bottle of wine that you happened upon during a trip abroad. In a way, you’re giving a piece of yourself to the recipient.

The personal message and story attached to a material gift, rather than the price tag, will leave a deep impression, says Cindy Chan, assistant professor of marketing at Rotman School of Management and University of Toronto, Scarborough.

> Offer an experience
Your clients probably don’t need another expensive gadget or knick-knack. “They’re not looking for more stuff,” Gilbert says. “They already have enough.”

An experiential gift, such as tickets to the ballet, a lecture or a workshop, has more of an emotional impact than a tangible item, Chan says. That’s because the act of “consuming” the experiential gift can evoke a range of emotions and make the recipient feel closer to the giver.

If you choose to go with this type of gift, it has to be something that your client has expressed interest in, or stands to benefit or learn from.

> Hold a couples’ dinner
If you share a special rapport with a client, one way to deepen that bond is to dine out as couples. When you and your spouse take your client and his or her spouse out to dinner, you create an opportunity to forge a more personal connection. Just be sure to keep talk of business to a minimum and focus on shared interests.

Gilbert has noticed that it’s becoming more common for advisors to extend invitations to clients’ spouses and partners, in an effort to express to clients that they are in a social business.

This is the first part in a two-part series on client gifts. Next: A look at research on gift giving and what certain gifts communicate.

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