It’s National Small Business Week, so you’ll hear a bunch of platitudes about small business: “Small business is the backbone of the economy, creates new jobs, is the American dream, yada, yada…” All true, but how does that help you? I’ve been involved with the small business community for 25 years, and it’s time for straight talk and real help for small business and startups. It’s time for a “Small Business Manifesto.”
First, let’s level the playing field for small businesses:
- Tax all sales in a location equally. Whether you buy something in a brick-and-mortar location or over the Internet, the tax should be EXACTLY the same. Two decades of preferential sales tax for online sales has decimated small local businesses.
- Sharpen the FTC’s teeth. The Federal Trade Commission has become a virtual rubber stamp for mega-mergers. The huge corporations formed by these mega-mergers make it far more difficult for small and mid-size companies to compete and result in fewer choices, worse service, and higher prices for small businesses. It’s time for a new approach to anti-trust and a 21st century “trust buster” movement.
- Reinstate net neutrality. Don’t think net neutrality affects your small business? Well, look at your internet costs and quality of service. The Internet is now as critical for a business as is electricity; it should be regulated the same way—as a public utility. Trump’s appointees to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) reversed net neutrality, giving a few huge telecommunications companies the ability to create “fast lanes,” charging more or slowing down speeds for startups and small businesses that might compete with their own offerings or other large corporations who pay them more.
- Insure fair shipping prices. In my business, we stopped selling our products to consumers directly because of exploding shipping costs. Sky-high shipping rates make it almost impossible to compete against huge online retailers. Sure, large companies should be able to negotiate some volume and other discounts, but the difference in shipping rates has gotten out of hand.
- Solve the health care crisis. I don’t care how—revamping the Affordable Care Act, Medicare for all, single payer, health insurance regulation, whatever—small businesses need equal health care access for all. In my 30s, as a self-employed individual, I went without health insurance because I couldn’t afford it. Before the ACA, many business owners over the age of 40 typically couldn’t get any insurance at all (there was always some kind of pre-existing condition…). My company’s health insurance rates used to increase 20-30% every year. Every American should be covered, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and prices shouldn’t rise ridiculously for older workers.
- Do something about “spam” phone calls. While individuals might refuse to answer any ‘unknown’ callers on our personal phones, small businesses don’t have the same option. My office has to answer every call. My sister in sales has to answer every call. There are bills in both houses of Congress to reduce robocalls and the FCC could take stronger action. Let’s get this done.
- Outlaw subsidies for “attracting” big corporations. Multi-billion dollar companies pit cities and states against each other in bidding wars to get financial incentives when they move. Everyone knows it’s a hoax: the company actually knows where they want to move, and cities and states never really recoup their investment. Put an end to these shenanigans. Imagine if the state of Virginia had given $750 million in incentives to small businesses in the state instead of to Amazon—how many jobs and opportunities that would have created.
These proposals of mine require government action, but there are things all of us can do to support small businesses:
- Shop small, shop local. Every time a package arrives at your front door from a huge internet retailer, you hurt a local business. Patronize the businesses in your own town.
- Stop automatically voting for “pro-business politicians.” “Pro-business” usually means pro-big business. Most ‘anti-regulation’ politicians really just mean ‘let the big guys get away with anything.’ Vote for politicians who will take on the big corporate special interests and have your small business’ back.
Policies have consequences. Your choices have consequences. So let’s stop saying how much we love small business and really do something to help them.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 8, 2019