Many entrepreneurs perform their own lobbying initiatives rather than hiring paid lobbyists.
That's understandable since contract lobbyists are pricey and most small businesses lack the financial horsepower to become a player on the professional lobbying scene.
But when entrepreneurs lobby for themselves, their efforts are often uncoordinated and ineffective. Instead of applying sound lobbying concepts, they wander around the halls of government, looking for someone – anyone – who is willing to listen to their concerns. In some cases, their lack of skills can severely damage their reputation with lawmakers.
Lobbying is quickly becoming an required business skill. Here are a few lobbying tips entrepreneurs can use to get in the game and have a positive influence on the political process.
- Start early. The time to start lobbying politicians is before you actually need them. Experts claim that it's easier to rub elbows with politicians immediately after an election than it is to wait six months, when the lawmaker is knee-deep in legislation.
- Develop relationships. Relationship building is critical because it creates a foundation for a comprehensive lobbying strategy. Get to know the politicians who represent you at the state and federal level, and take advantage of legislative meet-and-greets for business owners.
- Participate in coalitions. Participation in coalitions and lobbying alliances multiplies your ability to achieve political goals and legislative agendas. Not all coalitions will be a good fit for your business, so you'll need to conduct research to identify a coalition that shares your issues and concerns. If no coalition exists, start devising a strategy to form your own coalition rather than attempting a solo approach.
- Use public media. Public media and PR strategies can be effective tools for raising your profile with lawmakers. Most lawmakers employ aides who religiously peruse newspapers and media reports in their home districts. If you can accurately and intelligently articulate your issues in a local media outlet, legislators will take notice. In some cases, they may even reach out to you for a conversation about how the issue is affecting you and your coalition partners.
- Leverage local representatives. Accept the fact that your local representative may not be the right target for your lobbying efforts. Even so, you'll need a relationship with your local lawmakers before you can begin move on to the lawmakers you really need to influence. Politics is based on relationships. Use relationships with local elected officials and their party affiliations as to access a broader base of political contacts.