By Sheeva Azma
Please note: in this article I refer to advocating for one’s small business as ‘lobbying.’ You do not need to be a formal lobbyist to engage in political advocacy. Fancy Comma, LLC is not a lobbying firm and does not directly coordinate lobbying activities, but we can help draft the documents and talking points needed to interface productively with local, state, tribal, and federal governments.
Think you need to be a multimillion-dollar company with powerful lobbyists to make an impact in the political world? In this blog post, I argue that anyone who knows how to engage the right channels can engage in government affairs and political advocacy work. Keep reading to learn ways that small businesses can lobby Congress effectively.
Small businesses have a huge impact
Small businesses are the backbone of the United States economy; they create new jobs and advance innovation and competitiveness. Small businesses, including microbusinesses such as solo freelancers, bring in 44% of the United States’ economic activity, according to a 2019 report from the Small Business Association.
While small business owners are important stakeholders in the US, they can face challenges trying to have a meaningful dialogue with lawmakers. That’s why I wrote this short guide on lobbying for small business owners. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you will have some ideas that can help you engage in government advocacy using the most effective channels.
In reality, lobbying as a small business owner doesn’t take much: the right strategy, a compelling message, and a bit of research.
What is lobbying?
The goal of lobbying is to influence lawmakers and government more generally. Lobbyists are people who advocate for various organizations and specific policies and policy priorities in government. Often, lobbying firms hire people who used to work in Congress and have a good knowledge of the inner workings of government, because those are the people who know how to work the system.
Professional lobbying can be expensive, and not everyone can afford to hire a lobbyist to help get their voice heard in Congress. While many people have a negative image of lobbyists in government, the truth is: anyone can be a lobbyist! The key to lobbying Congress on a certain issue or bill is simply to understand how to interact with lawmakers productively – and that includes deciding on the right messaging. Fancy Comma, LLC can help with all that.
Small business owners, you don’t have to hire a professional lobbyist to be heard by your lawmakers. Keep reading to learn more about ways you can advocate for your interests in government.
How to lobby Congress as a small business owner
While it can be relatively straightforward attending a city council meeting or participating in government on the local level, civic engagement becomes more complex at the highest levels of the federal government, such as the US Congress. Small business owners, short on time and funds, don’t have the resources to hire a professional lobbyist to advocate for their cause. They likely do not have the skills needed to work the system, so to speak. This puts small businesses at a disadvantage in government.
The good news is that Congress loves to hear from small business owners. As entrepreneurs and leaders in their industries, entrepreneurs are knowledgeable and have the right insights to inform policies affecting them. In reality, anyone, not just lobbyists, can schedule a meeting with their lawmakers. So, then, the question is: what’s the best way to lobby Congress as a small business? The reality is that, to be effective, small business owners must use the right channels and messaging to connect with the people who represent them in Congress.
Small businesses can absolutely advocate for their causes in Congress (and on other levels of government) in a way that gets results. All it takes is a bit of work, a tried-and-true strategy, and the right messaging.
Here are three steps to lobbying lawmakers as a small business owner:
Connect with relevant lawmakers.
Connect with the relevant lawmakers. This would ideally be people that represent you in Congress. Think about where you live and work. Who represents you in the U.S. House? In the U.S. Senate?
Regional ties matter a lot in Congress. Your Member of Congress represents you and your interests, so it’s the logical choice to reach out to them. You could contact them for an in-person meeting in Washington, DC, or at your local district office.
Decide on your strategy.
Once you figure out who you need to contact, figure out the best course of action to get in touch with your senators and representatives. For some issues, a simple email or phone call might be sufficient. For example, if Congress is considering a bill that affects all small business owners, you can check out my blog post on how to talk to Congress for tips on calling your lawmakers. However, if Congress is considering a bill on artificial intelligence and you are the CEO of a small software engineering company working in the AI space, you may have specific policy recommendations that could be useful to them. In cases like this, an in-person visit may be a better idea.
An in-person visit is more formal and, for meeting one-on-one with your lawmaker or one of their staffers, you’ll want to have some documents ready for them to review. In Congress, staffers do most of the behind-the-scenes work. It will help them to have something to go off of when briefing the lawmaker.
For an in-person visit, you’ll want to make sure you have your messaging and policy ‘ask’ ready. If you’re not there yet, begin to establish some diplomatic channels with your Member of Congress. You might sign up for their newsletter or keep updated on various issues in the relevant policy area (we can help with that, by the way – contact us!).
Work on your message.
Professional lobbyists are skilled communicators. They make sure to come up with a narrative that is engaging and grabs lawmakers’ attention. Facts and data, as well as personal experiences, can help create a compelling message.
However, it’s important to come up with a messaging strategy before reaching out to lawmakers. You’ll need a message that explains your policy ‘ask’ – what do you want lawmakers to do? Why is your recommendation the best course of action? What’s in it for the US, the lawmaker’s constituents, and any other stakeholders?
A one-pager is a typical document you might hand to the Member of Congress or their staffer in the meeting as you both sit down to chat. It is basically a written version of your policy ask and message, in a short, one-page format. If your topic is slightly more complicated or technical, you can also prepare a white paper with a brief, skimmable executive summary. Lawmakers are busy people, so the more you can give rich, informative content in summary format, the more effective it will be.
Lobbying Congress about a complex technical topic? We can help.
Fancy Comma, LLC can help you craft your strategy and message in talking to Congress. Our founder, Sheeva Azma, has worked in the science policy field since 2011. She has advocated for science funding on Capitol Hill, served as a legislative intern in the U.S. House, worked at DC-area think tanks, and is well-versed in the US legislative space. She has the right mix of science and technology knowledge, behind-the-scenes experience in Congress, and familiarity with the legislative process to help drive impactful results in the science and tech sector.
Fancy Comma has worked with small businesses in technical fields, helping them refine their messaging strategy for the greatest impact. We have helped Congress make headway on some of the most pressing, complex issues of our time. Our work has helped bills such as the CHIPS and Science Act become law.