I recieve a ton of e-mails every month asking questions on winning local elections.  The majority of these questions deal with grassroots politics – organizing a district, conducting canvasses, etc.

In this article, I’m taking a look at the two most frequently asked questions I receive: 

1.  How early should I start campaigning?

This is one of the most common questions for first-time candidates and campaign managers.  The short answer is: it’s never too early to start.  There are always activities you can carry-out to help your campaign or future campaign.  Even if the election is four years away, you can be out meeting people, talking with leaders and activists, building an organization and writing your campaign plan.

Of course, you don’t want to announce your candidacy or run advertisements too far in advance of the campaign.  While the best time to start these activities varies by place, election and strategy, they generally should never take place before the last election before yours is complete (November of the year before the your election) and in all but the biggest and/or best funded races should not take place before January of the year of your election.

When deciding when to start running advertisements, remember to wait until people are paying attention to the campaign or ready to start paying attention – if you run ads and no one cares, you are wasting your campaign’s precious fundraising dollars.

2.  Shouldn’t I just stand outside grocery stores and factory gates shaking hands and seeking people to vote for me?

If there’s one concept that is overlooked by most campaigns, it is targeting.  Campaigns operate with limited resources – limited amounts of time, money and manpower.  These resources must be used wisely if the campaign is to be successful.  The way to make sure that these resources are used the best way they can be is to target – pick which voters you need to concentrate on delivering your message to and use your resources to do it.

Standing outside stores and factories shaking hands is a risky proposition – not only do you not know if the people you meet there are registered to vote or if they even live in the district, but if they are mostly supporters of your opponent, campaigning there may wake sleeping dogs and propel your opponent’s campaign to action in that area.

Simply put, don’t conduct these activities unless they are targeted and targeted well.  Only campaign at malls, factories and stores when you know that most of the people there are from the district and open to voting for your candidate.  Most times, you won’t be able to be sure of this, and thus shouldn’t campaign in these places unless you have so many volunteers that it is either let them campaign at the mall or send them home because you have no work left for them.

 For more great articles on grassroots politics and tactics, check out Winning Your Election by Getting Out the Vote and How to Run a Great Door to Door Campaign.