As a businessman who started his career working on political campaigns, I’m amazed at how little understanding successful business people have of how politics impacts their businesses. This is especially true of Black businessmen and women.
Having my offices located in Washington, DC, I am acutely aware of the impact politics has on the business community, the small business community in particular. My firm, Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC, provides strategic political and corporate advice, along with PR services to small and large businesses alike. We also work with professional athletes, entertainers, and many African countries.
People tend to call my firm when they are in some type of distress. For example, I had one client who had completed work on a contract for the Department of Defense (DoD). There was no dispute about the quality of their work; their payment voucher was just stuck on the desk of some bureaucrat. My client was owed $1 million. That’s nothing to the DoD, but for a small business-owner, that is a huge amount of money.
I asked my client which military base the work had been performed. Well, it turned out that the Congressman who represented the base was a good friend of mine. I called him and took my client to meet with him about the payment (or lack thereof). Because of my relationship with the Congressman, he picked up the phone and called the commandant of the base and the money was wired to my client the next day! But, what do you do if you don’t have access to your Congressman? I always say it’s better to have friends and not need them; than to need friends and not have them. Needless to say, this client has been a keen supporter of this Congressman ever since.
Oftentimes small business owners (especially in the minority community) get angry over the seeming preferential treatment larger firms get when it comes to business opportunities. In most cases, it has less to do with discrimination and more to do with relationships. Most business is done based on personal relationships. I often tell people that I don’t have a problem with the “good ole” boys network—as long as I am part of the network.
Playing the political game is one way of becoming part of this network. I encourage all of my clients to engage in the political process as a businessperson. This means they need to contribute money to their Congressmen and Senators. If they have employees, I strongly encourage them to host their member of Congress annually at their offices so they can interact with their employees and get to know more about their business operations. Even if your member of Congress doesn’t share your “personal” political beliefs, you should still have some type of personal relationship with him or her. They are your member of Congress whether you voted for him/her or not.
As a business owner, you must be more sophisticated than to just ignore your member of Congress because you may differ on certain political issues. Are you in business to pursue a political agenda or to make a profit?
For this column, I did a cursory look at Black Enterprise’s Top 100 Businesses and found few made any political contributions to their member of Congress; whereas when I did the same for Latino businesses, I found more engagement from them with their members of Congress.
We in the Black business community must stop being so quick to blame the seeming “lack of opportunity” on racism and become more cognizant that people tend to do business with people they know. Is there racism out there? Of course, but it’s not enough to just complain. We must get engaged on a more sophisticated level and become part of the solution. You can’t divorce politics from business because business is all about the politics.