“So, what do you do?”
If you’re in business for yourself, you’d better know how to answer that question in 30 to 60 seconds—about the time it takes for a short elevator ride.
In entrepreneurship, every person you meet could be a potential customer or know someone who might be—if only they know what you can offer them. A short, sweet “elevator pitch” tells the world who you are and what you do. Delivered with confidence, it can make an excellent first impression and potentially generate interest in you and your business. It does not necessarily have to be delivered in an elevator—or even in person. Your LinkedIn profile description, the personal statement on your resume and your social media bio are all versions of your own elevator pitch.
Don’t let the word “pitch” throw you off; this is not the same thing as a sales pitch. In fact, if you answer the question “What do you do?” with a sales pitch, you’re more likely to turn potential customers away. Nobody wants to be sold to right out of the gate. People want to do business with people they like and trust.
Your elevator pitch is really just a way to strike up a conversation so that interested parties can learn more, if they so desire. You want to give enough information to be intriguing without sounding rehearsed or coming off as pushy. The goal isn’t to close a sale; it’s to generate interest, begin building rapport and possibly prompt a referral or an invitation to speak further.
Anatomy of a perfect elevator pitch
Although you should be able to deliver your elevator pitch in a short amount of time, it can take a long time to write and perfect it. You can probably talk easily and passionately at length about what you do. When you’re deeply involved in the business and understand all the nuances, it can be hard to boil it down to two or three sentences. But, shorter is better. Here are the essential elements to include in a good elevator pitch, as well as some elevator pitch examples.
Who are you?
Start your elevator speech by stating who you are. Keep it brief and to the point. Remember: it’s not about you, so resist the urge to launch into your life story. The elevator pitch is about getting the conversation started so you can learn about your potential new customer (and how your business could help them). Examples of this include:
“I own a boutique public relations firm.”
“I’m a personal trainer.”
“I own a bookkeeping and accounting business.”
“I’m a graphic designer.”
State the problem you solve and who you solve it for
Frame your pitch in terms of the problem you solve (not just what you do) and who you solve it for. This helps listeners understand who your ideal customers are, the pain points you can eliminate and why they’d want to do business with you. Formulating phrases like those that follow can help guide your elevator pitch:
“We help technology startups get news coverage in business and trade publications.”
“I specialise in helping people get their strength back after recovering from a serious illness or injury.”
“We give small business owners peace of mind and help them stay focused on doing what they do best by managing their finances.”
“I help sport franchises connect with their fans through design and animation.”
You may want to add a third sentence to your elevator pitch to provide additional details that convey something special about your business to really hook the listener and make them want to learn more. Maybe you’d like to share the fact that you have a unique way of working, use some proprietary technology or have passion for your business, or simply drop in a mention of a high-profile client or two.
Here are some ideas about how to do that:
“Unlike traditional big-name firms that write heaps of press releases, we focus solely on pitching executive interviews and article placements to our extensive network of media contacts.”
“I work with people in their homes, and I also have a gym with Gyrotonic equipment, which is known for building flexibility and strength without putting strain on your joints.”
“As a small business owner myself, I just love helping small businesses succeed.”
“You know those graphics you see up on the scoreboard at the Swans games, and that ad campaign featuring the Australian men’s cricket team? That’s some of my work.”
Delivering your pitch
When delivering your elevator pitch, how you say it is just as important as what you say. Try reading through some of these completed examples out loud to see how they feel:
“I own a boutique public relations firm. We help technology startups get news coverage in business and trade publications. Unlike traditional big-name firms that write heaps of press releases, we focus solely on pitching executive interviews and article placements to our network of media contacts.”
“I’m a personal trainer. I specialise in helping people get their strength back after recovering from a serious illness or injury. I work with people in their homes, and I also have a gym with Gyrotonic equipment, which is really great for building flexibility and strength without putting strain on your joints.
“I own a bookkeeping and accounting business. We give small business owners peace of mind and help them stay focused on doing what they do best by managing their finances. As a small business owner myself, I just love helping small businesses succeed.
“I’m a graphic designer. I help sport franchises connect with their fans through design and animation. You know those graphics you see up on the scoreboard at the Swans games, and that ad campaign featuring the Australian men’s cricket team? That’s some of my work.”
Notice that the examples above are easy to read because they use simple language. This is because an elevator pitch is meant to be spoken, not read. Writing for the ear is different to writing for the eye, so read what you’ve written out loud. How does it sound? How does it feel?
You want it to feel natural and comfortable, so if you find yourself stumbling over words, go back and simplify. Avoid words you would not normally use in conversation. Save your bigger or fancier words for your Twitter or LinkedIn version, where an unusual word can capture visual attention.
When you’re feeling good about your pitch, try it out on your family and friends. How do you feel about saying it semi-publicly? Confident and proud is what you’re going for, without coming off as bragging.
Ask your friendly audience for their feedback. Do you look and feel confident? Does what you’re saying accurately reflect your business? Take their feedback and polish your elevator pitch some more, if necessary. Once it sounds right to you, you’re ready to start practising your pitch in the wild. Take every opportunity to do so, as it will help you hone your pitch and become increasingly comfortable delivering it in a variety of ways and settings.
Know your environment
Just because your elevator pitch is polished doesn’t mean you should spout it off to everyone you meet. You don’t have to wait for a formal invitation, but be sure that the context is right. For example, if you’re in a doctor’s waiting room and you strike up a conversation with a fellow patient, the opportunity might arise to mention your personal training business.
Always take into account the environment and the audience. Are you literally speaking to someone in an elevator, where time is of the essence? If so, use the two-sentence version.
Are you in a more relaxed setting, such as a business mixer or networking event where you’ll be engaging in a more leisurely conversation? If so, you have a bit more time and flexibility to deliver your pitch. Or maybe you’re in a more formal setting, such as standing and presenting yourself to a new group? In that case, you’ll want to work more on delivery—body language, eye contact and vocal variety—in order to make a strong impression.
Tailor your delivery for each setting, always remaining aware of the audience’s reaction. If they seem restless or bored, or if you’re having to be heard over a lot of noise, cut it short. If they seem interested and engaged, feel free to continue and tell them more about your business for as long as you’re holding their interest. But be sure to make it mutual. If you’re ultimately going to work together, it’s just as important that you understand their business and their needs as they do yours.
Start crafting an effective elevator pitch
Although it might seem scary or uncomfortable to talk about your business in this way, it’s really not that different to what you probably do already in a variety of ways. The elevator pitch is just pulling the most important elements together in a succinct way so that it is easy for people to grasp what you do in a short amount of time. And remember: the goal of the elevator pitch is not to sell or close the deal, so don’t put that kind of pressure on it, or on yourself. It’s simply to start a conversation, and if it does that consistently, you’ve done your job.