Last Sunday evening when I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant I frequent, the place was empty. Apparently, the town had had a street fair that had just ended. The sidewalk tables around town were being dismantled and the barricades blocking access to certain streets were gone. In the restaurant, the owner told me that because his street was blocked during the fair, he had no luncheon traffic. What’s more, this was the fourth year of the town’s street fair and the loss of business for him on the day of the fair.
I asked why he didn’t complain to the town hall and suggest that his street not be blocked to traffic; he just shrugged. I got the feeling that he thought his efforts would be fruitless, so why bother? (Also, as an immigrant, he has a language problem that may compound his reluctance to confront officials.)
I suspect that many small business owners experience similar penalties from the cities and towns they are in, but few protest. Now I have proof that my suspicions are correct.
Findings on small businesses seeking help
According to findings by Hiscox Small Business Insurance, only 22 percent of small businesses in countries around the world had asked for outside help from business groups or elected representatives. Eleven percent said they’d approached a business or small business organization, while only 9 percent a local politician or mayor.
Is the notion of “can’t fight city hall” correct?
My guess is that many small business owners are reluctant to attempt a fight because of the time, and sometimes the money, it takes to pursue their cause. This is precious time and resources needed for the business. Often they don’t have the ability to fight for principles.
For some owners, there may be reluctance to call attention to their businesses because they fear they may be outside the law, even if only in a minor way. Maybe they have some local code violations they don’t want officials to see; maybe they are using illegal workers.
Having been involved in my town’s politics for several years when I served as a fire commissioner, I can say with confidence that officials are receptive to suggestions and certainly listen to complaints. In fact, the louder the complaint, the more attentive they are (the squeaky wheel theory).
Business owners should recognize their importance to their towns and the desire of officials to keep them happy (for the most part). This being true, owners should speak out. Expressing dissatisfaction with town rules, proposals, and actions are allowed under the First Amendment. You never know the success you can achieve until you try.
Barbara Weltman is an attorney, author (with such titles as J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business), and trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® at www.barbaraweltman.com, and host of Build Your Business radio. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman.