There is an old, but very accurate saying in Washington, DC: “If you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Put another way, while what goes on in the Nation’s Capital may seem distant and unrelated to building and sustaining a business, failing to closely observe, understand and, when necessary, interact with Washington can be potentially very costly.
Congress and federal agencies are constantly examining and acting on issues that can, in often unexpected ways, impact your business. The good news is that identifying barriers to and opportunities for businesses to innovate is always a top concern across the political spectrum. The bad news is that those same decision makers often don’t have the information to get it right.
In order to maximize opportunity and minimize getting blindsided, it is essential to stay abreast of happenings in the Nation’s Capital that can affect the future of your business and, when appropriate, to properly engage to protect that future.
No matter what industry and no matter what phase of the business lifecycle you are in, here are three things to consider:
Get information; understand impact
Information is the most valuable commodity in Washington. Just like some other commodities that need to be separated from waste, it’s critical to be able to distinguish the useful information from the noise. Every day there are hundreds of pages of new rules, reports and pieces of legislation that could impact your business, fund or product. You shouldn’t just ignore these things because of the sheer volume and complexity. You need to get the pieces of Washington information – news, insight, analysis – from sources you trust, so that you can actually use it to make smart business decisions.
Know the players; know the game
No question, Washington is a hard place to understand. Its mindset of “look before you step” is the antithesis of the emerging company ethos. The churn of regulatory and legislative processes can, and do, fundamentally alter the way companies do business. It is critical to know how that process works and who drives it. Knowing the key regulatory bodies, who the decision makers are, and their concerns and priorities is critical to being able to make smart business decisions.
The information exchange is a two-way street. Those who are making decisions – whether members of Congress or the leaders of executive agencies – do so with limited expertise. They need to understand the impact of a rule, decision, or piece of legislation, not just in general terms but on your business. The last thing you want to hear from a policymaker is “…if I had only known.” The bottom line is that there is rarely downside in taking every opportunity to let your elected representatives know how your business is solving a problem or providing a benefit. Communicating with members of Congress can be done in Washington, but is most effective when they are back in their districts, your territory. Besides, if you aren’t, chances are your competitors are.