This Election Year, It's Time to Engage With Your Elected Officials

This year, every entrepreneur's resolution should be to get more involved with local and state lawmakers.

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By Elizabeth Gore • Jan 1, 2016 Originally published Jan 1, 2016

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With the 2016 presidential election looming, we're reminded that it's our civic duty to vote. Every vote counts, and the president's leadership will shape every aspect of our lives.

For entrepreneurs, you can argue this is especially true and that policies aimed at small businesses have reverberating effects on the rest of us. Programs that ease taxes on SMBs and incentivize investors have pulled our nation out of periods of economic decline and ultimately made the United States the powerhouse of innovation that it is. Presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower are often credited with bringing forth this kind of change.

An even more salient example: President Obama's American Jobs Act, and the broader JOBS Act, which has been instrumental in creating opportunity for new businesses. Fledging startups are now able to receive funding from small investors through equity crowdfunding, opening up a $34 billion industry that has grown exponentially over the last few years. A policy like this is critical to anyone with a big idea.

But we're only talking federal policies. As entrepreneurs think about who our next president will be and how he or she will impact business, it is important to not overlook the state and local officials who impact them even more directly. State and local officials influence taxation, the talent pipe and various regulations (like how easy it is to get a permit). Right now there's a huge debate around raising minimum wage, with cities like Los Angeles and Seattle independently raising pay above the federal minimum, a decision that has a massive effect on SMEs.

Time and time again, I talk to entrepreneurs who have hit a wall. More often than not, what's limiting their long-term growth potential is a local issue, such as finding solid talent in the area or a pesky ordinance holding back the business. What I tell entrepreneurs is what they need is a conversation with their local or state official, whether that means calling, emailing or even visiting their offices.

Related: Technology Opens the Door for Entrepreneurs to Achieve the Triple Bottom Line

This year, every entrepreneur's resolution should be to get more involved with local and state officials. Here's what you need to know to get started.

  1. The first step is to reach out. Find your current official through USA.gov and email or call the offices, introducing yourself and explaining your roadblocks.
  2. If it's election season, familiarize yourself with the candidates. Are they pushing initiatives aimed at the business community? If so, how will these plans help small businesses grow, network with other businesses and attract talent to the area? Once you've done a little research, contact the candidates. Ask questions. Speak up about your needs. Tell them what has worked for the business community in the past and what areas need work. And, of course, don't forget to vote!
  3. I encourage entrepreneurs to visit government officials' offices, either in the district or in Washington, D.C. If you're not able to schedule a meeting with the people holding office, you should aim to meet with their staff. Speaking with the staff is just as important as meeting with the official, because they will relay your concerns and know the most about what's coming down the pipe and what changes are possible.
  4. Actively participate in the conversation. That can mean connecting and interacting with government officials on Facebook, participating in Twitter chats, or attending town hall-style events.
  5. The last recommendation I have is to back a candidate you care about. This is the biggest commitment you can make, but if you really believe in the candidate and they've done a lot of good for you and the rest of the business community, this is the best way to show your support.

In 2016, let's resolve to align with local government to solve our business problems. Elected officials are there to help and can be an invaluable resource.

Related: How Leaders, in Politics and Business, Use Influence Instead of Power

Elizabeth Gore

President and Chairwoman of helloalice.com

Elizabeth Gore is the entrepreneur in residence at Dell, where she drives initiatives that support Dell’s goals around helping small and medium businesses scale and prosper, fueling the expansion of global entrepreneurship, thereby creating jobs that will drive the world economy. Gore is extending Dell’s global advocacy efforts to raise entrepreneurship to the public policy agenda, encouraging policies and practices that support and enable entrepreneurial growth globally through #EntrepreneursUNite. Gore also chairs the UNF's Global Entrepreneurs Council and previously served as the first ever EIR for the UNF as well as vice president of global partnerships.

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