As a small or medium business owner you have been probably been asked more times than you can count if a sign could be displayed in your window.
Perhaps it’s a poster of the local football, volleyball or soccer team. Or a church announcement about an upcoming holiday bazaar or a local civic group’s pancake breakfast.
Most likely, any of the above signs would not offend a potential or current customer. In fact, it may make them stop at your business and act as a tool to draw them inside.
But what do you do when a candidate running for a public office or an advocate for a local measure asks to display a political sign in your window?
October until Election Day on Nov. 4 is a busy time for candidates to get their name out and rally for votes. And they are looking for every opportunity they can to achieve their goal.
Take a walk around your neighborhood and your business area and start counting political campaign signs.
Now ask yourself – how do you feel when you see a neighbor or a business who is advocating for a candidate or ballot measure you are opposed to?
That’s the question you need to answer before you decide to post a campaign sign in your business’s window or yard.
The debate goes both ways – there can be both positive and negative reasons to publically support a candidate.
Let’s start with the negative:
1. You like him? Let’s be honest – each and every one of us have strong opinions. If we see someone wearing a baseball hat with a college we dislike, we form an opinion. We have opinions about where people attend church to how they eat. Same holds true for political candidates. If you support a political candidate, chances are there people who don’t. And the sad truth is, they may decide to boycott your business because they disagree with your political views.
2. Are you taking your message too far? It’s one thing if you want to support a candidate – it’s another to insult your customers by taking your message too far. While some customers can look past the fact you support a candidate they don’t, many people don’t want to be insulted by being called names or labeled for who they support. Take caution if you have political propaganda that calls the other side names.
3. What about Freedom of Speech and isn’t this a Free Country? Yes, we do live in a free country and we do have Freedom of Speech. And you can do what you want – as long as it’s legal – and support who you want. But we often forget freedom comes with a price. If you want to put signs all over your business that you think this party is like this and this candidate is the right choice, go ahead – again make sure nothing you say or write could cause you legal trouble – but also understand customers also have a choice and the freedom to decide where they spend their money. You have to determine if it’s worth it to offend customers or would you rather have their business.
4. Keep the conversation respectful. – People are passionate about many things – their partner, their favorite team, food… Passion for politics is a completely different spectrum. If a customer comes to your business and says something about voting for someone else, be polite. Say something you both can agree on like “Isn’t great we live in a country where we can agree to disagree?” Never, ever, ever insult a customer. If you like Mickey Mouse and your customer likes Daisy Duck, don’t criticize, insult or say anything negative. Two reasons – your customer will talk and you may lose more than just her as a customer and two – most importantly – you cannot change someone’s mind that is already made, especially in a five minute conversation. You’ll just end up losing.
The positive argument:
1. You have your pulse on your customer base – If you know who your customer base is and you know how they will react to you posting a sign to vote yes on the local school bond or to vote for this candidate, go ahead and put up the sign. Sometimes by taking a stand, you may attract new customers while keeping the old ones.
2. You are a leader in the community and respected for your views. If you are a community leader and people respect what you have to say, you probably aren’t at risk for putting up a campaign sign. People may look to you for guidance on how to vote and know they can trust you to be fair and honest.
3. You know how to play the game. If you are confident you can politely and professionally handle when a customer yells at you for your views and know that you can calm the customer down so he will come back again, go ahead. Know your personality. If you will get fired up and want to defend your views if someone disagrees with you, it’s recommended you don’t display your political views. If you can have a calm, open, honest, friendly debate where everyone leaves laughing, go for it.
To display a political sign or not? That’s only a question you can answer because only you know your business and how your customers will react. Speaking with a small business owner in a small town, she said she could not risk alienating a customer because of her beliefs, especially knowing how passionate people are about politics.
As a business owner, you have the right to say what you want. Just remember there may be consequences for your expression of free speech.
And after Election Day has come and gone, people continue to vote with their wallets.