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Summary:

While some web workers have made a niche for themselves by working exclusively with organizations representing one political point of view, most of us don’t have that option. And quite frankly, I’d get bored talking about the same issues, and presenting the same point of view.

As anyone who follows the news knows. we’re living in a time of deep political divisions. But for most web workers living in today’s economy, it’s not feasible, or even a good idea, to limit one’s clients just to those who agree with our political beliefs.

And despite the angry rhetoric that often fills the airwaves, people on the “other side” generally aren’t monsters…most of the time. (That was a joke. Politics can be short on humor these days.)

Indeed, I’ve had many friends, going back to high school and college days, with whom I totally disagree politically — yet we are able to have perfectly civil conversations. We can even do business, to our mutual benefit.

While some web workers have made a niche for themselves by working exclusively with organizations representing one political point of view, most of us don’t have that option. And quite frankly, I’d get bored talking about the same issues, and presenting the same point of view, all of the time.

Without compromising one’s principles, then, here are my guidelines for navigating today’s rocky political landscape:

  • Don’t assume that a potential client shares your political beliefs. I live in a place that leans heavily toward one political party, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many folks of the other party in my neighborhood. Besides, there are many issues that divide people of the same party.
  • In many cases, disagreeing on politics doesn’t matter. If a potential client wants my company to create a web site for selling handmade crafts, their personal politics should have no effect on our ability to develop a site for them.
  • Sometimes, however, you should turn down a job if you’re not comfortable. I recently started work on a project with an existing client, only to discover that it was going in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. The client (with whom I continue to do other work) agreed that we would part ways on this specific project, if for no other reason that I couldn’t give them my best work — it’s hard to create an effective web site for something that I don’t agree with.
  • Know how your colleagues feel. Since my company is a three-person team, and we’ve worked together for a decade, I have a pretty good idea where my colleagues stand on issues. So when I talk with clients about a potentially controversial project, I can generally avoid jobs that may make my fellow workers unhappy. No job is worth upsetting an excellent working relationship in our team.
  • Don’t hide your beliefs, but don’t flaunt them either. I’ve been involved in local politics for many years, and while I haven’t (and don’t plan to) run for elected office, I’ve been a visible participant in several issues. So it’s not hard to find out where I stand on some things. But in this era of social media, I do try to keep my professional and political lives separate — with multiple Twitter accounts, posting only to certain Facebook friend groups, and, as Doriano suggests, by limiting cross-posting.
  • Select your donations carefully. We are frequently asked donate our services, in whole or in part. We have an informal policy of regularly giving discounts to non-profit organizations, and sometimes (about once a year) may donate an entire site to a cause. But especially with discounted or donated work, we make sure to agree on project scope with clients; otherwise, it’s easy for the time spent to get out of hand. It seems to be a truism that “the smaller the budget, the more the client wants.”
  • Just because someone agrees with your political views, that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to work with. Some clients may try to take advantage of us, as it’s “for a good cause.” Politicians are a strange bunch, who have pretty good opinions of themselves. I guess that one can’t be short on self-esteem to run for office. But web workers need to make sure that clients understand, and value, your professional skills.
  • Keep track of time spent on political activities. Check to see whether professional activities can be counted as donations for tax purposes. Also, check to see whether professional time must be reported as a donation under campaign finance laws.

With these ideas in mind, I find that it’s relatively simple to manage one’s business and political lives without compromising one’s beliefs, and without limiting one’s potential markets.

How do you reconcile your personal politics with serving your customers effectively?

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  1. Stephen Clay McGehee Friday, March 5, 2010

    In my case, political issues cannot be ignored – I write political campaign software and provide web and data services for political campaigns. I got into this business 15 years ago first as a candidate, and then as a software designer/programmer, so trying to come off as “I’m just a programmer – I don’t care about politics” just wouldn’t work. Here is how I handle it on my web site:

    “I make it a point not to let my own political beliefs affect the business of creating and selling political campaign software, and my customer list includes campaigns from everywhere on the political spectrum. It is inevitable, though, that some will want to know my own political persuasion, and it’s probably a fair question.”

    (I then go through a rather detailed description of my own political beliefs.)

    “By this point, it should be clear that I hold some very strong opinions. It should also be clear that some of my customers take a stand that I find repulsive and work hard to defeat. To all those who stand up for what they believe – I salute you. I have far more respect for those who stand up for issues and policies that I strongly oppose, than for those timid, bleating sheep who quietly graze with the flock, never raising a voice that might offend someone. That’s what I love about this business: I get to deal with people who stand up for what they believe in – even if we strongly disagree. We may be on opposite sides in the arena, but we have shown the courage to stand and fight for our convictions. Even among the most rabid big-government liberals, I am among leaders.”

    1. It sounds like you have developed a position that works well for you. I hope my post didn’t sound like I was discouraging web workers from being politically active. To the contrary, in today’s environment, all of us should advocate for those candidates and issues we believe in.

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