The American Small Business Owner – An Endangered Species

American small business
The American Small Business Owner and government agencies – navigating the rules can be impossible!
It’s amazing the stories one hears when having brunch with friends who own a small business. “We have to do business with seven city agencies to keep our doors open” one retail store owner laments.

One agency wants the pipes behind dry wall, the other says the pipes have to be exposed. I get charged $1,500 per day in fines by whichever agency claims I’m violating their rules.

The rules are impossible. They conflict so no one can comply. The agencies don’t talk to each other. There’s not one person to mediate this insanity. Forget about going through the courts. It’s not even just the cost, which is outrageous, but who has the time? As a small business owner, it’s my problem and it’s a no win.

Another chimes in,

I own a restaurant. Every year, our premises are inspected. If we don’t have a current inspection certificate clearly displayed we can’t do business. So last week we were inspected, we passed inspection and the certificate came in the mail. The date was wrong. It said the certificate was valid through 2012 and it’s 2014. My guess is it was a typo, but the bottom line is, they sent me a certificate that was essentially expired.

I called up the agency to ask them to send me a valid certificate. They said they only generate certificates once a month. So what am I supposed to do in the meanwhile? Go outta business while these people figure out how to hit the back space on a computer?

Government bureaucracy putting American Small Business at risk

As Tim Askew of the blog Making Rain says,

“Welcome to the brave new dystopia of the unaccountable and faceless governmental functionary”. by Tim Askew, of the blog Making Rain

What is most disturbing about these stories is how commonplace they have become and how these faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats are summarily destroying the ability for small businesses to survive.

We all need to care because the small business owner is the engine of the US Economy and the source of new job creation.

More regulation does not equal a fairer playing field. Not if the examples above are any indication. I suspect they’re the tip of the iceberg.

Government regulations need to make sense for small business

On the contrary; these stories and thousands like them paint a clear picture that unless we push back against destructive, meaningless regulations, the demise of small business is assured. We need to care because small businesses hold the quality of our daily lives in the palms of their hands.

Dentist, grocery stores, plumbers, contractors, repairmen, lawn service providers and baby sitters are all small businesses. We need them to survive and thrive.

Philip K. Howard in his book, The Rule of Nobody, nails the problem. He says:

The Law has crowded out the ability to be practical and fair . . . [It has become] a government run by clerks and jerks. by Philip K. Howard, The Rule of Nobody

Introducing the American Small Business Bill of Rights

Years ago, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened the Office of Small Business Services which I thought was a great idea. Its charter was to promote the fairness and flourishing of small businesses in New York City.

Hallelujah someone in power recognized the importance of small business to the local economy, especially after how hard the New York City economy was beaten down after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

So here are the terms of that Bill of Rights for your reading pleasure.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Business Owner’s Bill of Rights, courtesy of NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations.

As A Business Owner, You Have The Right to:
  1. Courteous and professional treatment by our employees
  2. Inspectors who are polite, professionally dressed, and properly identified
  3. Information about how long inspections will take and the cost of all related fees
  4. Knowledgeable inspectors who enforce agency rules uniformly
  5. Receive information about agency rules from inspectors or other employees
  6. Contest a violation through a hearing, trial or other relevant process
  7. Request a review of inspection results or re-inspection as soon as possible
  8. Receive explanation from inspectors (if requested) on violation details and instructions for viewing inspection results
  9. Access information in languages other than English and request language interpretation services for inspections
  10. Comment, anonymously and without fear of retribution, on the performance or conduct of our employees

We’d like to add one more option here; contest a violation, conflict or report inspector harassment to a neutral mediator that will hear and resolve the case within 5 business days.

Sending an expired inspection certificate? It would have taken less time to fix the date than to argue the four week lead time to re-send the paperwork. Let’s hold regulators accountable to common sense.

Meanwhile, The American Small Business Owner’s Bill of Rights has come of age. What story can you share?

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