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Everything You Wish You Knew Before Running for Office

Running for office as a first-time candidate can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life, but it can also be one of the most stressful. Before you jump into your first campaign, it’s important to consider all the variables that come into play once you decide to run for office and actually begin campaigning.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you decide to run for office. The answers will help you prepare, so your campaign can have the best chance at succeeding from the start.

Should You Run for Office?

Running for office is a serious decision. There’s no shortage of advice, but you don’t need to look any further than yourself (and your family) to know if you should run.

Most important: If it won’t make you happy or serve others, don’t do it.

To help make sure running is right for you, answer these questions:

  • Do I like people? Are people drawn to me?
  • Do I want (or need) more money?
  • Do I like speaking in public? Can I handle criticism well?
  • Am I willing and able to raise campaign cash?
  • Is there an election coming up that fits my interests and skills?

If so, run! Run early.

What Are Your Campaign’s Core Issues?

Are you passionate about helping veterans? Does your city need a new school district? Are there changes that need to be made in city government? Whatever issue is important to you, it’s important that you run on issues that excite and engage voters.

An equally critical step in starting a campaign is identifying a core group of voters who share your views and will be excited about voting for you. Identifying these voters can prove helpful when building a network of supporters later on.

Once you have an idea of what core group of people will likely support your campaign, think about why they’re supporting you—and do everything in your power to keep them engaged throughout your campaign.

How to Get Your Name on the Ballot

Each state has its own regulations on how candidates get their names on ballot. Some states, like Colorado, use an online system that allows you register your candidacy and pay fees.

(New York City also has a fairly simple process.)

However, other states make you jump through hoops like turning in signatures of registered voters who support your bid or paying hefty filing fees. If you live in Washington State, for example, getting your name on an election ballot is significantly more difficult than it is in Colorado.

Generally speaking, however, most candidates go with their local Board of Elections or Secretary of State’s office to get registered.

The #1 Mistake Made When Running for Office

Not running. When you think about it, running for office is a lot like job hunting—you don’t apply for positions you aren’t qualified to do. In both cases, your resume and cover letter should highlight your strongest qualities and make a compelling case as to why you’re a good fit for each opportunity. But there are other similarities between job hunting and running.

It’s not exactly shocking that another one of the most common mistakes candidates make is underestimating just how much time and effort running for office will take.

Whether it’s your first race or your fiftieth, there are details you can never be prepared enough for. For example, one candidate I met with recently had asked several friends if they could help him out by volunteering with his campaign on weekends—not realizing that campaigning almost always requires full-time commitment during business hours. It’s hard enough to campaign without having loved ones watching TV at night while you’re also glued to your laptop, phone and tablet!

Having a passion for serving in office is great, but don’t let it blind you from seeing that becoming an elected official isn’t something that happens overnight.

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