When you created your company business model, you developed a plan to ensure your customers hear your message. But does your business model also include a plan to ensure that lawmakers hear your message? It's important because lawmakers can have as much of an influence on your business as your customers do.

Does your business model also include a plan to ensure that lawmakers hear your message?

The executives of most large companies hire people who actively engage in educating federal and state lawmakers about issues that matter to the company. I say educate rather than lobby, because the large majority of interactions with lawmakers should be informative.

But middle market executives - especially those with companies on the smaller end of that spectrum - often wear several hats in the day-to-day demands of running a business. They may not believe they have the time or the resources to hire someone who is not actively benefiting the bottom line. And taking the time to meet a congressman or state legislator may seem like a luxury. Plus, middle market executives may think they are off the lawmakers' radar screen, so why bother?

And then it hits.

It doesn't have to be your company that's created a problem or has riled lawmakers or regulators. A simple news story could raise concerns. Or it could be the misdoings of an upstream or downstream company in your supply chain. Or it could even be an activist group that does not like what you do or how much profit you make. Or maybe someone is encouraging lawmakers to consider legislation that could adversely affect your company - thereby giving your competitors an advantage. Or it could be a problem unrelated to your core business, such as new accounting rules or requirements imposed on health or pension benefits. That's when executives who haven't laid the groundwork with lawmakers or regulators scramble to do so. But by then it may be too late.

Why should risk-averse lawmakers go to bat for a perfect stranger, especially if the press is running one exaggerated or misleading story after another? To put it simply: The most effective damage control begins when there isn't any damage yet to control. But how do you do that?

First, every middle-market business model should budget the funds and the staff time to join the relevant trade association(s) speaking up for your industry. Associations are staffed with people who know your industry and the important lawmakers - and how to reach them. They exist to ensure you do, too. Second, lawmakers are important people and they like to meet important people - especially those who are creating jobs and paying salaries in their districts.

Lawmakers care greatly about the community, the economy, and voters, so you personally need to set up an appointment to meet them. Let them know who you are, what your company does, where in the district you're located, and how many people you employ. Invite them out to see the company and meet the employees - all of whom are potential votes.

Most of all, establish a relationship. Nothing takes the place of that one-on-one contact. Then if - and more likely, when - a situation arises, you aren't playing catch-up. The lawmakers know you and are likely to listen to you.

In a day when the government is becoming more involved in almost every area of business, no effective business model can afford to ignore those who could have a big influence on your company.

Merrill Matthews is an NCMM contributor and a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MerrillMatthews and circle him on Google+