Tom Sullivan, VP of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber moderates a panel discussion with Tiffany Houser, Natalie Kaddas and Joe Shamess.

The current crisis has shown that when small business owners raise their voices, they can have a big impact. CO– hosted a Big Week for Small Business panel with Tiffany Houser, coach and strategist at Evolve, Natalie Kaddas, CEO of Kaddas Enterprises and Joe Shamess, co-founder of Flags of Valor to learn how these business leaders make their voices heard and shape the policies that will impact the future.

Lead with authenticity

In her coaching, Houser says a lot of business leaders make the mistake of trying to “look good.” They are more worried about their reputation or trying to serve the interests of everyone, rather than following their own mission.

“One of the biggest barriers is when people try to please everyone and look good, rather than being authentic,” she explained. “Looking good is what robs us of our authenticity. To advocate is to be authentic and know who you are — be grounded in your vision, know what your business is about and who you serve.”

Shamess agreed: “Authenticity is really key. You can’t wait until there’s a crisis to find out what you really believe in or what you stand for. The values that your company embodies are things you really need to live every day.”

Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to identify the things that are important to you and your business. Part of that, the panelists said, is serving your community through your values.

To advocate is to be authentic and know who you are — be grounded in your vision, know what your business is about and who you serve.

Tiffany Houser, coach and strategist, Evolve

Serve your community

The panelists agreed that the best advocates are those who are able to align with the needs of others, whether it’s their customers or their community.

“As far as advocacy, I can’t say it enough that being part of your community and serving others will serve your business. That’s not why you should [serve your community]; you should do it because it’s important and the right thing to do. But in doing it, you are able to live the values of your organization,” said Shamess.

Kaddas and her team have advocated to lawmakers as part of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative, and this experience has taught her a lot about crafting your advocacy message to be effective. “I think the big ‘ask’ is in your messaging; if your messages overlap and you understand what they’re trying to do, it makes it a little less daunting and scary,” said Kaddas. “When I look at the journey that we go through with our buyers — educating them on why they should buy our product — I look at ‘the ask’ through a similar lens. What’s their ‘why’?”

Get your team involved

Leading authentically also involves investing in your employees. And by understanding your vision and values, you can create a culture that allows your team to become your best advocates. “This idea of ‘this is who I am and what I stand for’ has to become part of the culture and has to become something that’s innate in the people who work inside your walls,” said Shamess.

Kaddas agrees. She and her team focus on generosity and integrity, as well as on supporting the customer in providing webinars that don’t sell products, but provide knowledge and expertise. “We’re intentional in trying to move from being a vendor to being a partner,” said Kaddas.

Key takeaways:

  • Advocacy requires authentic leadership and knowing your values, mission and vision.
  • Great advocates know that serving their community will inevitably help their business.
  • Approach your messaging with the same strategy as you approach your customer communications: How can you solve their problem and help them reach their goal?
  • Don’t get stuck in a fixed mindset. Especially in a crisis, be willing to take risks and step outside your comfort zone.
  • Empower your employees to become your best advocates.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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