3 ways to get CEO voices heard on national policy
When it comes to small and midsize businesses, it’s essential that CEO voices are heard on government policies. Those policies can play a huge role in whether or not a company succeeds.
Business leaders have to be involved in shaping policy with lawmakers. Otherwise, those laws could end up negatively affecting a business, says Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “You can either have a seat at the table or be on the menu.”
But what if you don’t have that kind of access? How do you get your voice heard on a national level where lawmakers might have the opportunity to hear you?
We asked Sullivan for 3 ways SMB leaders can make their voices heard.
1. Join a Chamber
Joining a local Chamber is the quickest way to gain a voice in government, Sullivan says. Part of the Chamber’s job — in addition to improving the credibility and visibility of its member businesses — is to act as an advocate for policymakers.
“They serve as a convening body not to solve problems but to bring some of those problems and challenges to their state and national policy leaders,” Sullivan says, “and that’s where we come in.”
Every year, Sullivan says the U.S. Chamber hosts hundreds of local, state and regional Chambers, convening forums when solutions are needed on the federal level. The U.S. Chamber also utilizes the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index, a quantitative snapshot of the small business sector that’s released quarterly and compiled from 1,000+ phone interviews with business leaders.
“Those indexes come to life when small businesses tell us how it’s going in their day-to-day operations,” Sullivan says. “Then we take that combination of both temperature taking and narratives and combine them so we can advocate more effectively for small business owners before federal policymakers.”
Sullivan says small business owners and leaders are also welcome to visit the U.S. Chamber’s headquarters in Washington to discuss their challenges with staff.
“We’re the catalyst for those local Chambers who seek to influence their federal lawmakers,” he adds.
2. Do it yourself
But what if you don’t have the time to visit the U.S. Chamber? If that’s the case, Sullivan says, you’ll have to, in true entrepreneurial spirit, do it yourself.
Sullivan recalls meeting with a wholesale bead manufacturer and seller based out of Prescott, Arizona who found himself entangled in several tax issues following the 2018 ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which allowed states to collect sales tax on goods sold in their state by online retailers. The ruling meant that the retailer would have to deal with tax jurisdictions both within and outside of his state.
“It got to the point where he was so fed up and just wanted to simplify the process,” Sullivan says, “not just for him, but for the thousands of entrepreneurs who could potentially get caught up in this web.”
The wholesaler, Brad Scott, a finance director at Halsted Beads, gathered several other online retailers and lobbied to be heard before lawmakers. Eventually, Scott made it to Washington and testified before a House subcommittee on the ruling’s impact.
“Many times the energy is already there, ” Sullivan says of Scott’s DIY attitude. “It’s simply a matter of directing that energy to the right place to have the greatest impact.”
3. Reach out to your local newspaper
It may seem old-fashioned these days, Sullivan admits. Still, writing your story down from a business-focused point of view and sending it to your local paper’s editorial board can be a powerful tool, he says.
Sullivan gives another example: Jeff Good, president of a restaurant group based in Jackson, Mississippi. As a member of the U.S. Chamber’s Small Business Council, Good understands the importance of having the ear of lawmakers, especially in times of crisis.
So when the Pearl River flooded in August 2022, leaving more than 150,000 local residents in Jackson (yet again) without safe drinking water, Good gathered his thoughts and penned an op-ed piece that ran in the Jackson-based Clarion-Ledger.
“He just wrote down his experience as a concerned citizen and small business owner of Jackson,” Sullivan says. “But what’s important is that he laid out a set of challenges and a set of optimistic and constructive opportunities for the city.”
Also important is that Good didn’t make it political, Sullivan says. He stuck to the facts of the crisis and its impact on small businesses and didn’t “pretend to be an economist or an elected member of Congress.”
“Telling what you know as a small business owner and bringing that can-do attitude into your writing has tremendous value,” he says. “Then it’s up to us to get it to the right people.”
It’s important for business leaders to find ways to be heard by lawmakers, Sullivan says. Whether online or brick-and-mortar, a sole proprietor or LLC staffing hundreds, small and midsize businesses are “the fabric of the United States.”
“From time to time, we need a reminder of the importance of small business,” he says. “The data shows that small businesses create two-thirds of net new jobs and innovate at 12 to 15 times the rate of some larger competitors. When it comes to importing and exporting, they’re the engine that keeps the global marketplace moving. But the data doesn’t move the dial. It’s the data with the narratives.”