I work with owners of more than 700 small businesses. They have varied specialties and include marketers, life and wellness coaches, designers, developers, artists, HR specialists and operations consultants.
Many of the small-business owners worked at large companies for several years before making the exciting leap to self-employment and starting a business. All were enabled then, and are empowered now, by digital technology, which may be the greatest gift ever to unhappy corporate workers who desire professional rejuvenation. It is worrisome, then, that our government may impose limits on digital platforms and tools or burdens on those who use them, without consideration of the impact on small businesses. It is especially worrisome here in Pennsylvania, where small businesses employ 2.5 million people.
For small businesses, digital platforms can be a foundation. For example, my company convenes similarly situated business owners into real-time peer-to-peer digital networking and support activities. Our business owners could (and many do) join their local chambers of commerce and business clubs, but they find substantial value in the always-on targeted connections of online peers whose experiences are so similar. My business was not possible until the recent development of sophisticated, reasonably priced digital networking platforms.
Other small-business owners rely entirely on digital platforms to build storefronts, market products and services, transact business, and to make us more efficient and our financial data secure. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Square, Squarespace, Wix, eBay and Etsy were life-changing for small-business owners and their families. QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Stripe, PayPal and Expensify help entrepreneurs become organized and accountable, and give us many more hours to focus on our business or family aspirations.
For these businesses, the risk of government regulating digital platforms is significant. Europe’s recent implementation of new data privacy regulations sent a shockwave through our community. We all agree that customers’ personal and financial data should be secured and managed carefully, but the law’s worldwide impact and its threat of very substantial penalties was unanticipated.
Similarly, when Congress and state legislatures consider regulating Facebook or limiting the power of digital advertising algorithms and artificial intelligence, they must appreciate that these platforms and tools are the core enablers of millions of small businesses. If new laws mean that my business cannot be marketed or managed efficiently, or they require me to hire lawyers and cyber security experts to validate compliance, then I might as well turn out my entrepreneurial lights and return to the corporate zombie lifestyle.
Every day small-business owners make career and happiness choices, which are enabled and sustained by digital platforms and tools. I have been in business for myself for almost 10 years, and I am inspired daily by the choices, challenges and successes of business owners in our network. As more and more Americans are choosing self-employment and small-business ownership than in any previous generation, it is critical that we are not inadvertent roadkill on the highway to regulating the Fortune 500.
Tara Gentile is CEO of CoCommercial, a digital community of small-business owners, and a founding Board member of the Connected Commerce Council. She is based in Lititz.