From the November 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Since 1996, Joel Marks has run the American Small Business Alliance (ASBA), a Washington, DC, organization with several thousand members in 30 states. Marks' group fights for causes ranging from pension, accounting and antitrust reform to family and medical leave and a higher minimum wage. Family leave? A higher minimum wage? And Marks is pro-small-business? Well, yes. Let him explain: "We recognize that the health of our work force and the health of our community are the two greatest factors to business success, so that means having a safe workplace," says Marks, 35. "That means having fair pay."

What are some of the business reforms the ASBA wants to see?

Joel Marks: Overall, the real key is creating a level playing field for big businesses and small, and some of this goes to changing the mentality out there. One of the problems is that the interests of small and big businesses are often lumped together. In reality, a small-business owner has more in common with his or her workers than with Wal-Mart. Big businesses have so many advantages over smaller businesses, in terms of the rules that do and don't apply. Certainly, accounting and pension reforms, and full disclosure in how corporations are funded and structured, are critical so big businesses don't have all the loopholes and escape hatches, for instance, when it comes to paying taxes. A small-business owner's success is tied to a lot of factors, but the main one is, Is this business making a profit? There's a real danger when that same logic isn't applied to a large corporation.

But how is worrying about what big businesses are doing really going to help small businesses?

Marks: Small businesses are in a unique role-they're customers, vendors and, often, investors of big business, so they do have a real interest in helping businesses operate on all those levels.

How can big corporations be reformed?

Marks: First, small businesses--as customers and vendors--shouldn't be afraid to hold big corporations accountable for their conduct. Irresponsible companies should not be rewarded with your business, and nothing speaks louder than the power of your purchasing dollars.

Second, entrepreneurs need to pressure their elected leaders to level the playing field. Large corporations already have too much power, and small business ends up getting the short end of the stick. For instance, at the same time big corporations were getting huge tax rollbacks, the most popular small-business loan program was cut. The pressure is already on, and entrepreneurs should band together to ensure their voices are heard.

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