Statistics show that, in the private sector, small businesses provide 44% of all jobs in Australia, and 30% in New Zealand, while small and medium enterprises provide 60% and 68% of all jobs in the UK and Ireland, respectively. Despite this, small businesses are often overlooked by their governments. Managing barriers to entry, reducing red tape, and securing more rigorous regulations on payment terms are important issues for small business owners that many legislators never hear about, or don’t understand how to address in a meaningful way.
Policy is often built around big business interests, because it’s simply easier for government to reach out to and work with large businesses, unions, and interest groups. These large enterprises and organisations tend to push for complex and arcane legislation that addresses very specific issues. This can be an enormous burden for smaller businesses, who generally don’t have access to the resources and legal expertise needed to understand and comply with these rules.
To help manage this, SMEs need to share their stories, find ways to make their needs heard, and work with governments to improve their business environment.
Educate local MPs
Fortunately, governments aren’t usually deliberately ignoring SMEs. They’re aware of how important small business is to their local economy and their constituents, it’s just far easier to reach out to and work with representatives of larger businesses and unions. For small businesses, it doesn’t take a team of lobbyists to effect change, but they do have to take the initiative.
Small businesses owners are busy people, and don’t generally think of themselves as being in a position to affect policy. This is a big mistake. Reach out to your local MPs, whether that’s by making regular phone calls, requesting meetings, or attending public events. By sharing your experiences, and ensuring that they regularly hear about specific issues that concern you and other small business owners, they can get a better grasp of how to support you and their local business community in general.
Larger businesses tend to organise by industry and lobby for or against specific regulations, subsidies, or laws. Small businesses, on the other hand, aren’t limited to industry specific interests, because their concerns tend to revolve more around suffocating red tape and administrative issues. This is important, because it means small businesses don’t need to compete with each other for the attention of their government. Instead, a small construction company, a dentist, and a local landscaping business might all be looking for a government solution to the same specific issue.
They can work together with a wide range of other businesses to bring attention to the issue by reaching out to their government as well as by setting up events and talking to the media. This can greatly amplify their platform, giving them the opportunity to be heard by both the government and the public.
Even though politicians understand that small business is important, change often takes place quite slowly, on an election-cycle basis. Legislators are inundated with requests by constituents on a daily basis, and aren’t likely to even remember a single conversation. To ensure that your issues will be remembered and integrated into their platforms, you’ll need politicians to see them as relevant to their success.
That means bringing them up over and over in a variety of different contexts to make sure they understand that your concerns aren’t minor or temporary. For example, if an MP only hears concerns about some new regulations once or twice from a handful of people, they could reasonably assume that business owners just needed an adjustment period to adapt to the new laws. To perceive a complaint as a real problem, they need to see that small businesses are struggling to deal with the new environment in the long term.
Reach out to local communities
Everyone has a vested interest in helping small businesses succeed in their local community. Don’t assume that you have to do all the heavy lifting yourself. Instead, reach out to the local media, your employees, customers, and the public to support you. Work to educate them about how your success benefits them, and enlist their help in reaching out.
Big business tries to influence public opinion all the time using massive advertising and public relations campaigns. Small businesses, on the other hand, actually are the public in many ways. In the Republic of Ireland, for example, 99.7% of all businesses are SMEs. Business owners alone make up a significant voting bloc, and simply by talking to friends, family, customers, and employees about their specific issues, organised and active business owners can collectively wield enormous influence .
The issue is far less one of resources, and more one of understanding that making an effort to reach out can make a big difference. By working together and persistently addressing local and national governments, the media, and everyday people, small businesses can’t help but be heard.