Wrapped in the Chick-fil-A controversy is a warning to small business owners.

It’s not about free speech (you can say whatever you want). Nor is it about the wisdom of a dose of self-censorship (just because you can say it doesn’t mean you should). And I’m certainly not wading into the underlying discussion here–though I do have strong feelings on that topic.

You can’t build goodwill after the fact.

I was chatting on Twitter with David Huzzard and Matthew Dávila about all the conversation around Chick-fil-A, when Dávila said:

“People don’t seem to realize a boycott hurts small business owners, not Chick-fil-A.”

 

 

 

Well, of course it hurts both–but his point is well taken. So what’s a franchisee to do when a CEO creates a mess that threatens your livelihood?

You need customers and community.

Your franchise is your small business. If you’ve built local relationships with customers, then you have a starting point of differentiation. If you’ve been donating and sponsoring strategically, then you’re respected for being a good guy (or gal) in your community. Similarly, if you’ve been using social media wisely, then you have a community that has connected with you and each other–and another place to make the point that you’re not that guy.

I’m very loyal to businesses that remember me, whether it’s a franchise owner who chats with his customers, wait staff who’ve been somewhere for years, beer vendors who know your name, or a mechanic who consistently gives great service.

Chick-fil-A’s franchisees have work to do. How much depends on where they’re starting from.

Photo by Tony Fischer Photography (Flickr).