Be Your Own Lobbyist: How to Give Your Small Business Big Clout with State and Local Government

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Release Date: 
July 14, 2010
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All across America, business owners sleep the sleep of the troubled, nay, the guilty. They awake screaming, afflicted with a common nightmare. How will they navigate the endless whims of government—taxes, regulations, requirements, fees, zoning? How long, O Lord, how long?

Worse, they are tarred with the scarlet words “Special Interest” by good government types—the ones who lament the injection of money into policy (who knew!?) and seem to believe that public leaders wisely impose their will and the citizenry responds in gentlemanly fashion, like a 1922 doubles match at Wimbledon.

This is a dangerous shibboleth, to be sure. America’s most perceptive tourist, de Tocqueville, noted how “associations are established to promote the public safety, commerce, industry, morality and religion. There is no end which the human will despairs of attaining through the combined power of individuals united into a society.”

No, Mr. and Mrs. Business Owner, your day has arrived. You are not going to take it any more, and Amy Handlin has provided as clear a roadmap to petitioning the powers that be as a Rand-McNally atlas. Be Your Own Lobbyist: How to Give Your Small Business Big Clout with State and Local Government may not be as provocative as, say, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, but it will help you work the levers of government without alienating the city council or having the mayor personally arrest you.

Ms. Handlin has powerful—no, almost scary—qualifications to write this primer. She is an assemblywoman in the New Jersey legislature (which, compared to shark tank, many believe is a more dangerous place), a deputy minority leader there, and has a doctorate in marketing. Such skills might serve the forces of darkness, but Ms. Handlin has used them in her book to present a process as sunny as Main Street in Smallville.

Her good news is that to lobby effectively, you do not need political power or a K Street hustler in your corner. Instead, a disciplined, intelligent approach will do. Her model comes from Marketing 101: determine the target of your effort whether it’s an official or a public body and learn everything about them; select and master the appropriate communications tools appropriate to the task; and shape a tactical message that gets attention and serious consideration.

Along the way, Handlin punctures various myths and misconceptions about what effective lobbying is and isn’t, and provides a wealth of information in 200 pages on how to go about it. Her book is more than a guide, methinks—it is a toolkit for repairing and renovating democracy. Besides, it’s a bargain. The League of Women Voters should buy it in bulk and distribute it gratis to the citizenry.

Yes, I know the League is a special interest, too. Just read the book—for here’s this nation’s dirty, happy little secret: We’re all special interests, baby, and blessings upon those who want to participate in the civic life.