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How to have a holiday party for your employees when you’re a small business entrepreneur

By Kelli Korducki


There are two factors to consider when planning a holiday party for employees as a small business entrepreneur. The first, unsurprisingly, is budget. What if you’re a fledgling company just beginning to get a grip on finances? Does it make sense to pass the Courvoisier, so to speak, and throw a lavish fête to show staff some recognition? Not necessarily, says Rhonda Page, a branding specialist based in Toronto who frequently works with small businesses. But, she stresses, it is important to make employees feel recognized.


“The focus is on celebration, not extravagance,” says Page.


Page stresses that “holiday party” shouldn’t have to mean a multi-course meal with an open bar. If a company is strapped for cash, it’s important that employees are made aware of the situation. Transparency about the kind of year that has been had, financially, is important. And if finances dictate a more modest end-of-year celebration, it’s essential to be up-front with employees about it.


One holiday party recommendation that Page has for smaller budgets is to organize a potluck party. Group outings, she says, are another good idea.


“Organizing everybody to go skating, for example, and the company buys everybody hot chocolate and a treat, could work well,” she suggests.


Are there aspects of holiday party throwing that employers on a budget should avoid doing altogether?


“Liquor could be problematic,” says Page. “It’s expensive, and also you don’t want people drinking too much and you want them to get home safely.”


To deal with this potential pitfall, Page recommends throwing holiday parties during lunchtime or the afternoon (“people tend to drink less during the day”) or to opt for wine instead of liquor, which is cheaper and packs less of a punch.


For small businesses for whom holiday budgets are less of a concern than the sheer size of staff, Peter Lazar of The UrbanRoom Design and Production Group in Toronto has organized a series of parties open to multiple small staffs that functions as a community meet-and-greet for employees of small businesses.


“Small businesses can let loose a little bit more easily than big corporations,” laughs Lazar, who runs the company on a model similar to Groupon; the more people sign up, the more affordable it becomes for everyone.


For $175 per head, staffers at smaller companies can join in on an ornate party at the Berkeley Church—an upscale events venue in a renovated heritage property—that includes a three-course meal, an aerial silks performance, a live jazz band, open bar and a champagne reception.


“It’s a higher price range,” Lazar admits, “but what’s included is relatively out there.”


Whether going the route of the potluck or the three-course meal, Page stresses the importance of one-on-one recognition from employer to employee. A personal handwritten note for every staffer, for example, is a must.


“You want to recognize your employees all the time, not just during the holidays,” she says. “Employees are the brand ambassadors; they represent the company. You want them to be happy.”

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