This blog is posted in conjunction with our recently released podcast #128 – The Peasants’ Revolt
The key to influence is being in the room when the big decisions are made.
Ideally, you should be physically present: few can ignore completely a person who is right in front of them. Next best, if it is impossible to be there in person, is to have someone in the room who will represent your interests faithfully and actively. At the very least you need to have someone in the room who is aware of your existence as a factor to be taken into account.
The problem for most entrepreneurs and small businesses is that we are rarely in the room. We like to think we make our own decisions and control our own lives – indeed, many of us went into business for ourselves precisely because we do not like being told what to do – but the truth remains that we do not make many of the decisions that have greatest impact on our businesses. They are made for us – without our asking – by politicians and bureaucrats.
They can decide to interfere with any aspect of how we run our affairs. They can decide to tax us or grant us access to contracts. They can decide to make economic conditions better or worse –usually the latter. We have no say in what they decide.
So we need to get someone in the room where they make their decisions. The problem is that the rooms in question are filled entirely with bureaucrats and – sometimes – politicians. Occasionally the odd representative of the banks or big business might be allowed in – but, as far as the people in the room are concerned, we do not exist, either as individuals or as a small business sector.
Here is how political influence works in the West...
Overt bribery is rare. However, wealthy individuals, corporations, or front organisations, or lobbyists acting on their behalf, can and do make very large donations to funds close to the hearts of powerful politicians. These funds may be the politicians’ own campaign chests, or their parties, or other organisations in which they take a benevolent interest. A donation to a charity which has a politician’s wife on the board of trustees can be as effective as a direct gift to the politician himself.
It is important to stress that an experienced lobbyist will never so much as hint that a deal is being made when he makes the donation. The politician would almost certainly walk away with a fine display of disgust if there was the slightest suggestion of “We are doing you a favour, and we hope you will remember it when we ask you for a favour”.
There is not so much as a nudge, a nod, or a wink.
It is enough that a channel of communication has been established. This may mean that the donor has direct access to the politician, but it may be sufficient if the donor has access to the person who runs the fund to which he donates, if that person has the politician’s ear.
A politician may pay more attention to his campaign manager whispering “We should be nice to this guy” than to the donor himself.
Either way, the important point is that the politician now knows that the donor exists. When the politician goes into the room where decisions are made, that knowledge goes in with him. The donor himself may not be present, but he is a factor to be taken into account. There will be other factors, which may turn out to be more important, but the donor has at least bought the right to be taken seriously.
For most individual entrepreneurs and small businesses, this is not an option. For one thing, as individuals, we lack the sort of money necessary to make a real impact. We could, of course, raise it collectively – there are over four million of us in the UK alone – but the whole point about entrepreneurs is that we do not like doing anything collectively.
If there are more than four million of us, then there are more than four million sets of opinions and divergent interests.
Yet most of those millions also have certain interests and opinions in common. We need to find a way of getting them across to those in power who are currently ignoring them.
We need to get into that room.