Build your relationships with elected officials and you may find that your business will grow in surprising ways.
Before you turn up your nose at the idea of engaging a local politician, we urge you to set aside pre-conceived notions and remain open-minded to what a relationship with your mayor, assemblyman or woman, representative or senator can mean for the growth of your own enterprise. We’ve found that there are effective steps to take so that you and your business maintain prominence in your community. Build your relationships with elected officials and you may find that your business will grow in surprising ways.
Where your business is concerned, you are “Switzerland.”
Contacting, meeting and working with local politicians is effective only if you consider yourself a neutral territory, like Switzerland. When business owners limit themselves to relationships only with those elected officials for whom they voted, they’ve missed an important opportunity. We suggest that rather than attending to the ebb and flow of the political tide, that business owners focus on building a friendly relationship with the person who has been elected to office. Here’s how it’s done.
The Phone Call Still Beats All
The best way to assure your voice is heard is to allow your politician literally to hear your voice. And that means making the old-fashioned telephone call. As a local business owner your voice is the important one so resist the temptation to ask your VP, your assistant or your marketing professional to make the call in your stead. When you’ve introduced yourself say, “I won’t take much of your time.” Set your timer for 5 minutes and offer your contact the opportunity to conclude the call at the 5 minute mark. Thank the official for her/his public service (running for office is no picnic), mention that you’ve heard about their work and if schedules permit, you would like to share lunch or a coffee in the coming weeks. Emphasize that you are a local business person and you would like to discuss ways that your business can support the community.
The Pop-In Gives You the Edge
When I was a little girl one of my happiest memories was spending a day with my dad. We’d start out with no particular destination in mind. We let the day unfold, sometimes finding a new park, an interesting shop or a fascinating restaurant. We never knew what the day would bring, but my interest in our adventures never waned. In fact, I now apply it to my business relationships and count it as one of our most successful business strategies. Here’s how the Pop-In works:
Before you Pop In on a politician, do your homework. There are specific ways to prepare yourself for any impromptu meeting and you’ll find those strategies in our Blog dedicated to “Preparation Meets Opportunity.” But suffice it to say that a successful Pop-In includes your understanding of the issues your local elected official is passionate about.
As you consider your spontaneous meeting, be sure to look in the mirror. If you dressed in beachwear and flip-flops, postpone your visit. Dress professionally because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Approach the receptionist with a smile and introduce yourself and your business. They say, “I’ve heard so much about Mayor M., and if he/she has a minute, I’d like to say hello.” If you’re a bit anxious, thinking “why would this person want to meet me?” remind yourself that you are a constituent. You gave them their jobs and they work for you. And politicians are the one group in your community who want to meet everyone. Shoulders back and proceed with confidence.
A minute is just that – 60 (important) seconds. Remember you asked only for a minute – time enough to introduce yourself, shake a hand and offer a friendly comment. This is NOT the time for the life story of your business. Instead your message is that you are a local business, you would like to meet for lunch or coffee because you would like to discuss how your business can best support the community. Naturally if the official is not in, you’ll leave your business card, but don’t forget to ask when he/she will return, if there are office hours, or set times for personal meetings with constituents. Then make the note and plan to return when the time is right.
You’ve Got Your Meeting – Now What?
The mayor returned your call. Your Pop-In meeting netted a sit-down with your senator. Now the ball is in your court. Remember you’ve done your homework and you know the important details about the politician you are about to meet. What to do next?
Maintain a positive attitude. You are excited and happy about your business and the opportunity to meet an important person in your community. Smile and let it show.
What does your business offer the community? Tell your elected official about the workshops, webinars, hangouts, blogs and newsletters that you offer. Do you host community events? Share these programs and ideas with confidence and enthusiasm.
Ask about your elected official’s interests and how she/he plans to help the community they serve. Then LISTEN. (note to self: It is no coincidence that we have one mouth and two ears!). Don’t interrupt and don’t promote your agenda. Instead listen with an open mind and indicate that you are ready to help. Then, after your meeting check out our blog, “The Fortune’s in the Follow-Up.”
P.S. We know that not every effort results in a “slam dunk” one hundred percent of the time. But we are reminded of the words of Wayne Gretsky, hockey’s Great One, who said it best. “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take.” That’s why we feel that when a business owner understands the basic strategies for building trust relationships, he/she has multiplied the business success factor. In fact, one of our members followed this strategy, and through cultivating a relationship with his representative, was asked to share his expertise as a keynote speaker of the floor of the State House of Representatives. How cool is that!