Many consultants at the start of the year walked into their offices and saw rows of empty desks. No, their employees weren’t on strike. Their teams downsized after the midterms.
Now with more than a dozen presidential candidates and counting, we all know those desks will start to fill again by June.
This is because our bottom lines tend to swing with the campaign cycles, so it’s common for consultants to hire short-term employees with limited benefits and growth opportunities.
We’ve traditionally run our shops like campaigns rather than modeling the small businesses we champion on the trail.
For those of us on the left, it’s time to check ourselves. We are on the frontlines of the fight for a living wage, for gender pay equity, for paid time off, and for universal health care. Except many of our agencies, as employers, frequently fail our own progressive litmus test.
What if we chose to live our values?
When my partners and I started building Mosaic Strategies Group in 2012, we asked ourselves that exact question. Seven years, hundreds of campaigns later, here we are, proof that a small political agency can thrive without seasonal employees and a campaign lifestyle.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
Money Health Insurance Is Like Yeast
Small firms aren’t required to offer awesome health insurance, but this doesn’t mean you can’t. We know health insurance is great for employees, but it’s also great for employers. You recruit folks who care about their health, have a safer work environment, and good employees are more likely to stick around (on average, our employees stick around for three-plus years). In fact, we never felt the financial impact of offering healthcare coverage as we’ve grown.
(Side note: If you’re having difficulty finding affordable health insurance for your small business? Check out a professional employer organization [PEO]).
2. Locate Where Your Employees Can Afford to Live
When looking for office space, the instinct is to go where your competition is. This spot is most likely in a major U.S. city with skyrocketing rent. You might get a good one-year deal on co-working space. But your employees can’t afford to live anywhere close unless their parents are bankrolling their first-decade post-college.
Our HQ isn’t in downtown New York City. We chose the New Jersey suburb of Bloomfield. It’s on a 30-minute direct train line to the city, has cool coffee shops and bars, and rent agreeable with our starting salaries. Our Colorado location followed this same model.
When I talk about Mosaic’s 2018 points of success, I use only this metric: two of our team members under 30 purchased homes and changed the course of their families.
3. Make January Hiring Season
If the contracts haven’t started, how can we hire people? Every winter, evaluate your year ahead. If it looks promising, take a percentage of your cycle earnings and immediately invest them in growth.
Expanding your team during slower periods allows you to take your time when hiring, choose from a wider talent pool, and gives you space to train new employees before the campaign rush. Better trained employees make for happier clients, more productive teams, and easier days.
4. Expand Your Client Base With A Specific Product
Like any business, we initially wanted to go after the “big fish.” After all, their logo would look great on our website. Except, their pay cycles are often inconsistent, the scope frequently changes, and it can be difficult to maintain other clients at the same time. Running a firm around the “big fish” causes inherent instability (we’ve all been caught with a client whose career perished with a tweet).
Instead, first look for smaller clients who surround the larger organization and offer them a specific set of services. Rather than choosing the statewide candidate out of the gate (or being yet another vendor to a presidential), build a base of district candidates and run a similar program within each district.
When we began to offer a more defined product, we also noticed our team could work more efficiently and knock it out of the park.
5. Set Office Hours And Keep Them
Campaigns have the luxury of being teamed with passionate folks willing to put their lives on hold until Election Day. After Election Day, these folks go back to their “real” lives.
But in theory, our firms stay open all year long. Our employees have responsibilities outside of our offices and we need to make space for them even between August and November. This is especially true for the women on your team who are more likely to be primary caregivers for their children and parents.
Realistic working hours (think 9 am – 6 pm) should be enough time for your team to accomplish work for your clients. If it’s not, and no one is taking two-hour lunches, it might be time to increase your clients’ retainers and hire more people.
So what’s this story about? Making space for working families in Democratic politics, or frankly, all politics. If I wasn’t part of Mosaic, I’d probably be out of the political field.
I’m a 30-year-old black woman consultant and today I sit here writing this from my couch holding my three-week-old daughter. I’m embracing a paid maternity leave in an off-year cycle knowing that our team is thriving and I’m not worried about whether there’s still a seat for me at the table.
Francesca Dulce Larson is a partner at Mosaic Strategies Group, a progressive digital firm based in New Jersey.