By AnnMarie McDonald | New Jersey Newsroom

Even in the best of times, small business owners’ days are long and downtime scarce. Time spent away from one’s business often requires a trade off in commerce. And keeping up with the ever-changing rules, regulations, and requirements can be a job in itself.

Too often, small business owners say that they don’t vote in “off year” elections for the state legislature because they’re not as important as Presidential elections.

This belief is misguided. It is the levels of government closest to the people – the mayor, town council, and state senators and assembly members – who decide the best use for the empty lot across the street from one’s business, vet factors that affect the small business owner’s liability insurance rates, and determine for how long trash will idle near a storefront – not the President. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin calls them “the most important politicians you’ve never heard of.” That’s why it’s especially important for small business owner to exercise care and concern during “off year” elections, even if televised media coverage implies otherwise.

Two out of five New Jersey residents are employed by or own a small business. In addition to supplying the backbone of our state’s economy, New Jersey’s small businesses have the potential to be a force to be reckoned with if their clout is used efficiently. Engaging at the local level gives busy small businesses owners their highest return on investment. Here are five straightforward steps small business owners can take to make a difference:

1. Do your homework. At a minimum, small business owners need to know who represents them and at which level of government. Several websites, including, allow users to search for all elected officials in one place. The New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance (NJLRA) can help small business owners who need assistance.

In addition to two United States Senators and member of congress, New Jerseyans have representation at the state level – one state senator and two members of the General Assembly. Our state senator and state assembly members are the bread and butter of change.

2. Speak up – clearly. Small business owners should ask for a meeting about issues which affect their business, especially if they have never done it before. Whether it’s a new tax or regulation, traffic changes outside their storefront, or any government action which affects how they run their business, it is important to be as
clear as possible. For instance, “I am concerned about a proposed ordinance I read about on page 3 of the newspaper yesterday” is easier to address than “I am mad about this new tax I heard ‘they’ want to impose.”

This gives small business owners quality face time with their representatives and an opportunity to build a relationship with their staff. When a small business owner needs help cutting through red tape, her first call should be to an elected official’s staff, who may be able to help.

3. Don’t assume Republicans only assist Republicans, or Democrats only assist Democrats. A good representative will never ask a constituent’s party affiliation, nor deny service even if he is an unabashed member of the opposing party. It is a small business owner’s constituency and value to their local community which makes him worthy of an elected official’s time and services – period. State representatives are solidly within a business owner’s reach: they live, work, and socialize among us and our neighbors, and may even be patrons of her business. They won’t need to search far or wide for commonalities.

4. Build a coalition. Today, it’s as easy as it has ever been to rally like-minded individuals around a common cause and extend your reach. Building support for a cause has never been easier or more convenient. Make a Facebook page. Start a Twitter campaign. Demonstrating that an idea has community support (or opposition) is helpful; using it to threaten or berate an elected official is not.

5. Be persistent. The wheels of democracy turn slowly, and there is a good reason for that. Our Founding Fathers wanted to create a system of government which would withstand the whims brought on by pop culture (yes, there was such a thing back then), and change laws only after careful deliberation. The same paradigm holds true for state governments as well. Although the pace of change can seem dishearteningly slow, small business owners should keep in mind that it is a necessary evil. And in the end, it will be worthwhile.

AnnMarie McDonald is the Director of Communications at the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance. She can be reached at