When persuading lawmakers to simplify regulations or adopt legislation you are fighting for, as a small business you face three choices.
- You can sit on the sidelines
- You can petition
- You can lobby
Most small businesses choose #1. You do nothing. You grumble and complain because you feel like you can’t do anything.
The second option; you join an organization or trade association focused on a single industry or issue. You pay dues, sign petitions and promote your cause through the organization, whether you agree with them or not.
You could also try the third choice. If you are lucky enough to grow to a sufficient size and have adequate resources, you can put a toe in the water and hire a PR firm, public affairs staff or a lobbyist, often with mixed results. You realize you are a small fish in a big pond and lobbying is a complex and expensive undertaking when you do it alone.
So how can you cut through the red tape and get the regulations you want?
To lobby effectively, you need three basic fundamentals:
Sitting it out provides no benefits. You already know that.
But working with a strong industry group provides some comfort. However you sacrifice control of your message, the campaign and you delegate execution into the hands of the organization.
By hiring your own PR firm or staff, you preserve full message or issue control but it’s expensive. You need deep pockets and there is no guarantee of satisfactory results.
Everybody needs constituents or supporters (i.e. voters). If you don’t plead your case and convince others to join you, nothing will happen. That’s a given. But if you convince people one at a time through word of mouth, this can take a long time.
The exception occurs when your cause is built on passion and strong public support. Think MADD, Amber Alerts and Jessica’s Law.
If you join a group like the local business council or single issue non-profit, there are other constituents who believe in the same thing you do. You may not get to know very many of the other members and larger interests can take precedence while geography will limit contact.
Large corporations and special interests represent a large constituent base, but you have to ask yourself. Can they really cajole all their employees or members to vote the way management wants? Probably not. So they may have phantom constituents and lawmakers know this. Lawmakers respond to real voters, but they have to be singular in focus and there has to be a lot of them.
If your company has limited discretionary resources then you won’t have the financial capacity to undertake long term lobbying. So it is difficult to make a lot of legislative progress. But if you join a professional or trade association you can increase your chances of success.
Large corporations and special interests on the other hand, have relatively unlimited resources, which gives them staying power. They understand the economic and political benefit of applying those resources to correcting any laws that impact their business or regulations that impede their interests.
So having surveyed the landscape, how can a small businessman compete and lobby successfully?
The Ideal Solution
Let’s say you want to get a law passed or a regulation changed. You want to control the issue, have broad support from real voters and you want to contain costs. Finally, you don’t want to spend 100% of your time in Washington or city hall.
So how do you attain autonomy, support and low cost?
If your current political plan isn’t working then you need to find a new way.
You can craft your message. You can control the debate and find the best arguments to support your cause through crowd sourcing. You can reach supporters, customers and suppliers around the country who have similar interests. You can lower costs by sharing the lobbying expense with a broad group of people.
With these three elements: control, constituents and capacity, you can overcome bureaucratic inertia and your legislative limitations.
You identify the Congressman who sits on the Committee related to your issue. With voters from many different Congressional districts simultaneously approaching their representatives on the same singular issue all coordinated in one campaign by one lobbyist, (almost like a symphony), you gain incredible, surgical precision and political power. And that’s what you want.
Just like with your business, you need to focus, take control and work with other small businesses passionately convincing them to join you to implement the fresh new ideas and legislative solutions that you want to happen.
Lift the regulatory burden but ask your friends and business associates to help. It takes more than voting. Political engagement needs to be part of your ongoing daily strategy.