Op-Ed: Don’t let Congress crush small business by killing digital marketing

As a metro Phoenix Realtor for the past 26 years, I have seen our industry change in important ways throughout my career.

No change has been more significant than the expansion of the Internet and the increased role played by digital marketing and advertising in the buying and selling of homes.

Virtually everything we do at my agency incorporates the Web, from how we market our small business to how we find home buyers for a property to how we find exactly the right new homes for families on the hunt to buy.

If I came to work one morning and found out the Internet was down, I’d either have to head home and get service there or go to Starbucks and “borrow” their wifi for a few hours. Just as it is for so many of Arizona’s 550,000 small businesses, for Realtors digital marketing efforts are absolutely vital.

That’s precisely why I find myself so concerned about the intentions of Congress regarding federal data privacy laws and measures like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which just recently was the subject of yet another hearing on Capitol Hill.

Why am I worried? Mostly because, as so often happens with federal law-making, there’s the strong likelihood that businesses like mine will fall prey to the law of unintended consequences. Congress, in its desire to rein in Big Tech may damage small businesses by passing overly draconian regulations.

The irony is, Big Tech, and other large companies, with their massive budgets, will be just fine. But Realtors like me — who use targeted digital ads every day to reach sellers and buyers — will end up unable to compete as online advertising ends up costing us more to reach fewer people.

Currently, digital advertising functions as a useful tool for entrepreneurs and small business owners, whether we’re in real estate, the restaurant business, or we run a mom-and-pop retail shop.

Under today’s laws, we can leverage innovative and streamlined advertising networks that don’t cost a lot and that offer uncanny precision when it comes to targeting our ads. That arrangement allows us to cost-effectively advertise to potential consumers and compete with far larger companies.

Unfortunately, if harmful legislation passes, Congress will throw out innovation for a cumbersome ad-buying process that introduces middlemen with an unproven track record, increases advertising costs for small businesses who can’t afford it, and dilutes ad precision.

Like you, I’m all for personal privacy and limiting what some folks in Congress refer to as “commercial surveillance.” But please trust me when I tell you, the last thing I want to do as a small business owner is invade your privacy. We don’t sell homes or put folks in homes they love by forcing ourselves on you or prying into your life.

Instead, our agency — which as you read this employs a team of nine people, me included — seeks to complete valuable real estate transactions by intelligently matching people who have a home to sell with folks who want to buy. That process has been made exponentially more efficient by using the Internet and digital marketing.

I hope Congress has the wisdom to protect and preserve this marketing model, especially given what it means to small businesses like mine and to the Arizona economy as whole. According to Internet For Growth, a small business coalition I joined last year, the Internet and digital market support more than 135,000 jobs in Arizona alone.

That’s about the population of the City of Surprise.

I’ve worked hard for the past quarter-century to build a successful business. We’ve survived housing busts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and surging inflation. I hope that Congress doesn’t create another massive stumbling block for small businesses by passing ill-considered, overbroad data privacy proposals. We need our local elected officials in Washington to listen to the voice of small businesses and prioritize their constituents over the Fortune 100.

If you want to speak out with me, check out the Internet For Growth website and learn how you can take action. A little bit of effort today could prevent a massive issue for all of us tomorrow.

Will Carter has been a Valley Realtor since 1997.