Coping with Government Regulations

Article excerpt

To many small businesses, the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft is a reminder that the government is a constant presence in the daily life of any company.

Of course, cases as big as Microsoft's are rare, but business owners still find themselves dealing with an abundance of federal, state and local laws, regulations and ordinances designed to protect a company's workers, neighbors, customers and competitors, and the general public.

For many businesses, laws and regulations create a distraction and often, added costs. They can dampen your enthusiasm for starting and running your own business.

Dealing with rules and regulators has given some business owners "such terribly humbling experiences they say it's not worth it," said Tom Sullivan, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Legal Foundation.

But most persevere, by relying on outside help.

"Get involved with organizations like your local chamber of commerce or business organizations or the NFIB," said Pete Van de Putte, president of Dixie Flag in San Antonio. "And have competent financial and legal assistance."

Sullivan agreed, and pointed to Microsoft as an example of why business owners need to get help in dealing with the government.

"If the Microsoft issue has a message, it's that even a huge company with a battery of lawyers can get into trouble," he said. "Imagine some small business person who's trying to do it on their own."

Getting help serves several purposes. First, organizations like chambers of commerce or industry groups are plugged in to the regulatory environment and keep track of frequent changes in the law. That's something business owners don't have time to do.

"Often the regulations and rules you have to live by are confusing, sometimes contradictory and ever-changing, and the greatest difficulty in being a small business owner is keeping up with all the things you're responsible for," Van de Putte said.

Moreover, you may need assistance, probably from an attorney or a regulatory consultant, if it turns out your company is cited for not complying with a law, regulation or ordinance.

There are regulations that all businesses must comply with, the most ubiquitous being tax laws. …