7 Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn From the 2016 Election

Good news: election season is almost over. Are you a better entrepreneur because of it?

During this long, contentious campaign, American business owners have done their homework on important issues like tax policy and the economy. Others have donated funds, joined coalitions, or dreamed up candidate-inspired ice cream (which, in my view, takes the cake).

No matter who wins the presidency, entrepreneurs can come out ahead if they consider that in business — just like in politics — compelling candidates need winning strategies, connections, money, and a fiercely competitive spirit. So cast your ballot and take note. Whether it’s votes or sales you’re after, here are seven lessons small businesses can learn from the 2016 election.

Solve Problems

For the questions that might keep you awake at night, this year’s candidates offered up a hatful of answers, notably, a border wall with Mexico and tuition-free colleges. Plausible or not, these ideas spoke to the hopes and fears of voters. Similarly, your small business should address consumers’ needs explicitly and expertly. What problems are you trying to solve? Do your solutions offer real impact? Are you driven by results? This is your platform.

Articulate Your Vision

These days, you can’t win an election without a rousing stump speech. Hillary Clinton assured Americans that, under her leadership, we’d be “Stronger Together,” while Donald Trump promised to “Make America Great Again.” For your small business, use consistent messaging to set yourself apart and grab people’s attention. Polish your elevator speech. If it’s on your website, make it clear and easy to find. Don’t make people hunt for it. Don’t be Carly Fiorina.

Get Behind the Data

Pundits, pollsters, and politicians alike love data, and these days, there’s plenty of it (my favorite example compares a Clinton victory, statistically, to a 36-yard field goal). Thanks to big data and social media, you too can quantify your impact, develop strategies, or make decisions based on credible research. So do your homework. Cite reliable sources. And don’t fib the numbers. Otherwise, you might be called a pants-on-fire liar.

Tell Stories

Two-thousand sixteen could arguably be called the year of the story, the most poignant (read: divisive) being that of Captain Khan, a Muslim American soldier killed in action. Though his narrative first made headlines at the Democratic National Convention, a video later posted by the Clinton campaign challenged U.S. citizens to take the issue to heart. In your marketing, get personal. Find meaningful ways to connect through video, email, and blogs. Tell stories and do so regularly, which will boost your search engine optimization and help consumers find your goods and services more quickly.

Build Winning Teams

Viewers of Veep, House of Cards, and other fed fiction may wonder if Washington politics pack more drama in real life or on television. Either way, a good supporting cast is crucial. For the Trump campaign, a revolving door may have done more harm than good, and a plagiarizing speech writer certainly didn’t help. In your own endeavors, hire people smarter than you. Choose your allies wisely. Learn from everyone, and use your influence for good.

Leverage Social Media

This election has been defined, in turns, by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, and even memes (everything but email, it seems). Like the candidates looking to win the electorate, find the right platform for your audience and message. Listen to your customers and speak their language. Whatever app, site or platform you choose, remember that people will vote for you with their wallets if you can solve their problems better than anyone else can. Show them that you can.   

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Finally, get a great logo. Dream big. Have a firm handshake. And never give up. As a student I was active with Rock the Vote, an organization that encourages young people to hit the polls. In the 2004 election, I campaigned door to door, published editorials in my college newspaper, and volunteered at local rallies. Once, I even made the nightly news, taking second in an ice cream contest designed to drum up press and lure first-time voters. I had a blast.

Looking back, so much has changed technologically. Facebook was still in its infancy, Twitter didn’t exist yet, and dial-up Internet was only just giving way to broadband. But the basic recipe for success hasn’t changed. Today, in its best moments, politics is still about solving problems. And I like to think of small business in the same terms: make every vote count.

Bremen Leak is a strategic communications expert at Yale University. He writes at bremenleak.com.

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