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Perfect your elevator pitch in 5 little steps

Starting a business is full of ups and downs. However, the rise of the elevator pitch has brought with it a welcome opportunity for both businesses and investors. This post lists 5 steps, and we’ve used up all our elevator references. So let’s get going.

Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Chief Evangelist and top Venture Capitalist, compares pitching to online dating.

To cut to the chase, there are two extremes in online dating: eHarmony and Hot Or Not. When you use the former, you provide the data along twenty-nine dimensions to find your soul mate. When you use the latter, you look at a picture and decide if the person is “hot or not” in a few seconds.

When it comes to pitches for your company, think Hot Or Not, not eHarmony.

He’s right too. Imagine this situation. You’re an entrepreneur and you’re at an emerging technology conference in a swanky hotel. At the end of the day, having traipsed around all day through the throngs surrounding the big names, you decide to change clothes before going out for the night. You head over to the lift, push the “Up” button, and step through the doors. Just as they begin to close, you hear a voice shout out, “Hold the door, please.” Who is it? That VC you’ve been looking to meet for months.

The original idea behind the elevator pitch was to have something that you’d say to a potential customer or investor whom you happen to meet by chance. While the “elevator” scenario is a bit far-fetched, there’s no question that chance conversations can result in business opportunities. Bob Carr, the CEO of Heartland Payment Systems– one of the largest credit card processors in the United States – sold the idea for his new business to an investor whom he met at a wedding.

1. Be Concise

When asked “So, what do you do?”, we usually respond in one of two ways. Option 1 is the hyper-enthusiast, who will launch immediately into his company’s life story, including every minute detail. Option 2 is the almost apologetic, generic answer “I work at an online accounting company.”

While such broad descriptions may be true, they’re far too abstract. You want a carefully crafted sentence  that describes who you are and what you do for your customers. Instead of dealing in vague descriptions, focus on the problems you solve.

Our customers are either paying over the odds for an accountant or struggling to find the time to do their accounts themselves. Bullet, an online payroll and accounting software, takes the stress and hassle out of doing your accounts.

By talking about how you help people; your job or business becomes instantly relatable. Everybody has problems that need solving. Note that all of these responses to “What do you do for a living?” state a benefit to your customers that would be relevant to a prospective investor. Also note that all the responses are concise enough to be socially acceptable. When you position your company in this way, the person you’re talking to will express either disinterest or interest in what you just said. If it’s disinterest – let the matter drop. “How about that weather we’ve having?”

2. Be Unique

Remember Guy Kawasaki’s online dating analogy? Whether you’re dating or networking, confidence is key. When answering what you do, don’t mumble through the response. No matter how obscure your job or company, begin with the assumption that the other person will be interested. They will be if you make it sound interesting.

Good work. They’re still in the lift. The person you’ve just met has shown some interest in your firm, based upon your confident position statement. Your job is now to show why you and your firm are unique and different from your competition. Do this by revealing one or two facts that prove your uniqueness.

Bullet is totally integrated, automating everything with your tax returns.

3. Ask A Question

Sometimes we become so focused on how to answer basic questions that we forget to actually make conversation. The best way to be remembered is to build a connection. Assuming there are still signs of interest, ask an open-ended question to find out whether or not the person you’ve just met actually is a potential customer, investor or just being polite. No need to get fancy. Be sure the question is open-ended rather than something that can be answered with a simple yes-or-no answer.

Hey, enough about me. How does your firm handle those kind of accounting problems?
Oh. You’re an accountant.

4. Ask To Meet Again

Remember, an elevator pitch is usually around 30-45 seconds. If it makes sense to have the conversation continue, it’s now time to ask for a meeting to discuss the matter in more detail. Now you can drop the business talk and go back to discussing – like in our Bob Carr example – how lovely the bride looked. There are two basic approaches. If the prospect seems sceptical or hesitant, say something like

If we really could do [insert something of value to the customer here], what would your thoughts be on having an initial conversation with us to hear more?

If the prospect seems interested or enthusiastic, ask:

I would love to have a conversation with you about [insert something of value to the investor here]. What’s the best way to get on your calendar?

No matter how busy, they’ll always have a free day.

5. Practise

Keep in mind that the people you meet could be hearing about your company for the first time. Caren Maio, whose company Nestio allows house hunters to collect information from multiple-listings sites in one place, says rehearsing helped her perfect her pitch. Watching videos of herself, she found that she would start rattling off key points too quickly.

It’s painful to watch those videos.

But they taught her to slow down. Some people may look like natural networkers. However, in reality, very few create a perfect pitch on the fly. Practise in your head, in front of the mirror. Record yourself. Then try it out on a group of friends or colleagues, and ask what specific points they remember. That instant feedback will help you determine what to cut or change in order to make a connection and be memorable.

Remember, your elevator pitch doesn’t need to tell your entire story; it doesn’t even need to cover all the important points. A great pitch succeeds if it draws interest from the other person and leaves them wanting more.

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