My Visit With Small Business Administration Officials

As a small business advocate, I have always known of the US Small Business Administration's (SBA) mission to help Americans successfully start, build and grow their businesses.

Last week, along with IBN members Jamyla and Pierre Bennu of Oyin Handmade in Baltimore, Md (Jamyla is pictured below), I had a behind-the-scenes look at how they accomplish that mission. This post summarizes some of what I learned, and encourages you to take advantage of SBA opportunities and benefits.

  1. The Office of Advocacy: We were welcomed by the Assistant Chief Counsel for Congressional Affairs, Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy. The first thing he told us was that he was glad we were there, and that the always SBA wants to hear from small and independent business owners.

    He informed me that, while the Office of Advocacy is funded by SBA, it operates as a separate and independent division of the overall agency. (He called the funding arm “Big SBA.”) The purpose of the Office of Advocacy is to work with legislative officials and agencies to ensure that lawmakers and policy makers are aware of the impact of pending and existing legislation and rules on small business owners.

    The Office of Advocacy does not take official positions on pending legislation, but rather meets with elected officials to remain abreast of statutory changes and proposals and their impact on small companies. They meet with lawmakers regularly and are in a position to introduce us to influential decision-makers who want to hear from small companies so they can make create and implement laws and policies based, in part, on specific information provided by small companies.

  2. Regulatory Input. Within the Office of Advocacy, a group of persons is responsible for working one-on-one with agency officials to ensure that new regulatory requirements do not unnecessarily burden small business owners. In our meeting, the Assistant Chief Counsel for Food, Drug and Health Policy at the Office of Advocacy described this process as collaborative and efficient.

    When an agency is about to publish new rules, SBA, through the Office of Advocacy, has an opportunity to review them in advance. During this time, small companies can be in touch with SBA officials so they can discuss and/or recommend to agency officials appropriate changes before rules are published in the Federal Register. During this process, the drafts can be, and are frequently, changed based on direct input by this office.

    (The efficiency and effectiveness of this process was confirmed in my meeting with an FDA attorney at Hyman, Phelps & McNamara. I encourage you to subscribe to this firm's blog if you keep up with FDA issues.)

  3. Stories and Stats. Both SBA officials emphasized the importance of stories and statistics, which they say go hand in hand to make clear the impact of new laws on small companies.

    Stories are important because they put a face on the issues. Sharing still photographs, audio and video about you and your business are easy ways to use a well maintained blog to update the public and government officials about what you are doing. This way, you are never without an easy and personal way to show anyone how your business operates and how a new law might affect it.

    For example, saying that your business would be adversely impact by a new law is one thing. Saying that it will be impact in specific ways (such as you'd have to hire 3 staff members at an annual cost of $50,000, or you'd have to purchase $20,000 in additional supplies in order to comply) is quite another. Combining the story with the statistics gives lawmakers something they can sink their teeth into and makes it easier for them to justify any changes.

That's Jamyla! You can find your local SBA office using the map here.

As you may know, Washington, DC, is my hometown. As an interesting side note, I learned that four former co-workers and childhood friends are now employed in various capacities at SBA. That was a fun discovery! I enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the amazing ways these people have reinvented themselves as they have pursued their next careers!

Question: What do you think of how the Office of Advocacy can make a difference? Do you know where your closest SBA office is located? Have you taken advantage of what they have to offer?

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.