What Politicians and Small Businessmen Have in Common

“If I were President, I could fix the economy.”

“If a woman were President, war would not exist.”

“If I were President, the first thing I would do is fix the public schools.”

“When I am President, I will…”

Wow, it sure does sound easy to be the President of the United States. And we all seem to think we would be great at it.

But running for office…no way! Asking for votes. No, thank you! Knocking on doors, dropping flyers in mailboxes, making a million phone calls, asking friends and colleagues to say a word on your behalf, sending email after email…are you kidding? What a horrible job!

And yet, in applying for a small business grant recently, I realized that running for office is almost exactly what small businessmen and women around the country do every day to grow their businesses. They push their business (which in many case helps define them) like a politician pushes his or her personality and beliefs (which, you hope, defines them).

After learning about an opportunity to compete for a grant only 10 days before the deadline, I had to write the grant proposal (the easy part for a self-proclaimed writer) and acquire 250 votes by Facebook users on the grant website (the hard part).

First, I sent out emails to friends and family who had heard about my small business, Penny Jar Kids. I told them about the grant, reminded them of the philanthropic mission of my business, asked them to vote, and begged them to pass along the request to their friends. Then I posted a similar request on Facebook and LinkedIn. The first few days passed, and we had fewer than 50 votes.

That’s when I started feeling sorry for politicians, especially given this election year. Like them I would have to ask again.

I posted another plea on Facebook.

Another day, and a few votes trickled in. Yet another plea on Facebook, counting down to the deadline. I posted about the grant on my blog.

I looked at my address books, and emailed everyone I’d been too shy to email the first time.

More votes, but not nearly enough.

Four days to go. Though advised to wait and see if I got closer to 250, I started to draft the proposal – just to avoid the inevitable request for more votes.

Then that evening, I let go of my pride. How often do both politicians and entrepreneurs have to do that to succeed, to promote what they truly care about?

I sent out a handful of emails to people who I knew understood Penny Jar Kids and its goals, or had a huge Facebook following, and I asked them if they would be willing to reach out to their friends, family and colleagues to get the votes I needed to qualify.

I hate asking for help.

Yet they all responded. They sent emails to colleagues, family, friends, swim team parents, former classmates, students, and people who worked at their gyms. My husband asked the technicians at the hospital where he works. A cousin in Philadelphia asked her friends to vote. Another cousin in New York got the word out to her high school friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. My parents voted and walked their friends through the voting process. My in-laws joined Facebook. Parents from the boys’ school sent emails promoting Penny Jar Kids. Friends from childhood in Washington called their friends. Former classmates in California voted and friends in Chicago and Boston. A friend in South Africa voted and passed on the request. My Middle School Drama teacher voted. The boys’ swim instructor, piano teacher and three of their babysitters logged on too.

In the meantime, my eight year old and I canvassed our neighborhood on a day with 104 degree temperatures, leaving flyers in more than 100 mailboxes, asking them to check out Penny Jar Kids and to vote. I left more flyers with my son’s teacher. I carried them in my bag to the pool. I wrote a flyer specific to Starbucks fans and asked baristas around town to hang them in their coffee shops.

I did nothing else for four days. The house was a mess. The laundry was piling up. My blog and other writing projects stalled. We ordered out so I didn’t have to cook.

And then on the day when the voting was scheduled to close, I woke up to find that during the night, the final 22 votes had come in.

The five of us, just awake and in our pajamas, all cheered and gave each other hi-fives. Even the dog was excited.

That’s when it hit me – first, the enormous number of votes politicians need to win and the length of time that it takes to get them. I needed only 250 votes in 10 days, and it had taken my entire focus and attention. But more important, the fact that if my business is going to have even the chance to succeed, like other small businesses before mine, I too will be emailing and calling and knocking on doors and writing and pushing on a daily basis for the foreseeable future. Whether Penny Jar Kids gets the grant or not.

So I sat down at the computer and got to work doing the hard part.


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