Firehouse Managing Director Dave Vermillion Shares Advice for Small Business Leaders Navigating the Coronavirus Crisis

April 7, 2020

Photo by PYMNTS

How to Be A Powerful Advocate for Your Small Business

By Dave Vermillion

These are uncertain times. The coronavirus is growing throughout the United States. The president ordered an additional 30 days of social distancing. Economic forecasts are all over the map. The only thing that can be said for certain is that nobody knows what will happen next.

One thing we do know is that America’s small businesses are suffering the brunt of the impact. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses employ 58.9 million people and contribute $5.9 trillion to the nation’s GDP. While these businesses are an economic powerhouse, they are also the most vulnerable to systemic disruption. According to recent research, 23% of small businesses are experiencing supply chain disruptions, 54% slower sales, and 9% sick employees as a result of COVID-19.

For entrepreneurs who are used to being in charge, the lack of control can feel overwhelming. Even for business leaders who have endured recessions and disasters, the magnitude of this crisis has them in a tailspin. Some are adapting to serve customers in different ways. Others are trying to take control of their own destiny and becoming vocal advocates for their businesses in order to secure government support.

As an advisor to some of the world’s biggest companies in their advocacy efforts, I have spent my career helping organizations effectively engage with state and federal government to advance their business goals. In light of the strain on the small businesses at the heart of America’s communities, I wanted to offer ideas on how entrepreneurs become powerful advocates for their businesses:

Messaging Matters

First and foremost, as a small business leader, you must tell your story in order to gain, and maintain, support from employees, customers, communities, and elected officials. Authenticity and candor are paramount in communicating a narrative that is engaging, informative, and persuasive. Gather the data on your business and put it together in simple materials that illustrate what you do, who you employ, and the contributions you make. Convey your positive impact on the community and make a compelling case for why you matter.

Use low cost channels like your website and social media platforms to provide updates and involve your community in your advocacy. Call and e-mail reporters who cover your industry, your state, or your hometown and enlist their help in telling your story. They want to hear about your experience fighting on the front lines of this economic challenge.

Join Forces and Mobilize

One of the unique aspects of this pandemic is that the economic pain is nearly universal. There are countless businesses like yours that are also struggling. Everyone is trying to understand the new stimulus package and figure out how to secure benefits as fast as they can. You can learn from their experience and join with them to strengthen your own advocacy efforts. If you don’t belong to a trade association, odds are there is a group already representing your industry. Research your trade groups and reach out. Their websites will also offer helpful resources.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses is a trade group that serves American small businesses, and their website has a wealth of resources. Other groups like the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the International Franchise Association, and the National Retail Federation are also good resources for businesses large and small alike.

Find Your Champion

Elected officials at every level, from small town mayors to the president, are completely consumed by the response to the virus. But they need to hear from you. The prosperity of the communities and the businesses they represent are a top priority.

This bizarre situation we face makes it impossible to meet elected officials in person, so rely on other methods to make your voice heard. Call and e-mail their offices and post on their social media pages. Be persistent until you find someone who will champion your cause. Remind them of your contributions and put them to work.

As someone who worked in New York City during the 9/11 attacks and the 2007 financial crisis, I know the challenge ahead. I also know resilience means staying aggressive, creative, and courageous in the face of adversity. Now is the time to use your entrepreneurial skills to become a vocal advocate for your business. There are tough times ahead, but with hard work and perseverance, you will survive and thrive.


Dave Vermillion is senior strategist and managing director of Firehouse Strategies, a public affairs firm.