The Power of Local Politics

As a small business owner, you wear countless hats. At times, you double as a therapist for your customers - providing both product recommendations and coping strategies as they send their first born off to college. You also act as a fearless captain - guiding your crew through a turbulent sea of orders, projects, emails and deadlines. While many of us have become experts at seamlessly switching between one role and another, there’s one hat that many business owners tend to keep on the shelf - their political hat.

For some of us, the idea of politics is resigned to voting once every 4 years to elect a president. Seldom do we stop to think about the impact state and local elections have on our businesses. Being informed about local policies and involved in local elections is key to guiding decision-making that impacts your business, customers and community. Next time you’re thinking of skipping out on a local election think about the following important policies that are determined at the state and local level:

Minimum wage laws - While the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, many state and local governments are actively creating policies to require higher wages. How could this impact your hiring plans?

Employment discrimination - The importance of diversity and inclusion may be clear to many, but still it’s important to be abreast of best practices to ensure a healthy and compliant working environment. Being unaware of state and local anti-discrimination laws could put your company at risk of very costly discrimination lawsuits.

Business tax rates and regulations - Did you know that your state income taxes will determine your business tax if you’re a sole proprietorship? Or that C-Corporations are taxed at different rates depending on the state? Knowing this information is crucial to financial planning for your business and for deciding on which entity type is best for you (e.g., LLC, C-Corp etc)

Tax subsidies - Trying to determine where to open up your storefront? Did you know that states and localities offer tax incentives for locating your business in certain areas with low employment rates? Your company could be the major employer in that area and benefit from tax abatement incentives.

Workers’ compensation - Workers’ comp laws change frequently and can have a pretty large impact on your premiums and the difficulty with which workers can file claims.

It can be challenging to stay current in a continually changing sector, but being aware of changes as they happen can help you stay ahead of the curve. Check out some suggestions below to remain on top of industry opportunities, and trends.

1. Invest in trade periodicals.

Subscribe to a publication dedicated to specific themes in your field to stay informed. Please, not subscribing is just the first step, the second, and arguably most important step is to read the publication — whether in print or online. Regardless of the method used, make sure to consistently read and use this information to guide what local policies or even practices you support in your business.

2. Search for and participate in forums and message boards.

Scanning through a relevant forum every day can be enough to stimulate your attention and get your mind thinking about industry developments. Participating in an appropriate LinkedIn group or a private forum from a professional group can often be even more informative. Even though it's challenging to sort through discussion forums unless they're carefully controlled, you can sift through the muck and find gems of wisdom. Instead of passively absorbing what others are teaching you, make an effort to contribute - that way you’ll be an active participant in the ideas and discussions shaping your industry. The forum is a great place to start … place your comments and opinions in The Forum!

4. Look for information on the internet and in blogs.

Although blog quality varies, many are excellent sources of current information. Blogs and news sites will frequently evaluate critical facts and research pertinent to your sector and break it down into digestible parts. As always, feel free to look through the blog for information especially valuable to Black business owners.

5. Listen to political or industry-specific podcasts and videos

Interviews with industry experts on video and audio can be particularly instructive. Even if you disagree with the material offered, having a common language can help you communicate more effectively with others in your profession and can articulate political topics in ways that are easier to comprehend.

6. Create a network

Face-to-face discussions with colleagues about your sector can be highly instructive. Attend conferences and local events, and enroll in training. This is a simple way to stay informed about what's going on and to form a coalition that can work together to propose specific policies to local elected officials. You can even look through the directory to find other companies in your industry to connect with.

9. Learn about your local elections office

Learn all you can about upcoming elections, candidates and propositions. This will help you prioritize learning about what candidates are running for what office and what their priorities are. Your state’s election office website will also help you find information about your registration status, polling locations and registration options.

If you haven’t already, please dust off your political hat. Learn as much as you can about the policies impacting your industry. Lastly, take an active role in sharing your opinion and when possible … cast your vote!

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