Hot political issues happening across the country like voter restriction legislation, social and racial justice, and the climate crisis have exposed the need for businesses to examine the risk of taking a stand or remaining silent.
Businesses leveraging their voice for a political cause is nothing new. As the pandemic forced countless business closures across the country in 2020, restaurant owners quickly raised their voice to collectively share their pain to attain financial relief from the government. Political leaders unanimously agreed that supporting the economic recovery of local businesses was important and billions of dollars have been made available for recovery efforts. What would have been the risk of staying silent in this case?
Small businesses also consider the real fears of taking a stand. The adverse effects can result in boycotts, clients leaving, poor reviews and negative media leading to long-lasting consequences. However, taking a stand for what you and your consumers believe in can also lead to greater loyalty, positive media exposure and higher sales. The decision to take a stand on a political cause can be risky and it might also be necessary.
Here are four tips for small-business owners considering standing up for a political cause.
- Decide as a team and support your employees by creating clear policies about politics at work. Keep in mind that every person has the right to his or her opinion, and you want to be very careful about how you handle political causes at work. Depending upon the actions taken by employees, it may be a legal violation to “reprimand” or even fire employees who participate in political discussions at work. The Small Business Development Center sets out three guidelines.
- Set rules on what sorts of activities — politically motivated — are permitted on the job site. Make it a policy, let all employees know about it, and enforce it evenly.
- Never ask an employee what his or her political affiliation is. Also, it is illegal to fire or even threaten to fire, demote or punish employees who vote in opposition to your political leanings.
- Political discussions should be confined to certain areas of your business. Those areas should not include anywhere designated for getting work done.
- Understand that your consumers of different generations expect different things from you. It is difficult to please everyone, especially if you are not clear who your target market is. More research is finding that the majority of millennials are loyal to companies that take a stance and that 47% of millennials think CEOs should speak up and take active stances on social issues. Taking into consideration what your target client values is an important assessment to make before taking a stand.
- Taking action means different things to different businesses. Many businesses take a stand on a political cause by giving money to political campaigns or nonprofit organizations, or create fundraising campaigns independently. Others change their marketing message internally and externally to match their values as a business. Some find a cause to support with volunteer time or make a public commitment to a political cause.
- Taking a stance is not for everyone. If you are a small-business owner who has the support to stand up for a political cause, then do it. If you would rather not alienate 30–50% of your market, that is also understandable. Taking a stand is a decision that requires planning to have a successful advocacy campaign. Be sure to take both positive and negative outcomes into account.
Make sure that as a small-business owner you walk the talk and take political causes seriously. As a small-business owner, it is important to stay true to your identity and make sure the political causes you support align with your values. Take the time to know what turns off your customers and be respectful, no matter the stance. Be ready to defend your stance and do not sacrifice your long-term goals for short-term fads. The last thing you want to do is alienate a potential customer. So, if it is impacting your bottom line, hurting your hiring efforts or is just the right thing to do, you should consider taking a stand and speak up for what you believe.
EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a non-profit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.
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