Business plans and crafting pitches are a few of my favorite things to talk about. When executed well they are tools that can really support you as you’re working to grow your business. Your plan acts as a bit of a roadmap and your pitch, how you’re getting down the road. I also really like to talk about them because they’re so amorphic. Depending on who you’re presenting to, the presentation style, organization of information, and even some of the business details can change dramatically.
I know, I’m weird because I think all that uncertainty is really fun. You, dear business builder, shouldn’t be scared though. Because at the end of the day the least common denominator of every business plan is just answering the “how” and “what” questions in your business and your pitch answers the “why”. Here’s an analogy I like to use - your business is like an arcade machine. In the sea of classic arcade games, skee ball lanes, and pinball machines your job is to be entertaining enough to get someone to wander over to you and then engaging enough for you to get them to put their quarters in. Then, once they pay all you have to do is deliver on the experience you promised.
So in this post, I’m going to give you two quick frameworks. One to help you nail down a simple business plan and the second framework is a crash course in perfecting your pitch.
Let’s get into the business planning.
Now, this framework is designed to help you rough sketch your business plan. Knowing that different audiences will need to see different things in different formats means you’ll need a foundation to draw from. That’s where my 5 Minute Business Plan comes in. It’s designed to help you get refocused on the days that have you wondering if what you are doing actually matters. (You don’t even have to be an entrepreneur to understand that feeling.) Forcing yourself to do something like this every once and a while helps to keep you connected to what you are doing - more than just reading your mission statement over again. It can also help to reveal any changes in how you feel about what you’re doing or if the needs of your market have changed since you’ve started. This can lead to a pivot in your service/product outcome and can keep you relevant.
This business plan is only five questions long and ideally should have you only thinking about a minute or two for each question. You aren’t trying to create some be-all-end-all plan you are connecting to how what you are doing now matters. My advice is to just copy and paste these questions and then do some free writing for the answers. After you are done you can take those answers and match them against your current list of business activities or mission that you have. If the new answers are different from what you’ve been doing, you know that you have some more exploring to do.
1. Who are you, what’s your story, and why should I be interested in what you are doing? (Think Mission and Values.)
2. What is the problem you are solving? What are the real pain points for people you are addressing? How is your solution better than your competitors? (Do you know if competitors actually exist?)
3. What is your solution? How do you bring that solution to the market? What are your factors of production and distribution? How are you organized or structured?
4. How are you financed? Where do your sales come from? What do your cash flows look like? Are you P/L profitable but don’t have enough cash to pay fixed expenses - if so why? Is your margin high enough to cover expenses? What is your burnout rate?
5. How are you attracting people to you? How are they hearing about who you are and what you do? Where does your engagement come from? What is your platform or Do you have a platform? Are you tracking your marketing efforts for efficiency?
If you find your answers changing over time that’s ok - just make sure you are monitoring those changes. Changes that foster an environment for growth are great! I think it’s really important to write these out every once and awhile. Thinking about them is good but you won’t be able to track how your thoughts about your business change because our thoughts are always so fluid. Plus, it’s good to have a standard foundation to build future plans from. Also, in terms of economic players, people, in general, are amazing at rationalizing and you won’t be able to get any real information from the stories you tell yourself on a daily basis about your business.
One down. One to go.
Now we’re getting into the pitch framework.
First I wanted to talk briefly about how important your 90 Second Elevator Pitch is for everyday life. This is not just a skill to have refined but a resource you should have at the ready and it won’t matter where you are: networking events, social events, family events or even professional events. Whenever you meet someone new one of the questions you are probably always going to get asked is “What do you do?” Are you prepared for that answer? As a business builder, how are you going to possibly create enough impact with that person that they might actually want to continue to engage with you? Which can include buying from you, collaborating with you, or referring to you?
The web and social media make great support tools but you have to be able to confidently convey your mission, values, and efficacy face to face at some point in the transaction - or at least face to video screen. So here is a framework to ensure that your elevator pitch is effective, entertaining, and ideally profitable.
1. Practice. Developing a pitch takes work.
There is no getting around that. You may know how great you or your products are but you need to be able to tell other people that in a succinct way. Rehearsals, rewrites, and even peer reviews are a great way to sharpen your pitch. Remember most of the time you are going to be talking to your stakeholders and not banks or venture capitalists. So make sure the language you choose is appropriate for the right audience. You should definitely have a few versions so that you can always land right where your listeners are. Practice also means you will have a basic core of information that you know you are constantly giving out each time you present. This makes it easier for people to remember, refer, and talk about you later because it’s the same type of story each time.
2. Identify the pain points your product or services addresses early on.
Odds are your audience won’t have a lot of time or even interest if you start droning on about how special or unique your process is - worse off how great it will be for them if they try it. So avoid that by asking about an experience that anyone can relate to, the more uncomfortable and universal the better. Don’t be afraid to ask a few well-prepared questions to get a handle on your current landscape. You can get creative here as long as you tie it back to how what you do addresses either the feelings of a situation you described or the problem itself.
3. Identify what makes you unique (read: better than the rest) and positioned as the best solution to those pain points in the second tip.
This will also give you the opportunity to expand on the needs you satisfy in your market as well as the scale of that market. You should also be mentioning the types of clients/customers you serve as well as how you bring your solution to market. You have to remember though this pitch isn’t really about you. It’s about getting those around you invested in what you do - dropping emotional and even rational anchors on those listening in.
4. Really avoid filler, buzzwords, and truisms.
Truisms happen when you get too invested and believe your own marketing and hype. That might work for you but your listener might not consider those things entirely true at all or even share the same point of view - think about the last time you heard a financial advisor speak about something with absolute certainty...Yeah, odds are those were personalized truisms based on some nugget of information that might have been factual at the start but by the time you hear the pitch that information was mutilated and has been taken astray. As for filler and buzzwords, they are never good. You want to craft your pitch as though you were talking to a 6-year-old. Not because people aren’t smart but because you want to make sure that all of your audience understands you and what you do. All that extra stuff carries a chance of making people feel left out and distracting from your actual message.
5. Calls to action are great and hard unreasonable closes are the opposite of great.
When deciding what your calls to action are going to be you really have to think about your goals. Are you looking for referrals, for someone not to throw away your business card, or just information and an introduction? All those things mean you have to build trust in a very short amount of time. Unless you are on the TV show Shark Tank you probably won’t be asking for an instantly massive hard close or sale. Remember you are talking to people and they are the ones who will ultimately decide whether you have proven yourself enough to be engaged with. Be very careful with how you ask someone to take action. If you say you are going to follow up, you better follow up!
There you have it.
I know that this post was a bit long and dense but it had to be done. These two concepts are really two sides of the same business development coin. You can’t sell if you aren’t really connected to what you do. My challenge to you is to try to use each of these frameworks earnestly and trust that process will make you a more focused business builder on the other side.