Here at Digital Workflow, our goal is to inspire you toward your vision of success. One way that we do this is by interviewing successful entrepreneurs in different industries. For September 2018, Chad Alexander is our inaugural entrepreneur! Chad is the former Chairman for the Republican Party in the State of Oklahoma. He works as a self-employed consultant and sits on the board of a non-profit. Here are Chad’s answers to our 10 questions!
Digital Workflow: Briefly tell us what you do.
Chad: I started my own political consulting and government relations business from my home in 2003. Consulting multiple races at the same time, it can be a waste of time for me to travel to the different districts where my clients are located. So, I use daily conference calls with candidates. In situations that need immediate attention, it’s more important to be where you can than trying to visit every district. That’s the job of a campaign manager as opposed to a consultant. In government relations, we’re only in session four months a year. Most of my work is researching various items at home and communicating with my clients and legislators is done, most of the time, over the phone.
DW: Why did you start your business?
Chad: In my business, your name is your brand. Why would I want to use my name to make someone else money as their employee? My first election cycle as a general consultant, I made more money than if I would have started working for a consulting company. The clients were hiring me for my work, not someone else’s company name. Your name and reputation are your brand. Same as consulting, lobbying is a relationship business. I didn’t need to work for someone else to meet elected officials. I already knew the elected officials from my work as State Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party from 2001 – 2003.
DW: Who is your target audience?
Chad: Candidates are the target for political consulting. Many times, the winner is the best candidate. Picking the right candidate will depend on the current political climate. Someone may have a great resume in one cycle, but it’s horrible in a different environment. An example would be Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb not making the recent run off election for Governor. In traditional years, he would have most certainly been in the top two. In the 2018 political environment, an experienced candidate is seen as the establishment. This is definitely a non-establishment year. Government relations is a totally different audience. Everyone is regulated by laws passed at the Capitol. Businesses, not-for-profits, tribal entities, etc…all need representation. Kevin Stitt and Matt Pinnell both winning run off elections against veteran politicians is a further example. Neither have held office before and now are the top of the ticket as Governor and Lt. Governor nominees.
DW: How did you learn about target market’s needs?
Chad: Being a lobbyist, watching regulatory and new legislative proposals are a great way to find new clients. When an industry has never had legislation that would radically change their business model, everyone in that industry will need a professional working the Capitol. Knowing the rules and procedures would take years for a company on their own. Lobbyists already have close working relationships with agencies and elected officials. This is a relationship business. I can do with a phone call what most businesses and corporations would need years to accomplish.
DW: What types of projects do you find yourself handling most often?
Chad: Political consulting is analysis of data to run the right campaign. I find myself providing a lot of analysis of the data based on the geography of a district or for the entire State. For example, where the largest voting population is located. I also look at data related to polling and help develop the campaign message. But you always begin with biographical information because the candidate is the product you’re selling. Introducing the product in the right way is crucial….and first impressions can make or break a campaign. After introducing the candidate, we must then carve out the issues that appeal most to voters. This changes, of course, election to election. Great consultants don’t run copycat campaigns. We evolve with the political environment so that we can win. I also do a lot of research on opponents, including finding out their weaknesses and exposing them if the campaign is close. Campaigns are half art and half science.
DW: Without giving away too much information, what’s the worst project you’ve ever worked on?
Chad: The worst projects are always candidates that lie to you or when a candidate has a spouse who is out of control. Candidates have to be honest with their consultants and trust their judgment. I’ve had a few clients over the years I’ve actually asked them why they paid me because they didn’t do anything I told them they needed to do and would lie to me about what they were doing. The most frequent for legislative races is knocking doors. A few candidates have told me they were out knocking doors every day. Normally, you do a first round of voter ID a month out from the election. When you do it for 15 districts and only one or two candidates are barely known by voters, you know they lied about knocking doors for six months. Candidate spouses can easily cost a good candidate an election. It’s not as rare as you’d think, either. Many candidates will listen to their consultants and work to execute the campaign plan. The spouse has pillow time the consultant (obviously) does not. They will fight with the candidate about mail pieces and pictures without realizing how to create effective mailers. Campaigns are not glamour shots. One of the biggest primary upsets I’ve ever been part of was in an agriculture driven house district. The opponents direct mail was all in flashy stuff and in suits… Every mail piece we put out was in black and white and the candidate mostly stood in a wheat field or was on a tractor. That was strategy, not a lack of funds. Thankfully, there was no demanding spouse insisting we use flashy things. Flashy things against a better funded candidate would not have stood out like the black and white pictures. Candidate spouses are also the number one factor when candidates refuse to run negative ads even when they must do so or risk losing. Don’t listen to the political amateur, even though you love them. Listen to the political professional you’re paying to help you create the best possible chance of you winning.
DW: Tell us a little about your most memorable project, why it made an impact on you, and what you learned from it.
Chad: Taking a small retainer from the relative of a friend. It was a very small retainer to kill a bill (which is usually easy to do). Normally, I would have NEVER taken that small of a retainer, but I was trying to help a friend and I didn’t need to research the opposition. I kept the bill from being heard, but I learned that several national corporations and some very large local groups were all lobbying for the bill. It was extremely late in the session when I took on this project. The bill had already passed the Senate. It had more than enough votes to pass the House. The Speaker at that time (he isn’t in the legislature anymore) visited with me in his office and he committed to me he would not hear the bill. No one, aside from me, had bothered to talk to him about the bill because there was no opposition and it was supposed to easily pass. Two days were left before adjournment. He kept his word and he took all of the pressure. However, I also learned that I should have done my homework on who supported the bill before taking the check!
Another memorable work experience is serving the community. I have served on the Board for the Oklahoma City Metro Alliance since December of 2014. We are a work program for individuals battling drug and alcohol addiction. We have both men’s and women’s facilities. They provide professional treatment. Most of our referrals come from District Attorneys. We work closely with the Oklahoma City Police Department and the District Attorney. We help with job placement and provide transportation to and from the job site. I’ve gotten to know several of the men who stayed at the men’s facility. I’ve helped pull old fencing from the ground and helped with GED preparation. I helped one man with third-grade level math and I realized he could have been any of us. None are born with equal advantages. I had parents that demanded I I get an education. He didn’t know his father. His mother worked two jobs and didn’t have the time to really focus on parenting. Helping people in these situations is far more rewarding than any professional success. I also serve on the board for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. In addition to raising money, I provide pro bono lobbying for legislative issues that would help children.
DW: What’s the best thing about having your own business?
Chad: The best thing about having your own business is control over your schedule. Whether it’s planning a vacation or simply taking time off to go to your child’s school play… Oh, and the tax benefits are also a nice perk.
DW: What’s the worst thing about having your own business?
Chad: The lack of affordable health care. My wife and I are both self-employed. Six years ago, we could cover our entire family with a $438.00 monthly premium and a $5,000 deductible. Today, it would cost us $2,500.00 a month and we’d have a $10,000 deductible for EACH FAMILY MEMBER. That would mean we pay $40,000 per year before we get any of the benefits of actually having health insurance.
DW: What’s your best tip for someone who is thinking about starting a business?
Chad: Have an anchor client first, if possible. An anchor client is a client that pays you enough to support your monthly basic cost of living. You can build from that point. Most of my friends that make six figures are self-employed, but none of them started out making six figures. If you have a passion, follow it. Life is too short to hate what you do every day. You have to take risks if you want to be successful. If possible, start your business as a side job and find your anchor client. Then, your destiny is in your hands.