Giving gifts to clients or business associates can be an awkward experience if you don’t know the etiquette behind it. If you purchase a gift that is too expensive or not aligned with the recipient’s interests, your good intentions may be overshadowed by the gaffe. So before you start shopping for your next round of gifts for clients, colleagues or employees, consider the following business gift giving etiquette tips:

Make Gifts Personal When PossibleIt’s always nice, whenever possible, to personalize each gift to each recipient. Your clients and colleagues want to know that you appreciate them. So giving an item that is specifically aligned with their interests can mean more than a generic token or promotional item from your company.

Be Sensitive to Religious Beliefs: Don’t just assume that all of your clients or colleagues celebrate Christmas. Giving a holiday gift to someone who can’t accept it because of their beliefs can make both you and them uncomfortable. To avoid this, you can simply ask if they celebrate Christmas, without getting into specifics about their religious preferences.

Consider the cost.  An inexpensive gift can make you look cheap. On the other hand, a lavish present could be embarrassing or alienating. Giving or receiving expensive items may be against company policy. Do your homework. What could be more embarrassing than to have your corporate gift returned or refused?

International Gift Giving

Most countries have gift giving etiquette. Below are some tips for gift giving in various countries:

Japan

The exchange of gifts is a central part of business etiquette. It’s common and expected to exchange gifts when doing business with Japan and this always takes place at the end of a business meeting.  As far as what to give, it is viewed as tasteless to give a gift with one’s own company logo on it. Reciprocation is standard so it is suggested that when doing business with Japan one should bring an assortment of gifts so that they are sure to gift something comparable to what was received. Business gifts tend to stay on the pricey side and encompass anything from a rare fruit basket to fine wine to well-known luxury brands of scarves and cuff links.

China

  1. The Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented, but will politely refuse two or three times to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person look aggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver. 
    When or if a gift is given, it should be offered with two hands. Any gift offered with two hands should always be received with two hands. 
  2. It's traditional to bring a gift when invited to someone's home. Fresh flowers or fruit are your best bet, and it is a good idea to bring eight, rather than the typical Western dozen. Eight is a lucky number.
  3. Never give a clock. Traditional superstitions regard this as counting the seconds to the recipients death.
  4. Gifts from your own country are always welcome and very much appreciated. Don't wrap any gifts from home before arriving in China, as they may be unwrapped in Customs. 
  5. If possible, have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a lucky color. Pink, gold and silver are also acceptable colors for gift wrap. Gifts wrapped in yellow paper with black writing are given only to the dead. Also, check on the regional variations of color meanings - a safe color in Beijing could get you in trouble in Shenzhen. Your safest option is to entrust the task of gift-wrapping to a store or hotel that offers this service.

France and Greece

You do not have to give a gift at the first encounter. Bring flowers or chocolate.

India

Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver. Do not wrap gifts in white or black. They are considered unlucky colors. Green, red and yellow are lucky colors. If you know your Indian Counterpart drinks alcohol, bring an imported whiskey.

For a great read about etiquette and doing business in over 60 countries, "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands" written by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway.