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How to be a small business advocate

March 28, 2017

If you care about something, you advocate for it. I care about small business, so I use every opportunity to spread the word. To advocate means, “to speak or write in favor of; to support or urge by argument; respond publicly.”

For many years, I have been involved in efforts to bring the small business perspective to light and have encouraged others to do the same. But, I have discovered even those who are passionate about it hesitate to speak up for a variety of reasons. They may be afraid of questions they do not have an answer for. Some feel ill prepared to deal with those who challenge their perspective.  Or, an individual may simply be uncomfortable with public speaking or are “camera-shy.”

While I love to tell my story, I know hearing many diverse stories is more powerful. That’s why I have taken to doing workshops for organizations who want their members to speak up.  This week, I will be addressing the Small Business of Michigan’s Leadership Council Winter Event. Here’s a preview and a few things to remember should you decide to raise your hand and advocate for small business.

Start in Your Backyard
The best place to start to influence people is in your own backyard. That means sharing your perspective with employees. I try to update my team on conferences I attend and issues we face as a small business. Right now, companies are struggling with the high cost of healthcare, access to capital, regulations, and workforce development. I share pertinent information, blogs, and other good resources so they understand what I face as a business owner. Think of it as business literacy. You can also connect with other business owners, local, and state officials.

Get on the Bandwagon
Join the efforts of others when you have interests in common. Statewide organizations, such as the Small Business Association of Michigan, are always looking for individuals who can be part of a larger effort. You do not need to be an expert on the legislation or topic – the organization has the staff to play that role. You need to tell your story and provide relevant examples. This also holds true for national organizations. These might be trade associations or business organizations. Here there is the potential for national exposure. I was featured in TIME magazine because the National Small Business Association was approached to find a small business struggling with the healthcare crisis, but the opportunities are not always associated with an issue. I was also asked to contribute my expertise for an article in Entrepreneur Magazine called Ask the Pro.

Get Educated
Whether you are speaking to a legislator, the media, or any other audience it is critical you are educated about the topic. The more knowledgeable you are the more comfortable you will be advocating for whatever the cause. I asked Representative Chris Afendoulis, of Michigan’s 73rd District (aka, my first cousin) to share some tips. He counsels, “If you are speaking about a particular issue keep an eye on pending legislation. Subscribe to your trusted organization’s e-mail blasts and take action when advocacy is needed. Regularly attend your legislator’s coffee hours or town hall meetings.” In other words, get involved.

One final thing to note. If you are not well educated about topic, take a pass. If you are not believable or credible let someone else be out front. Only raise your hand when you have something to say.

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