A Day In The Life

Exploring the ups and downs of life as a small-business lobbyist
Magazine Contributor
13 min read

This story appears in the July 1997 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Politicians are far from the only folks doing business on Capitol Hill. Behind the scenes, scores of lobbyists labor to protect and promote the interests of the disparate groups they represent. We wondered what it would be like to walk a day in the shoes of one such lobbyist--one who works on behalf of small business, naturally--so we turned to James Morrison, an independently contracted senior policy advisor with The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE). What follows is a journey through Morrison's experiences on the day of April 23, 1997.

7:30 a.m. Morrison's day begins at his homebased office with a computer printout of small-business-related information pulled from an online clipping service.

8:20 a.m. After dropping his daughter off at school, Morrison catches the subway for the office. "As I'm riding into Washington, I scan all those clippings and generally at least one newspaper,' he says, noting his daily goal of reading three to four newspapers.

9 a.m. Morrison arrives at NASE offices. The first order of business is a final check of the testimony that NASE is giving to the House Small Business Committee later that day. The oral testimony pertains to The Home-Based Business Fairness Act.

10 a.m. Morrison attends a meeting of The Savings Coalition of America. "This particular coalition focuses on expanding eligibility for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and improving the nation's savings rate,' he says. "There was a discussion about some of the IRA legislation pending on Capitol Hill.'

10:30 a.m. Time to attend the House Small Business Committee hearing. "These kinds of hearings also serve as an informal get-together of small-business advocates on Capitol Hill,' Morrison notes.

11:45 a.m. Morrison goes to a meeting of the Business Coalition for Affordable Health Care. "The meeting centered on medical savings accounts," he says, "[which is] something NASE supports.'

12:45 p.m. Morrison joins Rep. Marcy Kaptur
(D-OH) and a couple other folks for lunch. Lunch-time conversation revolves around an amendment Kaptur is introducing on the House floor that day seeking to exempt small businesses from having to publish patent applications before a patent is granted. After lunch, Morrison checks his messages and returns calls.

2 p.m. At this point, Morrison meets with the Senate Small Business Committee to discuss tax legislation.

2:45 p.m. Morrison next talks about patent bill amendments with an aide in the office of Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA). "It's far more typical to meet with an aide than to meet with a [congressional] member,' Morrison explains. "An aide can spend a lot more time [with you].'

3 p.m. Morrison convenes with fellow small-business advocates to observe the debate on the Kaptur amendment. "We gathered in an office to watch it on television," says Morrison. "From there we could make phone calls, and if we saw they needed [additional information about the amendment] on the [House] floor, we could write it up and send it down.'

5:45 p.m. After several hours of congressional debate, Kaptur's amendment passes by a margin of less than 30 votes. "That was a tremendous and unexpected victory for us,' says Morrison. "People were cheering and jumping up and down--it was quite a scene.'

8:30 p.m. Following some taking-care-of-business conversations at nearby congressional clubs, Morrison boards the subway for home. On the way, he reads papers and materials he didn't get to earlier.

"It was a long day--but not atypically long,' says Morrison. "It was kind of a fun day, too--capped by winning something we didn't think we were going to win. We do win sometimes.'

And now it's on to the next day, the next meeting, the next battle. . .

Heat Wave

Mixing business with pleasure this summer

The joys of summer captivate us all, so why should entrepreneurs be excluded from the fun? In fact, entrepreneurship and summertime go hand in hand--witness that venerable summer institution, the lemonade stand. Here are some ideas to make your summer a breeze:

  • Green grass, blue skies, lucrative contracts . . . there is perhaps no better way to mix business with pleasure than to set up a golf meeting during your summer travels. Executive Golf Services (EGS) Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland, can help by arranging tee times at any of about 1,300 golf courses nationwide. You tell EGS where you're traveling to, and they'll recommend the best courses in the area. Once you've made your selection, EGS takes care of the tee-time booking, makes payment arrangements, and faxes you a confirmation. "We're the eyes and ears of the business traveler,' says Pete Malphrus, EGS' founder. "We know the new and exciting courses and can book tee times at certain private clubs.'

For a fee of 12 percent to 17 percent of the total booking, EGS provides the unbeatable: your client's undivided attention for four hours. "A wonderful golf experience gives you a better chance to close business deals,' says Malphrus. Call (800) 551-1955 for more information.

  • If you want to slip out of the office and head for the beach or pool, watch your back: Unless you want to deal with raw, lobster-red skin the next day, remember that the sunburn also rises in hard-to-reach places. Sun Mate, a sunscreen lotion applicator from Southern Exposure USA Inc. in Panama City, Florida, helps you not feel the burn.

The notion was born from the painful memories of Sandy Mandigo, a beach-goer frustrated by the strip on her back that was consistently getting burned. Not finding any practical, economical solution, Mandigo patented a plastic, collapsible wand with a soft hypolene pad on one end and succeeded in placing the product in her local Wal-Mart. Priced at less than $5, Sun Mate is now available in select stores nationwide, and not a moment too soon: Here comes the sun.

Survey Says

Just how much do your benefits cost?

No matter how you slice it, employee benefits are costly--but do you know just how costly? A recent survey of 864 companies by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that benefits accounted for 32.8 percent of small companies' payroll costs in 1995.

The good news? That was a 1.7 percent drop from 1994, when benefits consumed 34.5 percent of payroll for firms with fewer than 100 employees. Martin Lefkowitz, director of special projects for the chamber, attributes the drop in part to small businesses cutting health-care costs
by participating in purchasing co-ops and generally buying smarter.

Knowing what percentage of your payroll is devoted to benefits costs is important, especially when deciding to hire, Lefkowitz says. Knowing your costs can influence whether you hire a full- or part-time person, have current employees work overtime temporarily, or use a temporary staffing service.

The chamber offers a software program, Benetracs ($95), that enables you to evaluate benefits costs for each of your workers. For more information on the survey or Benetracs, call (800) 638-6582 or, in Maryland, (800) 352-1450.

Read All About It

What are business owners reading these days? The top 10 business books at press time (based on net sales) were:

1.Success Is a Choice, by Rick Pitino, $25 (Bantam Publishing)

2.Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Truth About Wealth in America, by Thomas J. Stanley and William Danko, $22 (Longstreet Press)

3.Wall Street Money Machine, by Wade Cook, $24.95 (Midpoint Books)

4.Stock Market Miracles, by Wade Cook, $24.95 (The Lighthouse Publishing Group)

5.Ernst & Young Tax Guide 1997, by Editors, $14.95 (John Wiley & Sons)

6.The Dilbert Principle, by Scott Adams, $20 (Harper Collins)

7.What Color Is Your Parachute--1996, by Richard Nelson Bolles, $14.95
(Ten Speed Press)

8.Financial Accounting: An Introduction to Concepts, Methods and Uses, by Clyde Stickeny, $81.25 (Harcourt Brace & Co.)

9.Investing for Dummies, by Eric Tyson, $19.99 (IDG Books Worldwide)

10.Personal Finance for Dummies, by Eric Tyson, $19.99 (IDG Books Worldwide)

Painting The Town

Take This Entrepreneur's Advice: Never Judge An Idea By Its Source.

After seven years running a gourmet chocolate business, my husband, Tom, and I have learned the best ideas come from the most unexpected sources. In our case, that source was Dirty Larry.

Allow me to explain. A few years ago, Tom and I were searching for an idea to enter in the "Brown-out," a local fund-raising event where attendees feast on chocolates donated by area businesses, and the businesses vie for awards.

Our first year participating, we won the People's Choice award. The second year, we won the People's Choice and Most Delicious awards. We were approaching our third year when Dirty Larry came into our shop.

Tom lovingly refers to our dear customer and friend as "Dirty Larry" because Larry is always inviting us to do outrageous things like go skinny-dipping in the river. We politely decline. Not our style. But fun-loving Larry never gives up on us.

Tom and I asked Larry what we should contribute to the Brown-out in our third year. "You have to go for the Most Decadent," Larry said. "So I'll go naked. You paint melted chocolate all over my body. People will lick it off. And you'll win!"

"We'll win--and get arrested," I said.

We politely declined. Not our style. But Tom began asking when we were going to introduce Chocolate Body Paint. "No way," I said. "Can't we be normal and just sell bonbons?"

"But, Sally," Tom replied, "this is sex. Sex sells."

So it went for several months until a Rotary meeting at Tom's club. Tom made a batch of chocolate dessert topping, labeled it "Chocolate Body Paint," and presented it to the president: "It's great on ice cream, too," Tom said. "Follow the directions precisely. Heat to 98.6 degrees, apply liberally and let your imagination run free."

The president, a mild-mannered, well-respected dentist, graciously accepted the gift. At the next meeting he gave his report:

"My wife and I tried the Chocolate Body Paint," he announced. "We followed the directions precisely. We heated it to 98.6 degrees, applied liberally and let our imaginations run free.

"When we were done, my wife said, `Oh, darling, let's do that again.'

"I replied, `I'd love to, dear, but . . . we've run out of ice cream.' "

The club howled. And Tom's badgering increased. Finally, I agreed to let him test-market it in our shop. But the first day it hit the shelves, I saw "her" approaching the store.

An older lady, she didn't look like the stereotypical Body Paint customer. As Tom scurried toward her, I cringed.

"Ma'am," Tom said, "we're coming out with a new product. It's called Chocolate Body Paint, and--"

"Chocolate Body Paint!" the lady cried. "I must have this!"

My eyes popped open as the lady grabbed the jar and started spilling intimacies to Tom. She and her husband were taking their first overnight trip in 20 years, and she had come to town to buy a negligee. "But if you give me this jar of Chocolate Body Paint," she said, "I won't need a negligee!"

"Keep it," Tom said. "It's yours. Enjoy!"

As I rang up her purchase, she asked, "So . . . how is it?"

"It's great on vanilla ice cream," I replied.

"No, I mean . . . how is it?" she asked.

"Oh. Uh . . . I don't know," I replied.

She looked straight at me and asked, "Dear, is everything all right with your marriage?"

Today, the Body Paint is our bestselling product. It's won awards and been featured in publications from The Wall Street Journal to Playboy Magazine.

Am I glad I let Tom talk me into selling Chocolate Body Paint? You bet. For on that fateful day, I learned two things: Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge an idea by its source.

Answer In The Affirmative

How the government plans to amend its affirmative action programs

Attempting to walk a balance beam between its promises to minority contractors and its obligations to the Supreme Court, the Clinton administration recently announced its plan for handling the very big, very sticky issue of federal affirmative action programs. The ambitious approach involves an industry-by-industry review, spanning nearly 80 industries, to determine which areas still need affirmative action to level the playing field and which sectors could do without it.

The plan, which will affect the awarding of federal contracts worth approximately $200 billion annually, responds to two forces: the Supreme Court's 1995 decision in the now-infamous Adarand case and the president's commitment that affirmative action should be amended rather than ended. "We've done a fair amount of study and believe that affirmative action is still warranted, but that's just the first part of the analysis," says a Justice Department official. "The second step is to try to target affirmative action to those places where it's needed."

While the Small Business Administration's (SBA) 8(a) set-aside program for socially and economically disadvantaged firms is a separate program from the one the Justice Department is studying, it is expected to be directly affected by the findings. The plan is set up to provide benchmarks for the SBA administrator, who can then consider how to limit the use of 8(a) in certain industries.

"We have to fix these problems," says the official. "But strict scrutiny is not easy. That's the Adarand standard--it's a much tougher standard, and it requires the government to jump through more hoops if it wants to have affirmation action. But this administration remains committed to preserving affirmative action where it's appropriate to do so, as opposed to abolishing it outright."

Not all share this optimism for a more level playing field. "The Clinton administration's alleged reforms are strictly window dressing. I see this as much ado about virtually nothing," says Michael A. Carvin, a partner with Washington, DC-based law firm Cooper & Carvin PLLC and a former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights. "As far as I can tell, the only thing this [plan] does is tie the goals to particular industries, but it doesn't in any way eliminate the preferences that are still there. This doesn't even address the problem, much less solve it. It's much more of a political exercise than one calculated to reform the programs in any real-world way. It gives the illusion of change without any actual change."

Meanwhile, other analysts applaud the effort. "It makes constitutional and policy sense to move in this direction," says Christopher Edley Jr., a civil rights specialist at Harvard University Law School in Boston. "No one can predict how serious the impact will be until all the analysis is complete, but this is a good-faith effort. It's based on principal, not politics."

Edley's concern is not so much with the review itself as with the aftereffects once the rule is finalized late this fall. "The simple fact that somebody within the system is getting opportunities doesn't necessarily mean the effects of discrimination have been eliminated, even for that individual," says Edley. "The danger is that the program may be eliminated in a particular sector, only to have the door slammed shut and the old-boy networks regain control of the process. Old habits die hard, and the goal here is not to pretend that problems have been solved when they haven't."

Contact Sources

Executive Golf Services Inc., (800) 551-1955, (301) 229-5511, fax: (301) 229-1523;

GE Capital Small Business Finance, 635 Maryville Centre Dr., #120, P.O. Box 419025, St. Louis, MO 63141;

The National Association for the Self-Employed, (202) 466-2100, http://www.nase.org;

National Small Business United, (202) 293-8830;

Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, 409 Third St., #7800, Washington, DC 20416, (800) 8-ASK-SBA, (202) 205-6533, http://www.sba.gov;

Harry S. Smith, 106 N. Washington St., Winchester, VA 22601, (540) 465-9121;

Southern Exposure USA Inc., P.O. Box 27246, Panama City, FL 32411, (800) 787-2872, (904) 230-0404;

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, DC 20062.


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