There is still plenty of time for you to do this, so no excuses. The approaching holidays and the end of 2011 provide you with an excellent opportunity to connect with your business associates, your old and new friends, and especially your family and extended family.
For professional, I am a fan of paper cards and brief notes. If carefully chosen for suitability and taste, this is one of those things that people really do remember for the right reasons (and will never forget if tasteless or strange). My advice is to stick with New Year Greetings if you are not absolutely clear about what holidays your associates and friends recognize. Write a nice note inside the card, addressed specifically to the intended recipient.
I am not opposed to letters about your family and everything you did last year. Actually I kind of like learning about your past year, and truth be told, I think your accomplishments are the best part. TMI is TMI though, try to stay away from discussions of body parts, money, politics, religion, arrests or scandals, and weight loss or gain. If you did not or cannot phone your friend about any of these topics and would not be inclined to have an in-depth conversation with your entire list about the relative merits of one alternative or another on the subject, it probably is not suitable for a holiday update.
I am not a fan of the digital card. First, I am reluctant to click on things, if they even make it through the spam filter. Second, I don’t want to see you Elf Yourself again, it’s been done. To. Death. When I am thinking about referring a client to you, or nominating you for something good, or considering you for a job I heard about, do you want the image that comes to my mind to be your cut out face on a dancing cartoon elf body?
So here are my thoughts:
1. Go to a card, stationery, or department store and pick out something that you think looks like you, and recognizes the holiday you celebrate.
2. Pick out a second set, for those who celebrate that which you don’t. That is, those who you know celebrate the holiday acknowledged by the card.
3. For the rest (or alternatively, for everyone), select a Peace or Happy New Year card. Remember that the world isn’t either/or. Some folks do not celebrate any religious holiday. Some do not celebrate at all.
4. Choose nice stamps. Use the right amount of postage for the card size.
5. Use a good pen and write or print in your best writing or printing. Do not use turquoise or other odd color ink, funny writing, or scent.
6. Use this opportunity to organize your contacts and look up correct addresses. Sort.
7. Write short, nice, memorable notes, like “We miss you.” Or, “Remember that time we all bought stocking caps and mittens and wore them all Christmas Day because the furnace broke?”
8. For close friends and family, send a photo or two in the card, if you can, and if they are good photos in good taste.
9. Do not solicit anything, including business, referrals, return mail, or even a phone call. This is you saying “hello, it’s me; you are my friend,” nothing more.
10. Make a list of those to whom you have sent the cards. This is your holiday card list. If you get cards from people who are not on your list, you may send a card back, if you choose, or add them to your list for next year.
Lists are good things to have; you should get into the habit of creating and culling them. Every five years or so, start all over again, sort of like zero-based list making. Think through the list and the individuals on it; size is not the important thing, but tenure on the list and your ability and willingness to spontaneously create the personal note matter most.