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Sound Business Practices

Have You Perfected Your Elevator Pitch?


By Sandy Hershelman

Elevator Pitch: A slang term referring to the 20 to 60 seconds an entrepreneur has to interest a venture capitalist in his or her business idea.

No matter what your business, you should have an "elevator pitch." The underlying premise is to imagine that you're in an elevator with a potential client or investor. He is captive for the length of the elevator ride.

"So, what do you do?" Donald Trump asks politely.

What you say to The Donald in those 30 precious seconds make, or break, the first impression. This is why you should craft a well practiced description of the benefits of using your company's product and/or service. Sounds like you're writing a commercial, huh? Exactly. . .

Now, in the small town where I live, there's only one elevator within 30 miles. . .and it only goes up one floor. Chances are my magical moment won't happen between floors. It'll happen at a party, in line at the grocery store, or while I'm getting your tires rotated.

Your pitch needs to be well rehearsed, but sound like it's off-the-cuff, casual conversation. Delivery is key. Smile, and look them in the eye.

  • Keep your pitch short and sweet, less than 150 words. My own pitch is under 100 words. Then again, I have no problem winging it with perfect strangers—and could talk for hours.
  • Respect your comfort zone, or you may not throw the pitch.
  • Solve their problem. No matter what your business does, you are solving a problem by providing a service that someone else can't (or doesn't want to) do.
  • Keep it simple, in layman's language—no trade lingo or acronyms. If you're not sure exactly how to pitch your services without the lingo, ask your customers to describe you.
  • Grab their attention with a "hook," something sure to spark questions.
  • Depending on your business, you may need to have more than one pitch, each tailored to different audiences.
  • Be passionate about what you do, and let it show.
  • Make sure your employees are well versed in the pitch, too.

Some marketing gurus say to conclude your pitch with a request to contact them again. Be very careful with that one. If it's appropriate to exchange business cards, do so. If not, make a note of whom you pitched. It may come in handy later.

If someone asked me, "So Sandy, what do you do?" And I said, "I make Web sites." Do you think anyone would be impressed? While the statement is quite true, it does nothing to stimulate conversation. "Oh," may be the best response I'd get to that one. After all, there are probably more Web designers and massage therapists per capita in my small town than anywhere else in the world.

Since I'm not usually hanging out in elevators, I prefer to break my elevator speech into two parts. "I market businesses. I was a freelance journalist and photographer for about a dozen years. These days I work primarily with small business owners, schools and non-profits to help them tell their story in an eye-catching way. I design Web sites, newsletters and other printed materials to help them effectively market their product or service."

More often than not, they reply at that point. Often, it was the "years spent as a journalist" that piqued their interest. It was "my hook." Most people feel they can't write, and they truly value that skill.

I intentionally repeated, "help them." It's my hands-on approach people are buying. I'm not just working for them; I'm working with them. As far as my pitch, I want them to be interested in me. I am my company.

From there, I continue, "Desktop publishing was a natural use of my writing and photography skills. From there, the Web was a perfect progression. Words, photos, pretty colors. . .it's such a wonderful medium. . .I just love it!"

Sometimes the imaginary elevator doors open and we part ways. But more often than not, we continue to chat—and this is a good thing.

Self-promotion can be tough. As much as I know I should have it in my pitch, I can't bring myself to actually say, "I've won numerous awards for my writing, photography and desktop publishing." I have "award-winning" in my e-mail signature line and on my Web site, but saying it in casual conversation with a stranger just doesn't feel right. Of course, there are situations where it would be critical to include it—and I would. In today's market, you can't afford to be humble.


More business management articles. . .

© 2004 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.



Date Last Modified:3/4/19
Copyright © 1999-2005 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.