Amy Handlin is a professor at the Monmouth University School of Business and whose book, “Be Your Own Lobbyist: How to Give Your Small Business Big Clout with State and Local Government (Praeger, 2010), was published this summer.
As a New Jersey assemblywoman, she’s learned a thing or two about what small businesses can do to effect change on a local or national level. Here, she shares with BND the Top Seven Mistakes businesses make when lobbying their elected officials.
Mistake No. 1: Choosing the wrong level of government. To determine whether you should target a local, state or federal official or agency, determine where your issue has the most concentrated impact. Then follow the money trail — who collects the revenues, and for what. Finally, check every document related to your issue and look for official stamps and seals for clues as to who handles it.
Mistake No. 2: Limiting your research. Dig beneath the surface of official websites. Use media archives, political literature, blogs and Freedom of Information requests. Go to public meetings. And don't limit your information gathering to just one target agency or official.
Mistake No. 3: Avoiding personal contact with officials. Get to know officials when you don't need their specific help -- particularly at informal affairs. Don't hesitate to initiate an informal conversation. Cultivate relationships with their staff, too.
Mistake No. 4: Having a weak or limited coalition. Be creative when looking for allies, and ask other businesses with complementary concerns to reach out to others as well. Even if you think you're all on the same page, spend time and energy educating all coalition members on the issues. Have energetic and focused leaders who can keep members motivated. Define your goals as broadly as possible so everyone feels included and invested.
[Read the full story: Small Business Wields More Power Than Meets the Eye.]
Mistake No. 5: Making written communication faux pas. Double-check name spellings and titles to make sure they are correct. Provide sources for all data. Be concrete and specific. Research relevant requirements, such as time limits or numbers of signatures. Make your communication personalized. Don't overuse rhetoric. Don't be discourteous.
Mistake No. 6: Muffing verbal communication opportunities. In phone calls, in face-to-face meetings, or at public forums such as rallies or community meetings, humanize your story with examples. Use props or visual aids. Bring attention to who is supporting you. Research, review and rehearse. Don't drop names, be unprepared, be overly familiar or jocular, or use silly gimmicks. Avoid being long-winded, accusatory or impatient.
Mistake No. 7: Missing messaging opportunities. Don't confuse a slogan with a message. Don't exaggerate the facts. Once you develop a well-framed, fact-based message, stick to it and get everyone working with you to do the same so one consistent message comes across. Don't assume your target official or agency "gets" it. Take time to educate them on the issue.