The intersection of politics and business is reflective of the reality we exist in. In simple terms, imagine a giant food fight with everyone squabbling and you’re not far off. For better or worse it’s rather difficult to only participate halfway and not get splattered with gravy or bits of potato. Expressing an opinion is your right but it also is the equivalent to hurling bread rolls at several people. It’s not something that most people would just not happen to notice. The practicalities of business and politics mean that they each shape each other to varying degrees. The question is, should you try to take an active stance as a small business? Large companies have a leeway that smaller ones lack with large customer bases and often varied locations.
Mixing politics with business can give you an edge in forging connections. It can open doors for new funding, networking opportunities and even publicity events. People will open up and speak much more freely to those that they feel a connection with. These advantages can be used to expand or promote your business. If taken to social media it can open a frank dialogue with your customer base creating a more open connection where there wasn’t one before. This all opens a unique marketing window on a very personal level.
This open espousing of values allows for your company to take a personal stance to encourage your values. The approach has a long history ranging from restaurants donating leftovers to charities or promoting young artists. How political these values are or are not is a matter of personal opinions. It is common to share your resources or connections to support causes you agree with. Whether that falls in line with lobbyists, charities or world peace is naturally a personal opinion. People tend to see this as another layer of transparency that allows a showcasing of ethics for public awareness.
Sometimes there are real tangible business benefits to engaging in the political arena, but timing and strategy can be key. They are larger businesses, but Lyft and Uber are excellent examples of this precise phenomenon. Lyft opposed President Trump's travel ban and donated one million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union. It is an example of philosophy and practicality blending together, particularly as ride hailing users are two times more likely to identify as liberal than to identify as conservative, according to the Pew Research Center on Internet & Technology. This activism occurred when Uber was in the middle of the #DeleteUber debacle. They were facing consumer upset for implementing surge pricing during the chaotic days following the announcement of the travel ban. Lyft has since gained six hundred million in new investor funding and users. Although smaller businesses do not often have the broad customer base to enable such a dramatic events it can still be similar on a smaller scale with older historic or long standing businesses.
On a contrasting note there are numerous pitfalls and deterrents to engaging in politics as a small business. Activist pressure can be used to spur your business on or bring it crashing to it’s knees. It it often a form of de facto regulation that is used when the laws are faltering or ineffective in some form. You can find yourself promoting a cause that is impossible to sustain and remain solvent as a business. It’s too easy for a cause or ethical stance to be supportable at one time and then become financially unviable. The result is that now you must either lie or admit your failure in the public arena. Neither of these options are particularly palatable or positive for your business.
Also, engaging in politics will inevitably make someone terribly uncomfortable, usually those you disagree with. However, does that sound terribly helpful and positive if you picture in your mind's eye an excellent long term employee or staunch contact and promoter, as the one now very uncomfortable with you? Do you want employees or contacts to feel the need to agree with your views? People gloss over the side effects of political promotions in business, which is that it can alienate people or businesses you are connected to. Perhaps that young twenty year old worker has family caught in immigration limbo from political unrest. Maybe your long term friend is a devout muslim or catholic, but a very private person and thus has never divulged the details to you. Bringing politics into business has inevitable ripples which are unexpected and often uncontrollable in the realm of people and other connections.
There often is no good way to get involved. Some topics are so sensitive and complex that it is almost impossible to comment without displaying some fault. Trying not to be offensive, but not shallow and insightful but not pushy can be an impossible balance to achieve let alone maintain. The simple comprehension required to even touch on America’s wars in other countries, Israel and Palestinian relations, Russian and China’s communist parties and countless other topics is difficult alone. Awareness is not enough for more complex issues, which are often forced into false dichotomies by lazy politicians who want a simple reachable answer right now.
If you cannot choose then often times people take an apolitical business stance. This means the individual comes with political opinions but not the business. However, regardless of preferences there can come times where intervention is forced by a catalytic collision of politics, finances and business. Stating an opinion is a risk regardless of your actual thoughts because not everyone will agree with you. Forming a strategy ahead of time or rather a flow chart of possible actions and responses is a sensible course of action. It is hazardous to wade into that cacophonous food fight, but if you must then be sure to do so with a plan.