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Monday, March 29, 2010

Going up? Defining your Elevator Pitch

In the traditional suit-and-tie world, there is alot of emphasis on defining an "Elevator Pitch" for the business that you are in. An elevator pitch is simply a short, concise statement on who you are, what your business is (or what you want it to be if you are an entrepeneur) and why someone should "buy" into what you are selling (figuratively or literally.) The term is based on the idea that you walk onto an elevator and your perfect business financier/customer/etc. is taking the ride to the top floor with you. You have 1 minute to introduce and pitch your idea to Mr. or Mrs. I-Got-The-Money and what you say needs to be perfect. You have to show confidence and drive. You have to show that you have knowledge in your field. However, even the most confident and knowledgable person can get tongue-tied in such a high stress situation so preparing your pitch can make all the difference in the world. And I think you should start preparing your pitch!

But...I don't work in a traditional business setting...

But...I just sell stuff online as a little business...

But...I am "just" a stay-at-home mom...

Don't think that an elevator pitch is something you need? Think again. One of the biggest complaints I see when frequenting blogs/websites/forums that support things I believe in (for me, these are typically natural parenting, vegetarian, and green living sites but probably ring true for other places) is people having a really hard time at the negative response they get from the close friends and family around them. They end up responding defensively to the reaction to their change and either alienate themself or give up on their new changes. And having a good support system is one of the best predictors to success in all venues from weight loss to business. Your beloved grandmother can't understand your desire to use cloth diapers? Your family is totally retaliating against your choice to give up meat? Co-workers are completely sabatoging your weight-loss efforts? The other moms in the playgroup think you're loony for breast-feeding past a certain age? Just starting a home business and not quite sure how to respond when people ask what you do? Developing you "elevator pitch" to respond to the questions that come up in your life will prepare you with a good starting point to deal with your issues and changes.

So, how can you prepare the elevator pitch for what you believe in? These simple steps are a good start:

1) Start at the very beginning: what are you pitching? Is it your business? Is it a change you are making in your life (dietary changes, child-rearing choices, or new political/social/religious convictions, etc.)? Is it a life-choice you have already been living with but having struggled with explaining when asked about?

2) Define why it is you do what you do but understand why other people may choose to make the same choice. Your elevator pitch may literally be an introductory sales pitch for a product or service you offer. It may also be just a positive response to a question about your choices and behavior. It may be a little bit of both. For example, someone may ask why I use the no-shampoo method instead of using commerical hair products...knowing how to respond in a positive, non-judgemental way may prompt other questions about some other hippy-green things I do and lead to questions about sustainable living and my business products. While that person may not give up their Pantene, they may become interested in some other aspect of sustainable living and that, in the end, is a great starting point.

3) K.I.S.S.-Keep it Simple Stupid...remember this is a theoretical 1 minute elevator ride-not a 10 page thesis on your topic. In step 2, you thought about ALL the reasons someone may want to homeschool, go vegan, babywear, support your Etsy business (and knowing these reasons will help in the next step). But you most certainly don't want to share ALL your reasons at one time. You will come across as pushy, superior or crazy-none of which are good!

4) Know your audience. A good sales pitch is geared and molded to its audience. Don't use "industry" jargon or acronyms. Use facts if you are asked-assumptions, scare tactics or unfounded claims don't help you or your cause. Trying to get your mom to understand why you prefer to wrap your baby on your back in a huge piece of fabric instead of the expensive stroller system she got you? Talk about how fabulous cuddling on your baby is. Talk about how fantastic your baby's head control has become since she started getting carried around. It would NOT be a good idea to talk about how stroller babies are destined to be unattached unabombers living in a cabin in the woods with a flat head. Understand where your mom is coming from on the issue- maybe she couldn't afford a fancy stroller when she was a young mom and now she feels rejection after she went out of her way to give you something she felt that she missed out on. Open a discussion that is receptive and non-judgemental. However, you may not always have the luxury of knowing your audiences background when they ask why or where you stand on an issue. Which brings us to the next step...

5) Be positive and watch your words. Understand that sharing your most controversial or potentially offensive reason for doing something is not a good "sales" move. I whole-heartedly support handmade products and forums like Etsy that sells and promote the handmade movement. But using my one-minute pitch time to be negative about big-box stores and the evils of sweat shops is not the best use of my time. Sweat shops are most definitly evil but most people shop at big box stores (myself included at times) and to lump not shopping on Etsy and supporting slave labor conditions into the same catagory is apt to turn off even the most probable business supporter. I am not saying you should soften your position on certain subjects but it is always good to remember to not make your convictions into someone else's sin.

6) Practice makes perfect. Write down what you believe in. Put it up somewhere. Use it when asked. Or, in the case of approaching close friends/family about giving their support in your change endeavors or making proactive business contacts, practice with someone you holds similar ideas or you know supports you wholeheartedly. It will get easier to explain and providing yourself with the outlet to shareyour reasons for doing your thing will give you roots and make your change or behavior more likely to flourish.

Want to learn more? Design*Sponge's Biz Lady series has a great post on "the 30-second elevator pitch" which is (as she says and I agree!) a MUST READ for the small business folks! Simple Mom has a great series on how to Create a Family Mission Statement. Problogger shares some great ideas on writing an elevator pitch for your blog.

How do you deal with choices that you have made that may not be the mainstream way to go? How do you deal with the reactions of those around you? Have you defined your personal or business mission statement or elevator pitch? I would love to hear from you!


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