In turbulent political times, it’s tempting, as a small business owner or CEO, to bring your personal political views to the forefront in your business. But it’s often a bad idea. The only “right” approach is strategic — not reactionary.
So, what’s the right strategy?
Option 1: Avoid Politics. If you run a retail business that’s dependent on the goodwill and patronage of the community around you, then the best strategy is to separate your personal politics from your business. Why? Because your customer base is divided; no two people have identical political views. Your role as a retail operator is to bring customers together in support of your products and services, not to divide them according to their politic viewpoints.
After all, it costs your potential customers nothing to say, “I’ll never patronize XYZ Computer Repair again!” if the business put its politics ahead of its reputation for technical expertise. That’s because, regardless of politics, customers want your business to be the best at what it is formed to do.
If, in your private life, you contribute to campaign funds, attend events, and so forth, it’s usually wise to do so without involving your company or your brand. This shows respect for your customers and your staff.
Option 2: Embrace Politics. On the other hand, if you run a consulting or service business that supports clients of a single political agenda, then part of what you’re formed to do is to advance that agenda. For example, if you specialize in catered events for conservatives, or you are a genius at social media fundraising for liberals, then you’d want to adopt those public positions to attract your audience. But in doing so, you concede all business from the opposite crowd, and you’ll assume the risk that when your political party falls out of favor, your business could suffer.
Politics and values are not the same things, and neither are their effects. In the current societal climate, politics generally divide and fracture while values aim to unite and strengthen. In a future post, we’ll discuss when and how a small business owner can incorporate values into their small business.
Option 3: Ignore What Big Business Does. That may sound counter-intuitive, but following the example of Fortune 100 companies may not be your best move. Giant businesses take political stands because they have global ambitions or stand to make millions of dollars. So, even when a well-known business leader goes public with a political stand, recognize that it is a calculated strategic position, not a reactionary one. Corporations that take a political path have done the math — they know in advance how many sales it will cost them, and how many new locations or tax breaks or share sales will result from their move. As the owner of a small business, you can’t get those kinds of gains by taking a political stand, so instead, focus your passion on activities that increase your business.
Option 4: Humor Defuses. If you want to soften the effects of politics among your customer base, try to take a light-hearted approach that people of all views can appreciate. Sell tee-shirts that say, “I wish voting was as much fun as complaining,” or “Rufus (the store’s bulldog mascot) for President!” Offer goods with witty historical observations from sardonic American humorists such as Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Ambrose Bierce.
Option 5: Focus on the Positive. If your business caters to a nearby military installation, then festoon your store in service memorabilia or patriotic bunting. If you’re a business with a long history in your location, then celebrate that with emphasis on timeless American values such as family time, neighborhoods, and helping others. If you have a relatively new business, then concentrate on community service organizations or local amateur sports leagues, and honor their members and followers, to establish meaningful, non-partisan involvement.
It’s Difficult, But Separate You from Your Business. Heartfelt political views are difficult to set aside, but if your day-to-day goal is for your small business to grow and prosper, then your public activities need to center on bringing your audience to you, whatever their views. So give up the idea that you can promote personal political beliefs and win customers at the same time. Unless your business is politics, it won’t happen. Remember that, during business hours, the customer is always right — or at least, he should feel that his opinions are respected.