Historically, small businesses haven't had to worry about getting caught up in political headwinds or partisan fights. But these are different times, and a small business's actions are now often viewed through a political lens, whether a bias exists or not.
Fears of boycotts and protests add to the challenges small businesses need to navigate in 2021 and beyond.
Will heated rhetoric and political division stall small business recovery in the year to come?
How will partisanship affect small business in 2021?
"Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic that partisanship will not have a huge impact on small business recovery," says Tina M. Willis, a Florida wrongful death attorney based in Orlando. "There may be a few hard-core people on both sides who will never forgive and move on, and those people might dig deep to learn more about you or your business. But, most people, I think, will get back to evaluating a business based on whatever they need, and who might best serve those needs," says Willis.
Despite her optimism, Willis says she's "cleaned" her social media feeds of politics and stays anonymous on one social platform so she can express her opinions without fear of losing business. "I do highly suspect that partisanship can affect a small business," she concedes.
The argument for neutrality
In today's heated political climate, many small businesses are being careful to keep a neutral stance.
"As a relatively small business owner, my best advice is to stay as neutral as possible," says John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, an online education company with 10 employees. "We are in an incredibly odd political and social climate, and the line to walk for small businesses is incredibly thin," he says. "If you show even the slightest support for one political party, you could alienate a huge portion of your customer base."
"You need to be politically correct and fair, but if you go too far, you'll upset the group who thinks our society has become too PC," he says.
In addition to upsetting potential customers, there is the risk of alienating employees who disagree with the company's partisanship and possibly affecting their productivity. Politics can pull attention away from the company's goals and objectives.
Willis, too, is trying to play it safe, noting she steers clear of anything political in conversation such as healthcare, BLM, and immigration to instead concentrate on providing good service.
Adopting a political stance
Some businesses are taking a different approach to politics by leaning heavily in one direction or another and service only people in their political circle. Some small businesses are taking a page from large corporations who've taken such stands. Think Nike, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Ben & Jerry.
Chris Vaughn, founder, and CEO of Saucey, an alcohol delivery service company, which serves cities from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., thinks it's not only OK but preferable to take a political stand. "There is always some extent of a risk when commenting on a political movement as a company," he says. "However, I think in this climate, it is important to do so."
Vaughn admits there is a chance you'll lose clients, but he thinks you'll gain the respect of many existing clients and potential new ones. "If you aren't speaking up, you're simply part of the problem," he says.
In the end, business owners need to look to their bottom line, as well as their conscience, as they maneuver through these challenging political times. For the foreseeable future, this will likely be a challenge and yet another aspect of doing business.
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