Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. More than 30 million small businesses in the United States drive 54% of all sales across numerous industries. Although considerable in size, small businesses struggle to get involved politically and lobby efforts to ensure their voice is heard by lawmakers. In the business world, time is money. Small businesses don’t have the time or money to waste on ineffective methods to get their message to decision-makers. Lobbying provides focused and constant communication with policy-makers on the issues that matter most to small businesses.
Unlike large corporations which have the time, staff, and resources to invest thousands of dollars into lobbying efforts, often with assistance from the top lobbying firms, small businesses have not had this luxury in the past. But the playing field is leveling for small businesses and they now have options to ensure their concerns are heard by those that matter the most.
Covid-19 made it more complicated for everyone to effectively lobby, but advancements in technology quickly addressed these issues and made it easier for everyone to be involved. The most important thing for small businesses to remember is that they are not alone in this process. With some time and effort, lobbying can be a successful way for small businesses to make sure their voices are heard.
Let's evaluate the three most common ways small businesses and organizations advance their priorities and the biggest ways technology can enable them to be more successful in their lobbying efforts.
It may be difficult for a small organization, even one with a government relations committee, to monitor legislative activity quickly or accurately enough to affect an issue's outcome. In addition, once an organization has addressed an issue, it may not have the needed expertise to guide the legislation through the political process. Hiring a professional lobbyist or lobbying firm still has its advantages.
The advantages of hiring a lobbyist or lobbying firm are many. For instance, lobbyists:
They have experience in influencing legislation.
They can strategically communicate your case.
They get results faster.
They allow you to best use your time, providing advice and direction in policy.
Choosing a lobbyist for your business requires considerable effort and you need to find one that is your partner in the process. Recent technology advancements in legislative tracking software can strengthen the partnership between a professional lobbyist or firm and the organization they represent.
Make sure when you hire a professional lobbyist that they use a modern legislative tracking solution that empowers you, the client they represent. At a minimum, you need to make sure your lobbyist has these technology solutions available for you:
Client legislative portfolios: The best legislative tracking solutions provide lobbyists with a way to create client portfolios that contain all of the relevant client contacts, along with their respective areas of expertise. Bills can be added to each client's portfolio, along with the specific tracking level, position, and analysis for each bill. Clients can then log in to their secure portfolio at any time to view updates and progress on the bills that may impact them.
Client communication tools: Just knowing what bills a lobbyist is tracking on your behalf isn't enough. Your lobbyist's legislative tracking solution must have a way for you and your government affairs team to communicate directly with your lobbyist on each bill. After all, you are the subject matter expert and can best advise on the direction of policy. Also, what if someone within your organization has a professional or personal relationship with a legislator sponsoring a key bill? There needs to be a way for your staff to log in and communicate this valuable information with your lobbyist so that, as a team, it can be leveraged.
Client reports: While all lobbyists provide reports to their clients, many are still only providing a weekly update. Your lobbyist should have a legislative tracking solution that automatically keeps bills up to date as they progress through the process and has the ability to automate sending you scheduled daily bill tracking updates. The daily updates can be as simple as a list of bills they are tracking on your behalf, their analysis, and the last update on the bill. This makes sure you know each day what happens and what's moving forward or stalled in the legislature.
Client Web Reports: Most small businesses and organizations publish their key legislative priorities on their website and communicate bills they are tracking and updates to their clients and members. Instead of your small business investing its limited resources keeping this information updated, make sure your lobbyist has a way to provide you with a URL (or web link) to a custom report, branded to your business, that includes the legislative information you want to publicly share with your audience. This saves your staff time, ensures the information is always up to date and helps you keep your key stakeholders engaged.
One important way small businesses can level the playing field is by leveraging a trade association to expand their knowledge and influence on an issue. Trade associations choose to lobby on behalf of an entire industry, or a group of similar businesses. By joining an association, businesses can increase their political clout and have a better chance of being heard on the issues that matter most to them.
Your association's technology should empower its members by allowing access to:
Engaged communities: In addition to trade association membership, working closely with a network of partner organizations with similar goals can improve legislative success. Make sure your association has technology solutions that allow you to see the members in your network and communicate directly with them. You should be able to quickly identify government relations professionals at other businesses and organizations and work with them to advance your priorities.
Up-to-date information: You rely on your association to identify and monitor key bills that may impact your industry. You should be able to log in to the associations' legislative tracking platform to view these bills, review analysis of how they may impact you, and see how they are progressing in the legislature. Some legislation advances too quickly to wait on weekly or monthly newsletters.
Active participation in legislative issues: While your association has the time and resources to devote to lobbying, you are still a valuable source of information. Make sure your association's bill tracking solution allows individual members the ability to login and leave comments on bills and respond to other members' comments. This active participation strengthens your collective voice.
In order to maximize the impact of your trade association, it’s important to be an active participant in their efforts. Utilizing the knowledge and experience of trade association professionals requires close communication, but yields results in achieving policy priorities and increasing the impact of your efforts.
Internal staff specialize in your industry. They have a deep understanding of your culture and your internal practices. Handling your lobbying efforts in-house provides knowledge of the industry at the expense of paying compensation proportional to the skills that the lobbyist has acquired. This cost is proportional to how easy it is for lobbyists to access the information to conduct their work. When it is easy to access this information, then it is less costly to have someone in-house.
Technology can not only make this a less costly option, but the right technology can also help you be more informed and successful. Your technology solutions should have:
Notifications when issues arise: Legislation tracking platforms are more affordable than ever for small businesses and organizations. Make sure you choose a solution that allows you to save keywords and terms and be notified when bills are introduced that may have a substantial impact.
Easy access to information: Not only do you need to be aware of bills, but you need to monitor their progress. If you have staff manually checking the state website each day for updates and then updating spreadsheets, you are increasing the cost (time x pay) and increasing the risk that you miss something vital. Your legislative tracking solution should provide you with near real-time updates on bills as they progress through the legislature.
Committee Information: Without a contract lobbyist at the capitol sitting in on meetings on your behalf, you need to make sure that you are aware of when these meetings are happening so that you or someone on your government affairs team can be there. Make sure your legislative tracking solution gives you access to the scheduled committee meetings with the agenda of bills being discussed. The best legislative tracking solutions will even highlight the bills you are tracking and allow you to send yourself daily reports of upcoming meetings that you may need to attend.
Automated Legislative Reports: When you elect to hire an in-house lobbyist, their time needs to be devoted to building relationships and talking with legislators. They should not be manually creating updates to keep everyone informed. But, they do have to keep everyone. Legislative tracking technology now lets you create report templates that are dynamically updated and can be scheduled to automatically be emailed, keeping your audience informed.
In conclusion, no matter what option you choose to help you advance your priorities, a contract lobbyist, a professional trade association, or an in-house lobbyist, the right technology can help small businesses and organizations be more informed and involved in the process. Make sure you and your partners are utilizing a modern legislative tracking technology, like Engagifii Legislation, that helps you all be more successful in advancing your priorities.
Engagifii understands that no two organizations are the same. That's why we provide unique legislation management solutions for professional lobbyists, non-profit organizations, businesses and corporations, and local government agencies. All features mentioned above are included in Engagifii's legislation management solutions.
Want to learn more? Schedule a time to talk with one of our experienced government affairs consultants.