The best way to start your political campaign is to think of it like a start-up business. No, not a high-flying silicon valley startup that raises (and spends) millions without ever turning a profit. You need to launch your next campaign like a real, honest-to-goodness, bootstrapped start-up.
Too many campaigns try to operate like a club, instead of a business. They spend money rather recklessly, direct their operations toward insiders, and fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes, campaigns that are run that way win… sometimes they lose. But they always make things more difficult than they need to be, and they definitely hurt their chances of success.
Instead, run your campaign like a business. Start with a detailed plan. Use research, surveys, and defined goals and objectives. Guard your campaign cash like a hawk. Direct your campaign towards your consumers (the voters) instead of the insiders. Offer good customer service (answer the phone nicely, call people back promptly, get volunteers really involved in your race).
No Matter Your Role on the Campaign, Be a Professional
Nobody, in any industry, likes to work with an amateur. When someone acts in an unprofessional manner, it shows. Always, in all you do in politics, be a professional.
How can you be a pro, if you’ve never worked in politics before? Simple… to be a pro, act like a pro. That means that when you don’t know something, you seek out someone who does. You treat everyone with respect, from your party leadership down to that volunteer who won’t stop pestering you with really bad ideas for the campaign. You dress nicely, act in a business-like manner, and direct your staff to look and act like pros themselves.
One sad fact of political life is that you’re going to come across lots and lots of amateurs. They’re everywhere in politics. Sometimes, amateurs get into the highest levels of government. If you’re in politics very long, you’re going to find yourself, at one time or another, very frustrated from dealing with un-professional people. Don’t give in! Don’t sink to their level. No matter how un-professional someone acts, stick to your guns and maintain your “professional cool.” Others will notice.
People want to work with pros. Act like one. People will notice.
I once worked in a campaign with a real hot-head. It was a multi-million dollar campaign, and we each headed up different departments. When things didn’t go his way, he would yell, scream, berate his staff, slam doors… typical bully stuff. It seemed like everyone, except the candidate, noticed.
After the campaign, he went on to head up a department in a campaign for a sitting U.S. Senator… many of his former colleagues were mad… how could this amateur get another plum assignment, after the way he acted? Weeks went by, until we all heard… the hot-head had thrown a computer across the room of the senate campaign. The Senator heard about it, and before confronting the guy, had called the previous candidate to chat about it. The Senator was hoping to hear what a great guy the computer-thrower was, and to be able to just reprimand him, and keep the hot-head on because he was doing a decent job.
Guess what? The former candidate, the hot-head’s former employer, gave no such recommendation, instead, regaling the Senator with tales of how the hot-head had terrorized his staff. The Senator, dismayed, confronted the computer-thrower and fired him. The candidate that no one thought noticed had noticed, and it came back to bite the amateurish operative in the end.
Keep your cool, and act like a pro at all times.
Rein in Your Spending or Face the Consequences
Raising money is hard work. Spending it is easy. The temptation in campaigns is to overspend: to rent high-end office space, buy fancy desks, and eat at the fanciest restaurants. Avoid those temptations! The best way to operate your campaign is to closely monitor the budget. Keep your employees mindful of not overspending, and set a good example yourself by walking those four blocks to a meeting instead of taking a cab.
I’m not saying that you should cut-out activities and expenses at all costs, no matter the consequences. On the contrary: for each item in your budget, and for each of your major expenses, ask yourself, and your staff, if the expense will actually help you come closer to winning the election. If not, then why are you spending the money? If so, then ask a second question: is there another way to spend this money that will get us even closer to winning? If so, pursue that opportunity. If not, and the campaign has the money, then by all means, spend away.
Keep a close eye on your expenses. Remember, each dollar you spend has to be raised first. When you look at your campaign budget, don’t just think, “Hey, that $8,000 in rent is sure going to let us have a great view!” Instead, think, “If we spend $8,000 in rent, I’m going to have to raise $8,000… do we really need to spend that much?”
Treat every political campaign like a small but growing start-up business. Be passionate and ambitious, watch your expenses, and act like a professional… all of these things will help put you on the road to success.