By Elizabeth McGinnis
Sitting in my San Francisco office last month watching the squabbling over the sequester, the shutdown, Obamacare and the debt ceiling, it was easy to overlook how it might affect my own and other Main Street businesses. Part of my job here at Rocket Lawyer is to build our Legal Filings products — essentially, the services most needed by small business owners. What ultimately transpires on Capitol Hill absolutely impacts these small business owners, which in turn affects my product and what they need.
All of these changes and uncertainties have long-term ramification on how companies make plans and get paid. The most obvious is the debt ceiling and the impact that rising interest rates will have on loans needed for everything from operating costs to new equipment. But this doesn’t even take into account all the federal filings that were put on hold and are now backlogged during the shutdown, or how Obamacare might actually help small businesses hire more employees.
These changes have broadened my perspective of what my customers need; a service provider that can manage their filings regardless of where the federal government is currently in terms of staying open or approving a budget, and reduced overhead so they can spend money on growing their business. Focusing on all of these changes expands my perspective and modifies the approach I take to my product.
This is still pretty basic, but if I break my customers down more specifically into contractors the product decisions I need to make become more clear. Specifically, though most government workers will be receive back pay, most contractors will not. While for larger contractors much of this can be deferred or absorbed by other parts of the organization, this could have an irrevocable impact for smaller contractors that rely on one or two contracts to stay afloat.
Keeping a narrow focus on these customers helps me to realize that I need to be building products which help them with fast and efficient contracts for when they are able to ramp up a short term contract to cover the “in-between-period”; coverage on status for anything that had been in process during the shutdown, such as a Trademark request; and clearer contracts and legal help on when and if they can recoup their losses from their main contract holders or directly from the government.
While these are just a few examples, talking to my customers reminds me of the federal government’s significant influence over business, and that we may be feeling the shutdown’s reverberations well down the road.