With less than a month to go until the country goes to the polls, we take a look at how small businesses can glean some serious strategy tips from the fierce and ultra-competitive world of political campaigning.

‘Intellectuals debate, while idiots just argue’ goes the line. Following last week’s first leaders’ debate in the run up to the general election, it’s up to you to decide in which camp our politicians sit as they compete to win our votes. Whether it’s debate or argument, what’s not in dispute is that they’re currently engaged in an ultra-competitive battle to decide who will run the country.

Whatever you think of politics and the behaviour of politicians, there are some useful lessons that small businesses can draw from the strategies and tactics employed by the duelling parties in the next month or so as they battle to outsmart their opponents.

Here are our top five:

1. Differentiate your offering: what’s your USP?

Politicians know the importance of putting clear water between themselves and their rivals. Party manifestos need to be written with their target audiences clearly in mind, and to be distinct and compelling. What’s your business manifesto and how different is it from your closest competitors? What is it that you do differently and how do you communicate that difference? If there isn’t much between what you and your opposition do, ask yourself, why would a client ‘vote’ for me rather than one of my competitors?

2. Stay one step ahead

Political parties need to stay ahead of the competition. They need to anticipate what their competitors are going to do to outsmart and outpace them. The same goes for business. ‘Adapt or die’ is the Darwinian philosophy and many businesses have lost out because they’ve failed to anticipate change. Here are 10 ways to keep ahead of the competition.

3. Overcoming the PR gaffe

Last time out, Gordon Brown found himself in hot water over a microphone inadvertently recording his off-camera comments concerning a member of the public who’d been sharing her ‘forthright’ views. Cue ministerial gnashing of teeth, followed by the curious spectacle of the Prime Minister scurrying back to offer a fulsome apology, in the full glare of cameras and the nation’s media. His poor recovery from that gaffe arguably sealed his election fate.Politicians are, more than ever, aware of the danger of letting a mistake rumble on, which is why they will generally; acknowledge the mistake, take responsibility, and offer a full apology to the injured party, and try to move on. Businesses must equally recognise when they’ve made a mistake and realise that bad news can no longer be ‘buried’. Social media can be particularly troublesome; here are some tips on dealing with those social media gaffes that can rapidly transform themselves into a full-on PR disaster.

4. Win the social media war

Talking of social media, general elections used to be won and lost on the ‘stump’; apparently a term, derived from US electioneering in the 19th century when politicians would travel from place to place to deliver their election speech from the vantage of an old tree stump.That ‘stump’ today is increasingly a virtual stump. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…and politicians need to go wherever the electorate is ‘hanging out’.The same goes for small businesses. Social media is a tool that no business can afford to ignore. There are plenty of tips on how to make social media work for you in our Sue Llewellyn column – Why tapping into conversations on social media could be good for business.

5. Know when to collaborate

There are times when even the most trenchant of political opponents must choose to work together. Think back to 2010 and the likelihood of the LibDems and Conservatives forming a coalition. It seemed unlikely but pragmatism won out and, against all predictions, they stuck together for the five-year parliamentary term. Politicians are masters of compromise.For small businesses, collaboration can be very valuable. It can give you greater resource to go after the bigger clients and/or add a skillset that your business lacks. It’s unlikely that you’ll be collaborating with your fiercest competitor but if you know of non-competing businesses with allied interests and audiences it could be a major positive. Here’s one business’s experience of collaboration.

That’s a ‘no’ from me
Over the next month our lives will be crammed full of political posturing and frenzied X Factor style campaigning. While the content might eventually wear you down, and for many of the politicians it’ll be a ‘no’ from you, the strategy and tactics that they use to try and keep ahead of the pack could provide many small businesses with some valuable marketing inspiration.

Do you know your USP from your USB? Have you collaborated with a competitor? Or have any other stories in line with the above? As always, share below…

Check out our first instalment in The Politics of Business series: Running a pitch is a bit like running an election campaign