by Yvonne English | Featured Contributor
The elevator pitch is a basic building block for any entrepreneur starting a business. You never know when someone might ask about your business, and you need to be ready as you never know where that conversation can take you. Whether that person is a potential customer, strategic partner, or investor, he or she expects you to be able to explain the basics of your business in an efficient and effective manner. This is the basic idea behind the concept of an “elevator pitch” – an entrepreneur’s 2-3 minute sales pitch (which is assumed to be the time it takes for the average elevator ride).
I have hosted and judged dozens of elevator pitch competitions and coached hundreds of students and entrepreneurs in the art of elevator pitching. In the course of these activities, I’ve studied what makes one elevator pitch stand out from the rest. Here are a few tips to help you to create a killer elevator pitch.
Consider Starting with a Story
While this doesn’t work for every type of business, the user story technique can really help to illustrate the pain that you are solving (or gain that you are creating).
Observe the difference:
Scenario #1: “I run a healthy family-oriented restaurant.”
Scenario #2: “As a busy mother, I noticed that my busy family never had time to eat together. With everyone running in every direction, I actually went for an entire week once without seeing my entire family together in one place! And forget about the quality of the meals…I hate to admit it, but I often stopped at fast food restaurants just to get dinner on the table on time. I started my business, Family Time, when I realized that my family was hungry for both connections and good food. We serve healthy (and yummy”!) meals in a fun environment where families connect and play games.”
The second scenario makes it clear what problem this entrepreneur is trying to solve, paints a picture of the target market, identifies the value proposition, and answers the question “why you?” all in one short story!
Start with the Basics
Your elevator pitch doesn’t have to be a wild fast-forwarded regurgitation of your business plan. You only need to cover the basics. The idea is to capture the attention of the listener so that person takes an action such as visiting your website, making a purchase, or asking for a second meeting to talk about the details.
The basic information that you should cover (in no particular order) includes:
- Name of business (and your name…if you haven’t offered it prior to the pitch)
- What is your product/service?
- Competition – Who is it? Remember: There is always competition. Even if it’s simply the status quo.
- Competitive Advantage – what makes your offering special/difference? Describe benefits, not features.
- Customer/Market – Who will pay? Why will they pay? How are you solving a pain or creating a gain?
- Business Model – How does your business make money?
- Why you?
Know that One Size Does Not Fit All
You should have different versions of your elevator pitch for different audiences. For instance, your investor pitch will sound a bit different than your customer pitch.
You should also have different versions of the pitch with regard to length/timing. In some situations, you’ll have plenty of time…in others, you might truly be in an elevator…in a two story building…so you’ll need to grab the person’s attention pretty quickly.
Okay, so this tip is weird, right? What I mean here is that you want to allow your passion and excitement to show. I’ve seen entrepreneurs generate a lot of excitement for products and services that are, well, mundane and boring. They were able to do this by showing their true passion for the business. Their excitement was contagious and, frankly, people like to do business with people that they like. So, show your sparkle! But beware…be measured about your sparkle. You don’t want to be cheesy or creepy. There’s a fine line between someone who is enthusiastic and someone who is going to receive a restraining order in the next 24-48 hours.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You’re going to be tempted to skip practicing, but I urge you to reconsider. I don’t want you to memorize a script as that can come off as too rehearsed, but I do want you to work through the elements of your pitch so that you are able to deliver the pitch without thinking about it. That elevator’s not going to stop between floors so that you can try to remember your pitch!
Practice your pitch with different individuals who will give you honest feedback. (Let’s face it, your grandmother would praise you if you pitched a business selling sand in a desert. Lesson Here: Don’t test your pitch with your grandma.) Make sure that your audience understands what you’re trying to convey. Make tweaks to the pitch as you receive feedback to make it more effective…and efficient.
That having been said, understand that you will receive contradictory feedback from different people. Filter the feedback and select what works for you.
Remember your mission. Seth Godin summed it up nicely when he stated, “The purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person that you’re with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over.” Go get ’em, Tiger!
Yvonne English is a self-professed startup geek who lives in Western Pennsylvania. Having founded several companies of her own, she has also coached multiple startups through raising millions, dealing with founders’ dilemmas, and maneuvering through acquisitions. She loves working with founders who are passionate about making the world a better place and serves a portfolio of startup clients that match that criteria.
Before finding her niche in entrepreneurship, Yvonne spent time in the corporate world in Canada and the US. While she made some great friends and learned a lot, she couldn’t come to terms with a lifetime career in a large company. After much self reflection, she made the leap and founded a business incubator in 2010 where she coached 21 companies during her five years at the helm. She is now the Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Grove City College.
Yvonne loves technology, teaching, theatre, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family. She’s married to an amazing guy, Kyle, and has a quirky little dog who prefers to be called by her full name – Juno English.