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Mind Your Business: And the Winner Is…


Election Day is this week and it has me thinking about what exactly we mean when we say we want our politicians to think like business people. You hear it over and over again, "If he can run a business, he can run the country." 

But, what does that mean, exactly? Do we want someone who can make a profit? Balance the bottom line? Hire and fire?

I suspect it's a little bit of all of those things. Mostly, I think we want a person who knows what it's like to have to make tough decisions about what the country can and cannot afford. More importantly, though, we want a person who gets the idea that being a small business owner isn't always about the numbers. Sometimes, it's about making a profit, sometimes it's about doing the right thing and sometimes it's about doing something because you're passionate about it.

Small business owners are driven by all of those motivations — sometimes all at the same time. Here are a few entrepreneurial qualities I'd like to see in my elected officials.

Think big picture: As a business owner, you know better than to go so far out of your way to please one unhappy customer that you alienate the rest. That's just not good for business. Yet, politicians do it all the time. In an effort to appease one outspoken extreme fringe group, the rest of the country, who fall somewhere in the middle, get left standing out in the proverbial cold with our noses pressed against the glass.

Think long term: You would never invest in a new location or hire a new employee without thinking about how it will play out over the long term. But politicians eager to please their impatient constituents often can't see the forest for the trees. Until we elect leaders who are able to delay immediate gratification in the form of rising poll numbers and positive cable news coverage, we are doomed to think only of the short term.

Be a good neighbor: They say a rising tide raises all boats and no one knows that better than a business owner. Even the most successful business will fail in a rundown, dirty, unsafe neighborhood. Politicians' social decisions need to be made with practicality in mind. Just like a business owner goes out front and sweeps the sidewalk or donates to the local baseball team even though it brings no immediate return on investment, politicians need to spread their favor evenly, not just to those who will fork over a big campaign contribution. As we've seen with the Occupy Wall Street movement, focusing only on serving your best customers doesn't work out in the long run.

Say what you mean: A good marketing and communications plan can make or break a business. Politicians, on the other hand, seem to specialize in being as obtuse as possible. It'd love it if a politician would just say whatever the heck it is they mean and let me decide if I can deal with it or not. I'd sooner do business with a company that was more expensive, but trustworthy and I'd rather have an honest politician I disagreed with, than one who tries endlessly to obfuscate what they actually stand for.

Mean what you say: You'd be out of business in no time if you kept breaking promises to your customers. But that's par for the course for any politicians. It's at the point where we don't even expect a politician might keep a campaign promise. We know everything said on the road to election is said with a wink and a nudge. That would not be acceptable in a business owner and we shouldn't put up with it with our politicians, either.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.