So, first off, what the hell is an elevator pitch?! You’ve probably heard the phrase at some point in your career, but it becomes particularly important when you start thinking about promoting your own business.
In short, an elevator pitch is a concise ‘sell’ of your business idea; it can also be of you if you’re using it to sell your capabilities.
It’s named for the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator from the bottom to the top of a building, anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds.
Why do you need one?
Good question. It’s your door opener to funding or to a business partner or even potential recruits to your start-up. It can also take a number of forms: the first few slides in your pitch presentation, your spoken introduction to a potential investor; the first frames of your Kickstarter video, your opening pitch to a journalist or your LinkedIn intro message to a crucial connection.
You need it because you only get one chance to make a first impression and with a new and unfamiliar audience it matters that you give your business idea the best chance to shine in those critical few lines or opening words, because they might be the only opportunity you have.
Well, tell me how to craft the killer elevator pitch then!
Whatever form it takes, there are a few ingredients that every elevator pitch needs.
The problem you’re solving
This is the heart of your business pitch. If your product or service doesn’t solve a problem that potential customers have, it’s not yet a viable business idea. This doesn’t mean it has to be a world-changing idea – though it can be! It can be a simple problem, such as:
• Modern homes never have enough storage space for seasonal clothing
• People with disabilities are rarely featured in advertising
• The UK wastes too much food because many people lack basic cooking skills.
It can be tempting to jump straight to describing your business idea, but you need first to set up WHY your idea is needed.
Clear on the problem? Great, now define succinctly how your business solves that problem. One Problem: One Simple Solution. Again work at getting this as concise as you can. You may have a multitude of ideas for what you could do and how you can monetise and grow your business – keep a log of those, they’ll come in use for building out your business plan and growth opportunities. But for now, keep focused on the main problem you are solving and what your solution to this is.
Aim to describe it in one sentence:
• A video cam connected to your smartphone so new parents can see their baby is safe and well when it’s sleeping
• A simple grip device that helps older people open stiff jars and lids
Who is this for? It might be tempting to say everyone, and in some instances, it could be a solution that has universal appeal, but there will still be certain audience groups (or segments) that it is significantly more relevant and appealing to. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the audience is you and just like you. If you’re solving a problem for yourself – and this is often where initial light-bulb moments come from – there’s every chance that it is a problem that affects other people, but be sure that this is true.
Show that you really understand this audience; their pressure points, attitudes and behaviours. If you’re able to validate this with a pertinent stat or figures so much the better, but for the elevator pitch, remember to keep it brief and to the point:
• x% of people have struggled to maintain motivation with a fitness regime after only 3 months
• There are x million people in the UK who act as unpaid carers to family members.
How are you different?
Even if you feel your idea is completely new and unique you will still have competition in some form or another; because how are people currently solving the problem you’ve identified? You might be making it simpler, smarter or creating a joined-up service to cater to this challenge, but there will be competition. The first cars, for instance, were competing against horses or walking, the first e-commerce brands were competing against mail-order catalogues (RIP the Argos catalogue) shops or stalls. Identify your difference and what makes your business idea distinct. This won’t just help your elevator pitch; it will help you ensure you have a unique and compelling proposition for your customers that they’ll want to choose over other alternatives.
Putting it all together
Now you have all the ingredients, you need to sum it up in your 30-60 second pitch or succinct paragraph. Always start with the problem, but how you combine the other three elements is up to you, and also worth you trying a few different combinations to get the flow right, for example:
[Problem + Audience insight] The average office worker receives 304 emails per week and attends 62 monthly meetings, half of which they consider ‘wasted time’.
[Solution] Slack replaces email to make work more efficient.
[Competitor Difference] In the case of Slack they had the first-mover advantage; so their focus on ‘distinctiveness’ was to position themselves as the simpler, quicker, more intuitive (and at the time ‘cooler’) alternative to email.
Hmm maybe it’s harder than it looks, any tips?
There’s no getting around it; it does take some time and perseverance to nail the perfect elevator pitch. I’m still honing mine! But here are a few things that have helped:
• Share with a friendly audience – not your best friend or partner, you want a slightly more objective audience. Perhaps a work colleague, a mentor or someone in your network who you respect. Ask them to listen or read your pitch and give you some constructive feedback. Even the act of doing this will make you tighten it up and tweak it, ready for its first outing.
• Kill your darlings – which means get rid of the fluff and the unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and jargon that aren’t adding value but just making it harder to understand. Be brutal and cut anything from your pitch that isn’t adding value. Recording and listening to yourself, reading it out loud is a great way to sense check this.
• Make it persuasive – you were excited about your original business idea, and that excitement and enthusiasm need to come across in your pitch. Make it compelling. Make it persuasive. When you listen back to it (see above) do YOU feel excited about its potential? If not, go again.
• Be prepared to flex: The more you use your elevator pitch, the better you can make it. Don’t think of it as a permanent description that never changes; listen to feedback, and tweak and refine. You might need to create shorter versions as well for LinkedIn messages, or Twitter responses to Journo Requests, this will all help you get to the tightest, punchiest pitch.
Make sure you cover:
• WHY this idea (what problem is it solving)
• WHAT is your solution (the one-line description of your business)
• WHO is it for (be specific about who this is for/size of the market)
• HOW are you different (what makes your business distinct from the competition)
But most importantly enjoy pitching it and beginning to see your business idea become a reality!
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About your author
Charlotte is Head of Strategy at independent Creative Agency, Cult, and Co-founder of twixt – the UK’s first dedicated source of inspiration, insight and information for raising tweens. She’s a big believer in paying it forward and regularly mentors women in the creative industries, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs.
Meet Ada, based in West Sussex and the founder of ADAVIRTUAL – who partner with start up businesses and help them scale.
Meet Lucy Tarrant, Managing Director of Cognitive Law
After years of working in digital advertising in London, my co-founder Clàudia and I decided to take a break from our successful careers to travel the world, breathe in the air and eat great food.