First and foremost: Do not be discouraged if your group is very small. We’ve seen groups of just three or four well-organized and committed activists make a huge impact. You should try to make your group as big as possible, but know that you can fight even if your army is small. If you are low on numbers, some of the strategies detailed below will not be relevant to you.
Successful grassroots efforts happen because of effective organization. There are five keys to accomplish this:
As soon as you hear that legislation is in the works or has been introduced, immediately schedule a meeting with your fellow entrepreneurs and organize. The legislative process can be agonizingly slow or surprisingly fast. You want to get your troops in order as soon as possible so you’re ready to go, no matter the tempo.
As you are developing your mission statement and establishing what you are willing to compromise, be principled. Do not settle for “special exemptions” that leave out others in your industry. Do not allow your opposition to pit you against your peers. And while you don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, concessions should not be offered up front or celebrated. No matter how big or small, protectionism is protectionism, and it undermines your argument to accept any anti-competitive regulations. You cannot concede that protectionism is a legitimate government interest. And anti-competitive regulations will only grow, as more special interests and industry insiders see that they are able to bully you into accepting their terms.
For example, you may own a food truck, and you are advocating for your city to pass its first food-truck laws. The restaurant association may approach you to come up with a solution together. However, their solution may include restrictions that protect them from competition, like a proximity restriction, in addition to other potentially reasonable public health and safety regulations. While developing your mission statement, you should decide to reject any anti-competitive restrictions—whether it’s 50 feet or 500 feet—and determine what public health and safety regulations you’re willing to compromise on in order to get legislation passed. Perhaps you disagree on the proximity restriction, but you’re willing to support the restaurant association’s recommendation that you be required to have permission to use a restroom within 200 feet of your truck. If a proposed public health and safety regulation isn’t too burdensome, you may need to compromise and agree to it in order to defeat other proposals that severely limit where and when you can operate.
At this time, you may also want to decide what the long-term mission of your group is. Maybe you braid hair for a living, and your state requires you to take 600 hours of cosmetology classes that have nothing to do with hairbraiding. Your immediate goal may be to strike down this anti-competitive requirement. But long term, you may decide that your group will continue to exist as both an advocacy organization for your craft and a watchdog group to ensure a bad law isn’t passed in the future.
It can be difficult to retain your members and keep them engaged, especially over the long haul. Everyone leads busy lives, and the members of your group—and you—have businesses to run, so sometimes your campaign will take a backseat to busy, everyday life.
Remember: You will undoubtedly encounter some problems throughout your campaign. “Free loaders” will expect you to do all the work, while they reap the benefits; accept this and move on. Others may burn out from the high level of activity; give them time to recharge and talk with them about how to keep them engaged in a way that doesn’t conflict with their schedule.
Raising money for your fight can be one of the most challenging tasks you’ll face. Those trying to keep you from earning an honest living are often well organized and have lots of money and resources. You may need funds for literature, events, signs, billboards, t-shirts and other costs associated with spreading your message. But understand that many of your members may not be able to contribute to the group financially. Perhaps a bad policy threatens to put them out of work, and they’re preparing for the future. Look to outside sources to supplement your group’s income.
You should start fundraising as early as possible and do so while the issue is hot. Take advantage of appropriate opportunities to ask for support from people who sympathize with your position and are able to contribute to the cause.
You might be considering soliciting dues from your members. This is tricky territory because some of your members might not be in a position to contribute financially. That doesn’t mean you should exclude them. They may be able to find other ways to contribute. If you do plan to require dues, keep them as low as possible and keep a strict record of what you spend the money on.