A pitch is a short summary that gets to the heart of your business idea and expresses it in a way that spurs a reaction, such as questions or an invitation to present more—or even an offer of funding. Many people think of pitches for convincing investors; but as the ambassador of your small business or startup, you should have a pitch available for any situation—from a networking event to a new friend asking, “So what is it you’re doing?”
Below, I discuss eight steps that will help guide you when creating and practicing your business pitch.
1. Understand the Elements of a Good Pitch
Regardless of the kind of pitch you give, you should have a firm handle on the following elements. Not all will go into every pitch, but knowing them will help with follow-up questions and subsequent conversations.
- The What: You may have an intuitive feel for what your big idea is, or you may have all the details. However, you need to be able to explain it in a way a layperson can understand in a couple of sentences.
- The Why: Even more than what your idea is, you must express the why. A great idea means nothing if it does not solve a problem, fill a need, or enhance someone’s life.
- The How: This is not so much technical discussion, although it can involve that, but how what you’re doing is unique or effective.
- The Who: Who does this help?
- The Wow: What makes your idea exciting? Unique? Unprecedented? How can you explain that in a way that makes the listener think, “Wow!”?
2. Do Your Research
You’ve probably already researched your idea as far as industry, need, and viability. You may want to use some of this information in your pitch. Include statistics, as they apply to need and can grab attention.
In addition, you should find industries that make a good metaphor for your business. It can be a completely unrelated company that nonetheless follows a similar model or fulfills a similar need in a different industry.
Finally, know the objections. Pitches don’t often start with a negative, but if you have a unique answer to a longstanding problem, yours could. “No one has come up with a reliable fact-checking software that does not depend on secondhand sources like news. However, my company, FirstSearch compiles public records and video to get you accurate facts fast!”
3. Brainstorm a Compelling Story
For longer pitches or further explanation, a compelling story can reach your listeners on an emotional level, helping them remember it even after the conversation. Things to think about when developing a story are:
Brainstorm Tip Questions
- Did an event or experience motivate you to pursue this business idea?
- Do you know people whose suffering your product will resolve?
- Did you develop this idea because of a personal need or annoyance?
Even if you don’t have a true story to share, you can invent one with a fictional avatar that represents your target audience. You often see this in commercials for services, especially on YouTube. Finally, don’t forget humor. A funny story could stand out.
When building a story, do not get bogged down in the details. You want only the facts and emotions that apply to your solution.
Did You Know?
After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.
4. Tailor Pitches to Your Audience
You’ll want different pitches for different audiences and situations. Talking to a neighbor at a barbecue requires a different approach than pitching your idea at a small business mixer that might include angel investors.
As you come up with different scenarios, massage your pitch for formality and information. A pitch with statistics on the market may have more effect at a business meeting, where an emotional appeal will draw in a group of friends. Here’s an example from a food co-op company:
Business Pitch: WesthavenEats applies the principles of meal subscriptions services to our local food co-ops. By creating recipes for the food provided that week and supplying the incidental ingredients like spices, we make it easy for people to eat fresh and buy local.
Backyard Pitch: I was so frustrated with my food co-op because I couldn’t use half the stuff. Either I didn’t know how to cook it, or I’d have to go to the store to get some extra ingredient. So, I founded WesthavenEats to be the Freshly of food co-ops, with recipes, food, and ingredients you actually need and will use.
5. Create Pitches for Different Lengths
Not only should you have pitches for different listeners, but also in different lengths to accommodate the amount of time you have. Since we are talking more casual situations rather than formal presentations in this article, we’ll stick to pitches under two minutes that are delivered verbally only.
The Single-Sentence Pitch
Sometimes called an elevator or “Tweet Pitch,” the idea is to be simple and snappy to get the listener’s attention and inspire them to ask for more. The important thing is to get to the core of what your listener would consider the most important aspect of your idea and express it creatively. Some suggestions:
- The comparison: “X meets Y,” “The (popular other product) for (your industry),” “(well-known brand) with (unique twist),” and “(product) but with (unique feature).” This is where that extra research can come in handy.
- The hard-hitting statistic: “(Product) helps # by (unique feature).”
- The hook: “I (fill need) and (fill second need).”
- Use the Why and the Wow: Bring out the unique feature or compelling reason your business is needed and thus, will succeed.
Tweet pitches are used for quick introductions, busy or loud mixers where you may only get a chance to shout out a single sentence answer, or when actually in an elevator. Some examples:
- “eHarmony for seniors”
- “The Lou LaRue of shoes”
- “Helping thousands of vapers quit with hypnotherapy online”
- “I connect runaways and the homeless with their families and help them heal old wounds”
- “Building community through online events during COVID-19”
For more on elevator pitches read our Top 25 Elevator Pitch Tips
The 30-Second Pitch
This is a pitch used for introductions where you have a little more time, such as a business mixer where everyone is introducing themselves. It’s a little longer, but not more than 30 seconds. If you can do it in less time, you just sound better!
These pitches usually include the following:
- Introduction: Including your name and business name
- Problem: What need you are addressing. If you have a strong statistic, you can include it, but be brief.
- Solution: A quick statement, but if you can get the unique factor, do it.
- How to get in contact: Optional. You can always pass out business cards as well.
For example: “I’m Kella Malone of PupHugs, and we make thunder jackets that snap on skittish dogs in five seconds or less. Find us at puphugs.com.”
The 60-Second Pitch
This is a slightly longer version of the 30-second pitch and can also be used for networking events—as well as meetings or kickoff presentations—or when you have more time with a family member or friend. It’s also used when you want to elicit an action from your listener, such as buying your product, investing in your business, or connecting you to someone else. It includes the following:
- Introduction: More than your name and business name, it should have a hook. You may be able to modify your tweet pitch here.
- Problem: You have more time, so delve in a little with statistics or a very brief story that illuminates the problem.
- Solution: Here, too, take a little extra time to touch on the uniqueness of your solution or how it’s superior to the competition.
- Wow: Close with something memorable about your idea.
- Contact or request for action: How can people learn more, or what would you like them to do (invest, buy, share with a friend).
If you write it out, it comes to about 150 words, though you should adjust it to your normal speaking speed. Here’s an example:
“I’m Emma Jackson, founder of WesthavenEats. Last year, we joined a food co-op, which was great, but we’d get these vegetables I’d never seen before. I didn’t know what to call them, much less how to cook them. Plus, half the time, I still had to go to the store to buy some ingredient. I wasn’t alone, which is why I founded WesthavenEats. WesthavenEats takes away that frustration by providing recipes and ingredients to actually cook the food in the co-op package, even if you don’t know what to call it. We make it easy for people to eat fresh and buy local. Find us at westhaveneats.com. We’re always looking for more subscribers, or if you are part of a co-op that would like to join our program, let’s talk at the break.”
The Two-minute Pitch
Here we get past the more casual pitches for events and get-togethers and move into pitching with a purpose. If you’ve seen “Shark Tank,” you have a fair idea of what a two-minute pitch entails. While similar to the 60-second pitch, you have a little more time to delve into your why and how, but you should also address other needs of your audience, like why you are uniquely qualified for this business and your business model.
You’re more likely to use this longer form after having delivered a shorter pitch and been invited to share more, or when you are specifically meeting someone for the purpose of exploring the idea of investing or purchasing your product.
Plan for about 300 words, written. However, be ready to pause and answer questions.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
The key to a successful pitch is to be able to deliver it smoothly and with confidence. For nearly all of us, that only comes with practice and familiarity. Say your pitch in front of the mirror. Practice it in the car. Run it past friends, colleagues, or your mentor. Even write it out and share it with any business groups or forums you are part of online. Facebook and LinkedIn have groups for just about any business or for startups in general; plus, many organizations have forums where you can ask for advice.
7. Get Feedback
When you practice a pitch with someone else, or if you pitch to someone who might have the time and interest to help you, ask for feedback. If you have no one to help you, consider going to your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and asking them for coaching.
Some questions you can ask:
- Where did I lose your interest?
- Did I confuse you? Where?
- What will you remember most?
- If you were (target listener), would you want to (desired action)?
- What questions does this leave you with?
- Do you want to hear more?
- What can I do to improve my presentation?
You can also get feedback during the pitch simply by watching your listener. Are they keeping eye contact? If not, when do they look away? Do they show signs of skepticism (crossed arms, frown, furrowed brows)? Did they ask for clarification or more information?
8. Rework Your Pitches
Walt Disney pitched his cartoon ideas over 300 times before he finally got a movie company to agree to run his animated short. His perseverance and willingness to massage his pitches based on feedback paid off amazingly in the end.
You can follow his example. After giving a pitch, whether it succeeded or failed, ask yourself: What questions did it spark? Did it hold the person’s interest? Did it inspire them, or did they have objections immediately? Can you address those objections at the time of the pitch?
A strong business pitch does more than help you gain investors or sell products. It can open doors, improve networking, even inspire others. Plus, it helps you solidify your ideas of what you’re doing and why. It’s worth taking the time to develop multiple pitches, altering them for time and audience, so that you’re ready anytime someone asks, “So what is it you do?”
Just starting your business? Read our complete guide on How to Start a Business.
Need to develop a business plan? Learn more about the 4 Types of Business Plans.