Ten Entrepreneur Lessons Learned From Political Campaigns
I'm always asked about political campaigns. How they operate, why a consultant or manager is needed, why are they expensive to run, and other questions. The simple answer is, that campaigns are a startup business.
Like startups, campaigns are formed with usually one or two people, they usually have a tight or bootstrapped budget, and typically you have a matter of months to get customers (voters). When making the transition from a large company to a startup, many entrepreneurs try to run a startup like a corporation. That usually doesn't work. Instead, most startups need to start lean, nimble, have the ability to change direction, and learn to work with limited resources, much like a campaign. Listed below are ten key pieces of political campaign advice that also apply to a startup business.
Stay on the offense. Stay off the defense. When you spend your time defending, explaining, and backpedaling, you're losing. Take the battle to your opponent- force them to you.
As a new business, you're proving yourself to the market. Often, you're spending time defending yourself from skeptical customers and critics that tell you there is no room for you in the market. Instead, implement strategies that keep your competitors on their toes and convert unhappy customers to your business.
Figure out your competitive edge. (The key message contrast that works for you and drives it home) Spend 90% of the time on this message.
Most of your time should be spent on developing your competitive advantage or value proposition. Again, why are you different from your competitors? What can you offer or how can you operate that your competitors can't touch?
Figure out your competitive disadvantage and take steps to eliminate it. Spend 10% of your time on this.
We tend to spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses. Especially when starting, we see everything as a disadvantage because we're comparing our business to established companies. Seek to eliminate shortfalls in your business or pivot to focus on your advantages.
Know your targets. Getting to 50% is the key to winning. By trying to get to 100% you may wind up failing altogether.
Wouldn't it be awesome if we could just capture every single customer in our market? There's no way that can happen. If you didn't have competitors, then I'd be worried about your business offering. As in politics, focus on the niche market that your product/service resonates with most. Then determine what percentage you can realistically reach based on your marketing budget. Focus on getting to 50%, not 100%.
When attacked, respond quickly. Especially when the attack hits you on a vulnerable point. The reporter who called you is assuming they have a negative and juicy story. Return their call quickly and have a response ready.
As with a political campaign, especially if you're a new candidate with little existing reputation, bad PR is bad PR. A disgruntled customer on social media or a bad Google review can hurt when your business is fairly new. While our first instinct is to deny or ignore, both solutions make you look guilty. Your best bet is to come out directly and be respectful. If it's a reporter, be direct and firm. Don't waver in your response.
Be disciplined and stay on message. Have the courage to be competitive.
This goes back to the last point. Don't waver on your messages to be liked. Part of being competitive is being true to who you are and what your business does. Be true to your mission and to your target audience. You will gain more customers in the long run.
Know the rules of the game. Eight-second sound bites are key. Going off the record or on the background is ok. Controversy sells, so be a source of good information and don't step on your own story.
Unlike a political campaign, your business may not be in the public eye as much. However, earned media is still important. To get noticed and good media attention, you must know how reporters operate. Understand the power of media releases and develop a good email contact list of local reporters who cover business, tech, and/or lifestyle (depending on your product/service market). Also, reporters get news leads from Facebook and Twitter so make sure you post your business news with clear soundbites on social and use appropriate hashtags so your content will be noticed. You can also tag reporters on newsworthy posts.
Create an internal culture that permits sharing information. Especially negative or troubling info, don't shoot the messenger, create many messengers.
No one likes to gossip, especially in politics (well some people relish it). As a business owner, you need to keep your ear to the ground and know what's going on within and outside of your business. Successful startups and campaigns know how to plan five moves ahead, and part of that comes through having the right information.
Speak to values and big ideas. Leave the small ideas in the fine print.
Like politics, businesses should promote data sparingly. People don't like to get bogged down in numbers and details. They want to know how are you going to solve their problem or make their life better. Stick to resonating with your audience's values and big ideas. Aside from pricing, numbers and facts should include results timeframe or other compelling facts that will make people want to buy or hire you. Make an emotional case for your product or services. If you capture their hearts, then you capture their wallet.
Be a long-term player. Accept losses with dignity. Giving up is the thing that will kill you. It's not about if you will lose, but how you deal with the loss. If you have and keep a big idea, that energizes your life, you can deal with the losses when they happen.
I've saved the best for last. You will find as a business owner that while you should have an operating plan, you are going to encounter a lot of unexpected circumstances. Experience and skill certainly help your likelihood of success but the key to starting is having that big idea that gives you momentum. It's not about if you fail, but when.
As a candidate or an entrepreneur, you're putting yourself out there for the world to criticize. Most of what you do will be trial and error. You will be personally pushed to your limits, but that's how you build resistance and become stronger. Your big idea will give you the willpower to continue. When you learn from every failure or loss you begin to realize that you can't lose anymore. The more you fail early on, the more you learn, and the stronger you get, the more your trust in your intuition and ability to pivot. Remember, a bird isn't afraid of the branch breaking, because it trusts in the ability of its wings to fly.
As political consultants and small business marketers, Bridges Consulting, LLC is in the best position to help your startup. Our team doesn't operate like large marketing firms, who require large retainers and work on yearly marketing campaigns. We know firsthand how to work with your small budget and tight deadlines. We do this by deploying best practices used in competitive political campaigns that will give you an edge over your competitors. Let’s chat today about how we can partner with you.