1. Business Name and What It Does
a. Founder: Katrina Velasquez, Esq., MA
b. Center Road Solutions is a boutique public policy firm providing U.S. federal lobbying and public affairs services to nonprofit organization working to keep women and families healthy and safe. We specialize in taking partisan issues and reaching a common middle ground to pass into law.
c. Our services include government relations (lobbying) from developing policy to drafting legislation to direct lobbying within the U.S. Congress, public affairs activities to advance legislation including Capitol Hill Advocacy Days, Congressional Briefings, grassroots mobilization, and federal grant writing and consultation services.
d. The name of our business has a dual meaning: Center Road is the name of the main street in my hometown where everyone strives to reach common ground and in the work we do today, Center Road means the ability to work across the aisle in federal politics.
e. People can receive updates on our work by subscribing to our newsletter here: https://centerroadsolutions.us5.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=4ae68e8b9762926a334646551&id=6f9e317efc
2. Business Strategies:
a. Never work on any piece of legislation or legislative activity that isn’t bipartisan;
b. Only accept clients with a mission you believe in as it makes long hours’ worth it;
c. Invest in the team;
d. Create annual goals for the team and clients, but be flexible to change them as Congress and your team is ever changing; and
e. Give your client freebies. They’ll appreciate it.
3. Founder’s Story and What Motivated Them to Start the Business
a. My name is Katrina Velasquez and I am the founder and Managing Principal of Center Road Solutions. An attorney by trade with a master’s in international politics, my goal was always focused on how to improve the lives of those most in need. Now as a mother of two young boys and a fur-baby, my passion has been refined to help women and families.
b. After years working in U.S. legislative and regulatory policy, I noticed some common themes:
i. First, lobby firms were charging nonprofit organizations who bled and sweat over every dollar they fundraised an arm and a leg for their services, sometimes charging an arm and a leg only to get the nonprofit a handful of meetings with Congressional offices.
ii. Second, the saying around needing to “drain the swamp” was real in that many lobbyists followed traditional, and sometimes unethical practices, when laws can be passed with new and ethical approaches.
iii. Third, I often saw firms working with only one party, leaning right (conservative) or left (liberal), but very rarely working in the middle where I found myself politically. Growing up in a small town in the Midwest where we all had different beliefs. I knew that finding a path forward was always possible and actually is human nature.
In short, I wanted a firm that pushed back on these three themes to provide bipartisan, ethical, and results-driven lobbying services at an affordable cost to nonprofits. At the start of 2018, I made the jump with some of my loyal clients and my right hand Allison Ivie, and opened up the shop! This year marks the five year anniversary of the firm, and I can’t believe how much we’ve grown! We started with just Allison and I, and two interns serving five clients. Today we have a team of five, two interns, and four contractors serving thirteen clients…and I became of mother of two little boys during this time! We’ve passed laws around maternal mental health, eating disorders, school safety, youth mental health and suicide prevention, and even firearm safety, in addition to securing billions in funding for these initiatives. I feel very blessed to see how far we’ve come!
c. Today both myself and my right hand Allison Ivie have been named The Hill’s Top Lobbyist for Grassroots Issues.
4. Challenges the business/market is facing:
a. The U.S. lobbying industry is working through some changes including:
i. Moving towards a post-pandemic world we’re seeing more in-person meetings and a desire from some clients to be back on the Hill lobbying (versus virtual) whereas we see lobbyist themselves who are parents, millennials, and/or Gen Z’s are enjoying being hybrid or doing everything virtually.
ii. Navigating the balance of Speaker McCarthy’s leadership and its related contingencies with a Senate appetite for regular order.
iii. Changing fragmentation and division in the U.S. public opinions and its effect on the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
5. Opportunities the business/market is facing:
a. As the division in the U.S. public has created further fragmentation in Congress, it has actually widened the base of Representatives and Senators who are considered more “traditional” or “mainstream” Republicans and Democrats interested in working together to get things done.
b. Wehave more capability to virtually bring in constituents from all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels to meet with their Members of Congress whereas in the past this was reserved for Americans who could travel to Washington, D.C..
6. Advice to others about business:
a. Be economical the first two to three years and create a savings to allow the business to grow in the future.
b. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Your current clientele are lower hanging fruit to growing your business than new clientele. Treat them very well and be sure you are giving them success.
c. Your staff are the cornerstone of your business, so hire well, pay well, and treat them like family (that you love, haha),
d. Profit comes when you love what you do, so don’t overcharge your clients.
7. Lessons learnt from running this business:
a. Outsource or higher younger staff to take on elements of the business that are time intensive, as clients want the business leaders to take on the higher level elements of their services.
b. Always be on the lookout for potential future staff to develop a pool of good and trustworthy candidates, not just when you need to hire as this will help you hire better as the business grows.
c. Word of mouth referrals are more powerful and create a better ROI in this industry than advertising your services.
d. Hire those who have the skill set to excel versus experience or credentials. Individuals with the base skills will surpass the latter quickly when trained correctly.
e. Having a right hand that you can trust will serve your clients just as well as you do is priceless and can help with work life balance.