10 Questions To Ask BEFORE Running For Office

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If you’re thinking about running for office, now is the time to start moving. But before you “move” in any direction, it would serve you well to “think” about where you are, where you want to go and why it’s in anyone’s interest to help you get there. 

Before FourTier Strategies takes on any new clients, we ask candidates to answer many key questions. Each of our questionnaires is candidate-specific, but whether you’re running for local school board or President of the United States, there are ten basic points that must be addressed. Clearly, the answers to these questions make a difference, but the thought process they trigger is even more critical. In business and politics, strategy must always precede tactics. Our questions and subsequent feedback will help you and your team develop a winning strategy.

While our customized “Q & A” often includes up to fifty questions, here are ten that apply to virtually any campaign:

1. Why are you running for office?

This sounds basic, but you need to answer honestly. If you’re running because you need a job, don’t bother...McDonalds is hiring. If you’re running because you like to “help people”, avoid the hassle and volunteer for a charity. Your public “answer” needs to be compelling, but your private motivation needs to be both noble and sincere. We already have enough career politicians who like to spend other people’s money. Think about it long and hard before answering. This question will come up dozens of times during your campaign.

2. Is your spouse or significant other “on board” with the idea?

Politics is an often nasty and always time-intensive business that places huge demands on relationships and marriages. Your family should always be more important than your political campaign. If you don’t put your family first, we don’t want you as a client; and if your spouse or significant other is not  fully “on board”, you will probably lose anyway. Communicate. Address any of your partner’s concerns before you even think of announcing. If he or she “buys in” fully, you’ve not only secured your most compelling campaign “salesperson” but you’ve also reduced the chances that you’ll end up being banished to the couch for the next year or so!

3. Will your next door neighbor support you?

Now, it’s quite possible that your next door neighbors are completely insane (it happens), so let’s extend this scenario to your street and neighborhood. Bottom line: If you can’t persuade the people who know you best, you’re not likely to persuade total strangers. Reach out. Make friends close to home. Ask for their input and make them feel like a part of your team even before you have a team.  If you play your cards right, these folks will ultimately join your family members as some of your most loyal and active supporters. 

4. Can you afford to run? 

With very few exceptions, successful candidates view their political campaigns as full time endeavors. Can you and your family survive for a year or more without income? Can you take a leave of absence from your job? Can you loan your campaign “seed money” to get off on the right foot or are you totally dependent on donations? Volunteers are terrific, but at some point early in the process, you’re going to need paid staff. Where’s that money coming from?

5. Have you recruited a Fundraising Chairperson?

The four “M”s of FourTier Strategies are MONEY, MUSCLE, MESSAGE and MOMENTUM. Without money, most campaigns flounder, regardless of the candidate’s resume, policy positions or personal charisma. Securing an early commitment from a fundraising chairperson is absolutely essential. This person should agree to raise a predetermined amount and recruit at least ten others (e.g. “Finance Committee”) to do the same. After your spouse, this is the most important “sell” you’ll make during your campaign. If you can’t “close that deal”, you simply should not run.

6. What’s your “WOW!”?

It’s critical that you differentiate yourself from your primary and general election opponents. What makes you better, more trustworthy, more likable, more prepared, more interesting, more creative, more approachable, etc.? What’s your unique “WOW”? Remember, people really want to believe in someone or something. (That’s why they bought Obama’s “Hope and Change” nonsense...twice!) What’s their reason to believe in you, your mission or the values that you personify? What will inspire them to donate their time, effort and treasure...and then ask their friends to do the same? Think about it. Would you support you? If so, why?

7. Do you have a 30 second/3 minute/5 minute “elevator speech”?

Once you identify your unique “WOW!”, you may very well end up repeating the same basic talking points every day for the next year or more. Do you have an “elevator speech”? Is it compelling? Is it personal? Does it paint a picture? If it were on video, would people want to “share” it online? Have you tested it with your family and close friends? Even if supporters like it, how do you know it will be effective with the general public? Once you’ve decided to run, spend a ton of time on this. Learn to tweak the “elevator speech” for different audiences, events, and time parameters, but never waver from your core beliefs and key value propositions.

8. What do you intend to do for your constituents when you win?

Many candidates rely on the “I’m not that other guy” approach to campaigning. Time after time, that has proven to be ineffective. While negative campaigning works, and most politicians certainly deserve a verbal dope slap from time to time, leave the nastiness to third parties whenever possible. If you publicly reject your opponent’s false premises, (and you should), always make sure to follow up with common sense alternatives. Incorporate these alternatives into your elevator speech, preferably under the umbrella of three positive, memorable, “big picture” themes. (Bonus tip: These alternatives do not necessarily have to be “government solutions”...and, if you become a FourTier client, your policy proposals will never involve “bigger government.”)

9. Are you willing to “let go”?

Politics is both art and science. It’s also quite humbling, especially for first-time candidates who are, (or think they are), really smart. Guess what? When it comes to running a successful political campaign, you’re probably not! But that’s OK. I’ve never met a candidate who was an expert at all elements of the political business (e.g. traditional fundraising, online fundraising, social media, direct mail marketing, media purchasing, polling, graphic design, speechwriting, covert operations, opposition research, issues research, data capture, blogger and media relations, online fundraising, field operations, etc.). Once a campaign has begun, the candidate has three very specific roles to play: Raise money. Meet voters. Secure votes. Everything else needs to be delegated, in part, because there are only 24 hours in a day and the candidate can only be in one place at any given time. Check your ego at the door and always resist the temptation to micromanage. If you can’t do this, you will make poor decisions, alienate staff and vendors, waste time (including your own) and, ultimately, lose the election.

10. Have you spoken with a general consultant yet? 

If you haven’t done so already, reach out to experts who will challenge you with dozens of these questions. Some firms, like FourTier Strategies, will not charge for preliminary discussions or “needs assessments.” Most campaigns rush to tactical initiatives when they should first be asking bigger, broader, more strategic questions. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. In order to get from “Point A” to “Point B”, you’ll need a solid, well-researched campaign plan; and chances are good that you don’t know where to begin. A reputable general consultant does...and choosing the right one for your campaign will give you the edge you need to win in November.