The 60 Second Elevator Pitch

First impressions are lasting. Can you describe your business in a concise, snappy one minute explanation?

First impressions are lasting. How many times has your first interaction with someone stayed with you long after parting? When the encounter goes well, you're left wanting more and ready to further explore a service or organization. but in many instances, a negative impression leaves you confused, annoyed and turned off for good. All business owners should be able to make a great first impression clearly and succinctly - it's essential to growing your network and your business.

A concise, snappy one- minute explanation of yourself and what you offer is a vital tool. The concept of the 'elevator pitch' has been around for many years. Imagine that you step into an elevator where the ride lasts just one minute, and there next to you stands someone that you have desperately been trying to connect with . It's a golden opportunity!

You now have that one very precious minute to tell them who you are, what you do and what you can do for them. Sound easy? To quote Mark Twain,

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

In other words, it takes time and thought to plan out what you want to convey in 200 words or less.

If you want some inspiration, tune in to reality shows like CBC's Dragon Den or the American version Shark Tank. Listen closely as the inventors and entrepreneurs introduce themselves. In essence, they have prepared elevator pitches that try to capture the attention of wealthy potential investors. Watch what happens when their messages aren't succinct or clear: the investors lose interest quickly.

There are many approaches to this exercise, but I happen to like Harvard Business School's guide, "7 Steps for Writing a Powerful Elevator Pitch." Each of the steps provides you with a vigorous mental workout as you think about who you are, what yo do and how you communicate - all important steps in clarifying your goal. When you're ready to start, grab a pencil, a blank sheet of paper and find a quiet spot that allows you to think.

7 Steps for Writing a Powerful Elevator Pitch

Step 1:

Define who you are. Write one sentence about who you are. Keep this simple. You may be very tempted to get into details, but you will have other opportunities in the subsequent steps to enhance yourself. An opener is more powerful when short and sweet.

Some examples:

"I am a small business owner who consults other small business owners."

"I am an IT consultant, with a strong expertise in the area of computers, software, and networking."

Step 2:

Describe what you do. Use your product/service listing as a guide and write one or two sentences about what you do every day in your business or profession. What is it that you do best? How can you help clients? What results can you provide top your customers?

Some examples:

"I consult time-challenged business owners on how to build teams, delegate effectively and ultimately become more productive and profitable."

"I offer technical expertise to assist companies with their IT challenges and ensure that they are up-to-date and trained on the latest computer technology. I assist clients with problem solving when issues arise as well as train staff on new programs and applications as required."

Step 3:

Identify your real clients/customers. Describe your target audience. Who are they? Who can you help the most? Who do you especially want to work with?

Some examples:

"My clients are busy and go-getting small business owners who struggle to accomplish everything they want to accomplish. My clients understand the value of a team and are ready to learn how to delegate, but find it challenging to let go of their quest for perfection. My clients also find it difficult to find quality team members and commit to creating a team that can thrive even without them being hands-on."

"My clients are business owners who do not have regular IT support on staff, but have server computers on site and require assistance in ensuring that all systems are functioning, communicating with one another, and secure. My clients want to be up on the latest technology, ensuring that they are in sync with their customers and able to meet their demands in a timely manner."

These first three steps should give you lots to think about and to work through. Remember, less is more.

Step 4:

Explain what's unique and different about you and your business.

In order to tackle this step, it is important to determine how you are positioning your business in the marketplace, relative to the competition. The old term used to highlight differentiation was called USP or Unique Selling Proposition. However, this has been replaced by the more modern concept of a positioning statement, used to describe what place your brand (service, or good) should occupy in a consumer/client's mind compared to the competition. This is key! What makes what you do different and how does that benefit the customer? One tip - it's important recognize the crucial difference between a feature and benefit. A feature is a distinctive characteristic of a product or service, while a benefit lays out what's in it for the customer. Guess what the customer hears? The benefit - anything that pertains to how they might save time, money, get better access, be more productive, get a faster response time, etc.

Example:

"As an independent IT consultant, I am in a unique position to help small companies because I understand the challenges that arise without existing IT support. In short, this manifests itself through employee frustration, stress, and lack of success in the workplace. I make it a point to stay current on the latest in business technology. With this knowledge I am able to bring innovative solutions and programs to organizations. My services provide support and ultimately improve productivity by reducing downtime and creating a more positive work environment."

Step 5:

State what you want to happen next. Write 1-2 sentences that identify what you want your audience to do next.

Example:

"I would like to schedule a time to talk about some of your technology issues and explore how I might be able to help you."

Step 6:

Create an attention getting hook. Write 1-2 sentences that pull in your audience to engage them in what you are about to say.

Example:  

"Are computer issues keeping you awake at night? Are you looking for a way to find solutions and increase productivity?"

Step 7:

Put it all together. Combine the statements you drafted in the previous steps, putting Step 6 first. Then add transitions, and edit it until it flows conversationally and captures the most important information.

The complete IT consultant example follows:

"Are computer issues keeping you awake at night? Are you looking for a way to find solutions and increase productivity?

"I am an IT consultant, with a strong expertise in the area of computers, software, and networking. I offer technical expertise to companies to assist them in solving IT challenges and ensure that they are up to date and trained on the latest computer technology. I assist clients with problem solving when issues arise as well as train staff on new programs and applications as required.

"My clients are small business owners who do not have regular IT support on staff, but have several computers on site and who require assistance in ensuring that all systems are functioning, communicating with one another and secure.

"My clients want to be up on the latest technology ensuring that they are in sync with their customers and able to meet their demands in a timely and efficient manner. As an independent IT consultant, I am in a unique position to help because I understand the challenges that arise without existing IT support. I've seen it firsthand!

It manifests itself through employee frustration, stress, and lack of success in the workplace.  I make it a point to stay current on the latest in business technology. With this knowledge I am able to bring innovative solutions and programs to organizations. And - I communicate so everyone understands with minimal computer geek terminology! My services provide support and ultimately improve productivity by reducing downtime and creating a more positive work environment.

"I would like to schedule a time to talk about some of your technology issues and explore how I might be able to help you."

The nice thing about this format is that you can play with it, rehearse it and smooth it out.

Practice in front of the mirror, on your friends or even on family pets, they make great listeners!

This skill is like a good wine – it gets better over time. The next time you find yourself in front of a potential client, you'll be prepared, professional and well spoken.

Elizabeth Sagermann

About the Author

Elizabeth Sagermann is the owner of her own company, ERS Consulting. With 26 years of experience in pharmaceuticals, financial services, and training at various levels, Liz offers assistance to organizations and individuals in the areas of strategic planning, marketing projects and sales training.

Other roles that Liz holds include that of wife, mother of 2 young adults and a menagerie of pets, gardener, horsewoman, amateur photographer and happy passenger on the back of her husband's motorcycle.   Liz and her husband reside in King Township, north of Toronto.

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