SBA Works with Business for Fair Regulations

The following guest editorial article by Chief Counsel for Advocacy Winslow Sargeant appeared in Saturday’s Nashville Tennessean (March 10).

As chief counsel for advocacy in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, I’m often asked “What is the one bit of advice you have for entrepreneurs and small businesses?” My answer is the same for both: “Know who your competition is.”

Before becoming chief counsel, I served as an adviser to entrepreneurs and small-business owners, and I repeatedly encountered individuals who lacked understanding of the competition for their product or service. If you don’t know who your competitors are, it could mean one of two things: Either you don’t understand the market, or there is no need for your product or service. One important way to develop that understanding is to listen to your customers.

Listening is something we do every day at the Office of Advocacy. Congress created Advocacy to inform policymakers about small-business contributions through research and to effectively represent the nation’s small businesses within the federal government’s rulemaking processes. Advocacy’s mission, simply stated, is to give visibility to American small businesses and to encourage policies — especially regulatory policies — that support their startup, development and growth.

To be successful, Advocacy has to listen to small businesses. We do this by conducting roundtables on issues important to small business through Advocacy’s regional advocates, who help keep me informed of the concerns of small businesses throughout the country. We also get out of Washington to meet with entrepreneurs and small-business owners. That’s why I’m coming to Nashville, to hear from entrepreneurs and small-business owners about what’s on their mind. From the research conducted by my office, we know of the important role small businesses play in the Tennessee economy. They represent 97 percent of all employers and employ 44.8 percent of the private-sector workforce. In Tennessee, small businesses employed 1 million workers in 2009, with most of the employment coming from firms with 20-499 employees.

When it comes to regulations, I hear the same message from small businesses, whether I’m in Washington or someplace else in our nation, and it isn’t what you’d expect. Small businesses understand the importance and the need for regulations, but they want the process of creating them to be fair, transparent and predictable. We applaud the Obama administration for Executive Order 13563, which calls for agencies to promote open exchange and seek views of those affected by regulations. At Advocacy, we work with small businesses and federal agencies to find ways to make this happen and lessen the burden of federal regulations.

In fiscal 2011, Advocacy saved small businesses $11.7 billion in first-year regulatory costs and $10.7 billion in annually recurring costs. These numbers represent real cost savings for small businesses that can be reinvested back into the business. As a former entrepreneur, I can attest that small firms are in a better position to grow, innovate, and create jobs when regulations are less burdensome.

When you listen to your customers, you are better able to serve them. At Advocacy, we’ll continue to listen to small businesses and work with federal agencies to find ways to create a more fair, transparent and predictable regulatory process.

Winslow Sargeant will be a keynote speaker at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Outlook Summit on March 13. For more information, visit