By Akshar Bonu, co-founder and CEO of The Custom Movement, a marketplace for custom sneakers, apparel and more by independent artists.
As a founder of a business, one of your most important jobs, if not the most important, is pitching your business. You’ll need to do this with investors, customers, prospective employees and a vast array of additional stakeholders—stakeholders you’ll encounter repeatedly over the lifetime of your company. Failing to pitch well can have serious consequences: A crucial investor may pass, a highly valued candidate may not accept your offer or a key customer may not sign your contract. It should come as no surprise then that refining your ability to effectively pitch your business should be high up on your list of priorities.
However, communicating your business well is easier said than done. Different people have different backgrounds and priorities, each a factor in how you pitch your business. You’ll need to be versatile and adaptable, communicating in different mediums: in person, email, decks and more. Sometimes you won’t have much time—perhaps as little as the time it takes an elevator to go down a couple of floors (“the elevator pitch”). To better prepare you for these challenges, here are strategies to make your pitches more effective, helping you close customers, investors, prospective employees and more.
Know your audience and tailor your pitch accordingly.
It may come as a surprise, but every great pitch starts not with the business but with the audience. It pays dividends to have a deep understanding of the audience’s background and priorities. Some audiences will have a preexisting understanding of your industry: They may be customers, employees with a breadth of experience in the industry or industry-specific investors. Others may have near none. For the former, you can use more technical jargon that would be lost on the latter. The latter will need far more educating, and you should be judicious with nuanced discussion as it is unlikely to be fully appreciated or retained. Occasionally, you may need to pitch to an audience with mixed experience levels: The safest option is to tailor the pitch to the least proficient so it is accessible to all.
As important as the background of the audience is, understanding the priorities of your audience is equally key; specifically, what does your business do for them that they are looking for?
Investors typically are interested in how your business can help them generate financial returns. Potential customers care about how your business solves a key pain point for them. To succeed you must help them understand your business’s “aha moment” as quickly as possible. Prospective employees are looking for jobs that fit their needs—which may be financial, cultural or professional growth opportunities—so ascertaining what those are and communicating how your business is a fit for those needs (assuming it is) is essential in your pitch.
When your pitch is time-constrained, it is paramount to use your time wisely and emphasize the points most relevant to your specific audience as quickly as possible.
Take advantage of the full potential of your pitch’s medium.
Different mediums offer unique advantages. To strengthen a pitch, it is helpful to know what they are and how you can use them to your benefit. For pitches that involve you presenting, it is a great opportunity to showcase your passion with your voice and body language. Think of tone, intonation and gestures, which can all serve to amplify the impact of your pitch and make the pitch resonate more deeply with your audience. In comparison to emails or a deck, when you present, you have far more control over how your audience navigates through your story with the use of pacing, emphasis and emotions. The best presentations will use these fully to their advantage to emphasize the elements that are particularly important to the specific audience.
With that said, pitches over email or through a standalone deck can also be powerful and have some unique advantages over a presentation. A common mistake business owners make is making their emails or decks far too text-heavy. Take advantage of images and videos. Instead of just writing how much customers love you, include a collection of screenshots showing customer love on Twitter. Instead of just saying that influencers organically share your product, include a collection of screenshots showing influencers actually sharing. Showing through images and videos makes the words far more believable to the viewer. Moreover, while in a live presentation, details on slides can be lost; in a standalone deck or email, the viewer has the luxury to dig through the details: they have the opportunity to relish and immerse themselves in the stories behind the screenshots you share.
While it would be helpful if pitching were straightforward—if it were more of a science—it is alas undeniably an art. It impacts hiring, bringing on investors, exciting customers and aligning partners—simply put, the success of our businesses may very well depend on how well we pitch. It comes as no surprise then that it is something we should make a priority to excel at. While there will always be room for improvement, the aforementioned strategies are powerful ways to make your pitches more effective with those to whom you need to pitch.