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Cigar Guy: The Best Candidate for Small Business

As midterm elections draw near, many small business owners like myself are faced with daunting challenges that are affecting the future of the companies we run. Rising taxes. Out of control spending. Uncertainty over health-care reform. We have some big decisions to make. We have to choose the right people to represent our interests in Congress.

I'm not worried. That's because I've found my man. The one who, in my opinion, is most qualified to represent my interests. And that man is Cigar Guy. (You who I'm talking about right? He became famous when a photographer snapped a photo of him smoking a cigar while watching Tiger Woods play golf.) Why am I wowed by him? Because when I vet Cigar Guy on critical questions that every business owner should ask their congressional candidates, he passes with flying colors. Hopefully the candidates you're considering are just as worthy.

To start, has your candidate ever run a business himself or had profit and loss responsibility? Cigar Guy may not be a business owner, but he has had significant management experience nonetheless. His operational efficiency in not just one, but two major wars has won him the admiration of our most respected leaders. Not only that, he played a crucial part in the management of our country's successful space program. Has your candidate ever had that kind of managerial experience? You want to know if your congressman has actually been responsible for generating a profit for an organization. Because if he has, that means he should know all about balancing a budget and matching expenses with revenues.

Paying for Luxuries

Another question: Could your candidate stop working today and live comfortably from his savings? Sure, Cigar Guy appreciates a little R&R like anyone else. He likes biking, golf, and travel. Even so, he needs to work hard to afford these luxuries. He's not one of those congressmen living off his trust fund or a giant Internet stock portfolio. He's one of us.

Has your candidate ever had to fire anyone? It takes someone tough to make those decisions. And Cigar Guy is tough. Getting rid of an employee is probably the toughest thing a business owner or manager has to do. When we hire someone, it's generally a significant investment in time and money. We don't take these decisions lightly. These are people's lives. Cigar Guy knows that firing someone is not easy. But he knows he can't afford for one person to drag down the efforts of others. Will your congressman be able to make these kinds of tough decisions? Will he be able to vote to cut spending on a program, even if that means that some people will lose their funding or their jobs?

Ask your candidate about the last time someone didn't pay him. Cigar Guy runs his own business. He knows what it's like to collect money. Has your congressman ever had this experience? Does he know what it's like to not be paid? Does he know the pressure of collecting receivables to make next week's check run? Has he experienced the panic of not having a guaranteed flow of cash? Or has he collected a paycheck his entire life? A congressman who says he understands what small business owners need has to understand our struggle to collect cash in the face of rising taxes and government regulations.

Within a Budget

If your congressman can't afford to pay for something, does he just buy it anyway? Cigar Guy wouldn't do this. He has lived through a war and domestic and international tragedies. He understands the value of saving and paying only for what he can afford. I know a lot of business owners who would love to purchase a new piece of equipment. Or refurbish their office space. Or scoop up that empty warehouse that just became available down the street. But here's the problem: They can't afford it. They have just enough to operate their companies. Owners of profitable businesses are like Cigar Guy. They're prudent about the money they borrow. Your congressman should be, too.

Here's another question: If your congressman were running his own business, and the government offered a tax break to hire more people, would he go out and hire more people? Cigar Guy is as patriotic as anyone else. But even he wouldn't hire a new employee unless he needs that person to do some kind of work that will generate profits for him. The government doesn't tell us when to hire. We decide. Of course, if there's a tax break available at that moment, we'll take it.

Finally, ask your congressman where he buys his health care. Cigar Guy cares deeply about how the cost of health care is affecting his family. He's concerned about how rising deficits are going to affect the future of his young friends. Does your congressman care as much? Or is his family covered by the congressional plan that's funded up to 75 percent by the government and contains perks not available to most of us. Ask him if he's ever paid for his employees' health care. Ask him if he understands what it feels like to pay double-digit premium hikes every year. Or how lousy it feels to cut benefits and increase what an employee has to pay just to keep profits intact. If he doesn't know what any of this is like, then don't vote for him.

For me, Cigar Guy is the only candidate who understands these issues. He has the answers to the questions every small business owner should be asking. What about your candidates?

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at

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