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Elevator Pitch Part 1: Personalize

by Tim Berry

(Reposted with permission from Planning Startups Stories)

If you can’t say it in 60 seconds, you have a problem. Your strategy isn’t clear enough. Nowadays we call it “the elevator pitch,” meaning a quick description of the business that you could do in the time you share with a stranger in an elevator. It’s becoming popular in the everyday language of the entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and the teaching of entrepreneurship.

I don’t think its academic. I think it’s important. I think it’s a great exercise that everybody in business should be able to do. Let’s get simple, let’s get focused, let’s get powerful.

I’ve been writing lately about the heart of the plan, also called the strategy. What better way to condense it than in a quick elevator speech. If you can’t do it, worry.

Start your speech with a person (or business, or organization) in a situation. Personalize. Identify clearly. For example:

John Jones doesn’t particularly care about clothes but he knows he has to look good. He sees clients every day in the office, and he lives in a ritzy suburb, where he often sees clients by accident on weekends. But he hates to shop for clothes (The Trunk Club).


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Jane Smith wants to do her own business plan. She knows her business and what she wants to do, but wants help organizing the plan and getting the right pieces together. The plan needs to look professional because she’s promised to show it to her bank as part of the merchant account process (Business Plan Pro).

Paul and Milena live in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan, with their two kids. Paul has a great job in Soho, Milena works from home, and neither has time for food shopping (Just Fresh).

Acme Consulting has five people managing several shared email addresses: info@example.com, sales@example.com, and admin@example.com. The five of them have trouble not stepping on each other. Sometimes a single email gets answered three or four times, with different answers. Sometimes an email goes unanswered for days, because everybody thinks somebody else answered it (Email Center Pro).

Notice that in each of these examples I could be much more general. The Trunk Club targets mainly men who don’t like to shop but need to dress well, and have enough money to pay for the service. Business Plan Pro is for the do-it-yourselfer who wants good business planning. Email Center Pro is for companies managing shared email addresses like sales@ or info@. But instead of generally describing a market, I’ve made it personal.

Sometimes you can get away with generalizing. “Farmers in the Willamette Valley,” for example, or “parents of gifted children.” It’s an easy way to slide into describing a market. However, I suspect that you’re almost always better off starting with a more readily imaginable single person, and let that person stand for your target market.

Read the other articles in this series.

Elevator Pitch Part 2: Why you?
Elevator Pitch Part 3: What you offer
Elevator Pitch Part 4: Finish strong
Elevator Pitch Part 5: Delivery

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