Known as ‘pitching’, the ability to quickly present a business idea and tell a compelling story about your start-up is a vital skill to develop, especially if you’re looking to raise money to help get your business off the ground.
While pitching conjures up visions of high stakes sessions in the Dragons’ Den, the reality is pitching can occur anywhere. You never know when you’ll need to pitch your business idea. Some pitches are formal affairs, such as presenting your business idea and plans to investors, while others are more spur of the moment, such as bumping into a potential client or investor and using the opportunity to promote your start-up.
Whatever the circumstance, preparing your pitch before you need to deliver it is critical. Preparation can range from being able to briefly describe your business idea in a captivating, engaging way – often known as an ‘elevator pitch’ as it is meant to be able to be presented in around 30 seconds, or the time it takes to ride an elevator – to more detailed presentations to banks or investors.
Not everyone is comfortable presenting to other people. However, there are some useful techniques you can use to help create a successful pitch.
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How to pitch
You need two ingredients for a successful pitch: a pitch deck and presenting practice.
- Pitch deck– this is a collection of slides and information about your business idea. It includes important information an investor will want to know, such as potential market size, revenue forecast, customer insights, and details about the business’s management team.
- Presenting – pitching is about presentation. You’ll need to practice delivering your pitch and convincing your audience that your business idea is worth their time. You should practice for different scenarios – from a 30-second summary in the case of an elevator pitch – to longer presentations that get into the detail of your business idea.
A great pitch deck and plenty of practice will only get you so far. You’ll need a sound business idea and robust financial thinking that demonstrates that your business idea has the potential for investors to make an attractive return on any money they provide.
Tips for creating successful pitches
1. Follow the 10/20/30 rule
The 10/20/30 rule has been developed over the years as a formula for the perfect pitch deck.
Created by Guy Kawasaki – he was a chief evangelist at Apple during its early years – it recommends that pitch decks are a maximum of 10 slides and that you should present for a maximum of 20 minutes. Type on each slide should not be less than 30 point, ensuring your deck focuses on the big ideas rather than being crammed full of hard-to-read detail.
2. Start with an elevator pitch
Get to the point with an elevator pitch – a 30-second introduction and summary.
Investors don’t want to waste time listening to a rambling pitch. Instead, try to nail your business idea, the problem it is solving and why it is an investor opportunity in the first 30 seconds. You need to fire up your audience, get them hooked on the concept, get them excited to hear more and then expand on the introduction during the rest of the presentation.
3. Tell a customer story
The best businesses are laser-focused on customer needs and the problem the business will solve for customers. Bring the problems faced by customers to life with engaging examples, and invite your audience to understand how it feels and why a customer would be willing to find a solution.
4. Use storytelling techniques
A good pitch tells the complete story of your business. Tell your story using a variety of tones and pacing to keep audiences engaged. Don’t try to rush through the presentation or robotically read from the slides. Instead, vary the pace of your delivery. Use dramatic pauses to build suspense and give investors time to absorb the point you are making. Use slides as starting points that you can elaborate on.
5. Keep it conversational
Reading from a script won’t engage your audience. Instead, keep presentations conversational and authentic. Speak directly to your audience, making plenty of eye contact and avoid referring to notes – you should know your stuff before pitching. Be prepared to expand and elaborate on points, and encourage questions to create more of a conversation about your business idea – it’s far more engaging than a stilted presentation with little interaction.
6. Show your business model
This is one of the most important parts of a pitch for investors. They want to understand how your business will generate revenue and turn a profit. Show how your business model works and – crucially – how it can be scaled up. Create scenarios that show how increased customer numbers lead to profit growth.
7. Showcase your experience
Investors don’t just fund business ideas. The experience and skills of the team or founder running the business count, too. Build trust in both your team and yourself during the pitch. Demonstrate how your experience will ensure your business idea has the best chance of success and why you’ll be an effective pair of hands in using any funds to grow your business.
8. Financial projections
Be transparent about financial projections. Talk through the assumptions you have made, such as how much an average customer will spend, overheads and other costs you’ll incur and any risks to those figures. It’s a good idea to take investors through several scenarios – bad, good and best – to show how different factors could affect the business’s financial health.
9. Talk about the competition
It’s rare for a new business to be truly unique. Most will have existing competitors in the market, and investors will want to know how your business will be different or take market share from existing companies. Explain competitor strengths and weaknesses, and outline where you see competitive gaps and opportunities your business can exploit, such as an underserved geographic area or customer demographic.
10. Be clear on what you want
Conclude your pitch with a crystal-clear ask – what is it that you want or need from the audience for your business to succeed? Include the amount of money you’re looking to raise and what you are prepared to offer in exchange, such as equity or repayment with interest. Include requests such as networking, mentoring and other support if that’s what your business requires.
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