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Developing an Elevator Pitch for A Small Business

elevator pitch small businessYou’re at a networking event and just met someone who could help your small business. You know who they are, but they don’t know anything about you. After exchanging a few pleasantries, they ask “What do you do?”

Do you have an answer ready?

If the answer is “no,” then an elevator pitch is needed!

Elevator Pitch Defined

An elevator pitch is a short speech—no more than two minutes—that describes the business, the target customers, and how the business solves customers’ problems better than the competition. Ideally, an elevator pitch can be delivered in one minute without rushing. (The name came from the time it takes to complete an average elevator ride.) The optimum length is 150 to 250 words.

Although the elevator pitch sounds simple, it can be challenging to craft and deliver naturally. A business owner doesn’t want to sound rehearsed or as if reading off a cue card. A good elevator pitch can be delivered naturally in a conversation.

An elevator pitch has more value than having a ready answer to the question “What do you do?” It also helps you to clarify business goals, objectives, target audience, and unique selling proposition.

How to Develop an Elevator Pitch

To start crafting an elevator pitch, answer the questions below. Examples of answers that might be given by a fictional small business owner (Jane Doe of Juliet’s Organic Dog Treats) is provided after each question for illustration purposes.

  • Who are you? (One sentence) Tell who you are to the business… owner, founder, or something else? This helps to establish authority. 

Example: I’m the founder and owner of Juliet’s Organic Dog Treats. 

  • What problem does the company solve? How does it solve it? (Two to three sentences) This is the “why” of the business—the reason the company exists.

Example: Many dog treats contain chemicals that are harmful to dogs. This company’s dog treats are 100% organic and contain only ingredients that are safe and beneficial to dogs.

  • Who are the ideal or target customers? (One to two sentences) The answer to this question should be tied back to the previous question. In other words, for whom is the company solving this problem?

Example: Target customers are dog owners who treat their pets like family. They want their dogs to have healthy treats free of harmful ingredients.

  • What is the business’ unique selling proposition (USP)? (One to two sentences) What differentiates the business from the competition? What makes the business better than the competition? The USP tells customers why they should choose this business instead of the competition. The USP might focus on things such as: proprietary information or technology; a new approach that is more efficient or convenient for customers; exclusivity (the only business in the area doing this). It may involve one or more of these items.

Example: The dog treats are made using my mother’s recipes. She was one of the first champions of using organic and healthy ingredients in dog treats and food.

  • What attention-getting hook can be used? (Two to three sentences) This might include a compelling quote, anecdote, or statistic that will pique the listener’s interest. It can be phrased in the form of a question to which to then provide an answer (Did you know that ….”)

 Example: My childhood dog died after eating tainted dog food. This devastated my mother. She vowed to make sure it never happened again.

 The next step is the most critical—putting all of this information together and reworking it until developing a cohesive and compelling elevator pitch. Here a few tips for doing this.

  • Start with the attention-getting hook and proceed from there.
  • Keep editing and revising until it feels “right.”
  • Avoid using industry jargon or buzzwords. Assume that anyone hearing the elevator pitch knows nothing about the business or industry.
  • Don’t overload the pitch with data or statistics. Although these are helpful to know and have on hand if is not needed, don’t become bogged down in them.
  • Don’t make it an obvious marketing message, although the pitch might become a crucial part of the business’ marketing efforts down the road.
  • End with a call for action.

Here’s an example of how the elevator pitch for Jane Doe might sound. Notice that the example sentences aren’t merely listed one right after another. Instead, they have been edited, revised, and reworked, with details added to make it more personal and conversational.

Example Elevator Pitch for Jane Doe: My mom was a dog lover her entire life. When I was 6, our family dog died of kidney failure after eating tainted dog food. My mom was devastated, and she vowed that her dogs would only eat food that she made herself and knew was safe. She began developing recipes for healthy dog food and treats. After her death, I wanted to honor her memory, so I founded Juliet’s Organic Dog Treats and named it after my mom. We make organic dog treats based on my mother’s recipes. The treats are 100% organic, free of harmful chemicals, and full of healthy ingredients that dogs love. Our treats are for people who treat their dogs like family members, just like my mom did. If you want to learn more, our website includes several articles on which ingredients should never appear in your dog’s treats. (144 words)

It can help to look at examples of elevator pitches from other small businesses to get an idea about different approaches that can be used. These examples might also inspire you while you’re developing an effective elevator pitch.

Further Developing The Elevator Pitch

Now that the effective elevator pitch has been developed, it is time to practice, refine, and further expand it. Here are tips on how to do this.

  • Practice the elevator pitch until you feel comfortable delivering it. Practice in front of a mirror. Record yourself and analyze the footage. Deliver the pitch to friends, family, and colleagues and ask for feedback. While doing this, continually refine the pitch to make it more conversational and natural. Remember not to make it word for word, as if it is rehearsed. Instead, memorize the basic flow and key points, but keep it sounding natural so as not to sound as if reciting lines from a play.
  • Infuse the pitch with personal passion and emotions. Small business owners are usually passionate about what they do. Don’t be afraid to use this passion in the elevator pitch.
  • Once you’re comfortable with the elevator pitch, develop a few variations. Create at least three versions: a “dinner party” version for people who know nothing about the industry; a “trade show” version for people in the same industry; and a “new customer” version for people who might be interested in purchasing the product.
  • Adapt the elevator pitch for effective marketing efforts. Elevator pitches are ideal for use on custom product labels, the “about” section of your website, and the company’s marketing pieces. Don’t be afraid to share the pitch with employees or colleagues by printing custom decals that are posted throughout the office or store. This can remind employees and customers why the company does what it does better than the competition.

Now the next time someone asks “What do you do?” at a dinner party, you’ll be ready with an answer!

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