Now I have personal rule, which is that I will not do any Christmas shopping until after Bonfire Night (November 5th, for those of you outside the UK, who don't get to spend the evening oohing and aahing at firework displays that commemorate the Gunpowder Plot). It's one of my little quirks, I just can't bear the thought of Christmas preparations going on for months.
But with my business woman's hat on, I do have one exception, and that's buying Christmas cards.
The reason is simple. Sending Christmas cards is one of the easiest and most effective way for me to stay in touch with my network of clients, prospective clients and 'influencers' - the people I know who are able to help send new clients to me.
Now being just a micro business, I don't have a huge number of people to send out cards to, which means that I can write a personal message to each one. Obviously this isn't going to be so much fun if your list runs into the thousands, but then again, if you're in that position, you can probably prioritise the list and still send a personal message to your top fifty or so contacts.
Now in case you're wondering, this isn't the only time in the year that I contact my network. I think they'd be pretty hacked off with me if they only had something through once a year. But at Christmas, it's a really good opportunity to send a very gentle reminder that I'm here and open for business.
I make it another rule never to try and sell anything at this time. If the contact has been particularly helpful, I'll say 'thank-you for your help this year', but otherwise, I keep it pretty simple, but personal - use their first name, mention family members where appropriate - wish them luck in the New Year for any particular activity or hobby I know interests them - that kind of thing.
What I'm aiming at, is giving them the feeling of a warm greeting from a valued friend.
In absolutely no circumstances would I send one of those hideous circulars, recounting a list of my - or worse, my family's achievements over the last twelve months. I'm afraid if I receive a similar communication, it makes me think rather less of the sender, and I award a mental black mark against them... But of course that's just me - quirky.
Keeping in touch with your work network is one of the most important ways of fuelling your businesses development, and staying on good terms with them is vital. So I use the Christmas card as one of my regular marketing activities. Around this time of year, I'll usually sit down - or more often go out for a walk - and think through the other ways I'll aim to communicate with the network over the coming six to twelve months.
By knowing what and when I'm going to communicate, I can keep my network warm and friendly.
So I'll be off this afternoon to buy a nice selection of charity Christmas cards and give myself time to write them carefully, ready to send out a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday begins.