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I'm Erika Fitzgerald, a website copywriter and educator with a big heart for small businesses. Here on the blog, you'll find copywriting education, online business tips, client case studies, and snippets from my life as an entrepreneur.
Elevator pitches. What a bore, right? I thought so too until a networking blunder opened my eyes to the importance of being pitch ready at the drop of a hat. So bear with me.
It was a Wednesday evening just like any other. I’d just hit “send” on the last email of the day and was preparing to relinquish my claim over the most sought-after coffee shop table when mid-laptop-close… *ping.*
I looked behind me. Who was there?
Grabbed my phone. Who’s texting me?
Squinted my eyes and slowly opened my laptop again.
There it was. Right in front of me.
“Reminder: You’ve got 1 event coming up today.”
It wasn’t just Wednesday. It was the Wednesday I’d RSVPed for my first small business networking event.
I slammed my laptop shut and high-tailed it out of there.
Last to arrive at the event, I wiggled my way into a circle of chairs arranged around a communal table.
“Great! Looks like we’re all here. Let’s get started,” the woman to my left announced. She goes on to introduce herself and explain how a second-hand camera allowed her to build her own business as a niche photographer for sororities.
Then she smiled at me and asked, “what do you do?”
“Oh, um, hey. I’m Erika,” I stuttered, studying the water rings on the table. “I’m a writer. I write a little bit of everything…short stories, websites, blogs. And, um, yeah.”
Unbeknown to me at the time, this was my elevator pitch. (Ouch.) At the time, I was in the early stages of growing my copywriting business as a side hustle—and I missed a huge opportunity to pitch myself to a crowd of creative entrepreneurs.
Luckily, my elevator pitch has come a long way since that missed opportunity. This comes in handy because more often than not when I tell people I’m a “copywriter,” they think I work in copyright law.
So today, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about crafting effective elevator pitches, plus three tips you can use to make yours stand out.
As a personal brand or creative entrepreneur, think of your elevator pitch as your personal commercial. It answers four key questions for people who don’t yet know you:
…all in about 30 seconds. Basically, the time it takes to ride an elevator (ahem). Or, in my case, the time it takes to embarrass yourself in front of 20 strangers.
Most of us answer questions #1 and #2, no problem. For example, “I’m Erika and I write copy.” But these two questions don’t shine much light on what you really do.
Your elevator pitch is your opportunity to share your unique value proposition. In other words, it showcases the benefits of working with you, the problem you solve for people, and how your approach is different from anyone else’s (in a good way). Boom. There you have it.
Maybe you feel pretty confident with your pitch routine already. Or maybe
you just read the section above and thought, “cool, got it, thanks, Erika.”
That’s great. But I want you to take this seriously. Write it down (not on a napkin) and rehearse it in the mirror because how you explain what you do is so important.
If you need a reason to care about your elevator pitch, I’ve got plenty. For starters, here are five things a well-crafted pitch can help you accomplish:
You have a matter of seconds to make a first impression. A clear, well-presented, and personable pitch makes the most of that precious time—and makes you stand out as a professional.
Big breaks and dream clients can show up unexpectedly. In fact, a gal from one of my businesses classes recently ran into Russell Brand, after he became sober, and as she was gearing up to launch a course about sobriety. Luckily, she had a friendly pitch on tap. Talk about serendipity!
Your elevator pitch serves as a sneak peek into what it’s like to work with you. How do you present yourself? Are you confident? Do you have a twinkle in your eye when you talk about what you do? These things matter.
An emotionally-charged pitch tugs on heartstrings. Tell a short story that creates a connection between you and your audience. Think campfire stories, not Powerpoint presentations.
Speaking of connections, your pitch is a great conversations starter at networking events. Don’t put so much pressure on your delivery that you end up sounding like a robot. Keep it conversational—like catching up with a co-worker friend over an almond milk matcha latte. Take note, you won’t impress anyone with big words or jargon.
Do you cringe a little every time I say “pitch”? Hopefully not because I’ve said it a lot today.
But if you spent any time in corporate (like I did), the idea of pitching yourself might feel a little salsey. Flashbacks to suited businessmen and lame PPT decks, anyone?
The truth is, every entrepreneur has a pitch whether they know it or not. It’s what you tell people when they ask what you do. However, it doesn’t have to feel icky. Weave these three strategies into your elevator pitch to make it sincere and sticky like honey.
Remember that story about how I embarrassed myself in front of 20 strangers at a business networking event?
Aside from me reminding you now, it likely lingered. Maybe you related.Or
maybe you felt a connection because I let you in on a time I messed up, which makes me human just like you.
Stories stick. They’re part of our human experience. In fact, our brains are literally wired for story. All those little neurotransmitters darting around see a good plot line and drop everything to pay attention.
Give your listeners something to remember and relate to by weaving elements of story into your elevator pitch.
Growing up, I had the worst stage fright. My mom always said: “just recite your lines to me and ignore everyone else in the audience.”
So, I did. And I played the best Villager #2 Baymonte Elementary had ever seen.
Consider using this same tactic when you whip out your elevator pitch. Imagine speaking to one person: your ideal client or customer.
Also, consider why they asked about what you do. Chances are they’re genuinely curious—you don’t need to spam them with a sales pitch. Simply present yourself and the problem you solve. If they ever need a solution to that problem, they’ll find you.
Adjust depending on context. For example, if you attend an event with like-minded entrepreneurs, they’ll probably understand what you do. If you go to a birthday party for a friend from high school, you’ll meet at a mix of people with different experience. They may or may not know what you do when you say you’re an “intuitive business coach.”
This goes back to your target audience. Before you pitch them on anything, know who they are and what struggles they face. Then, show them the solution they’ve been looking for.
Imagine for a moment that you’re selling No. 2 pencils. You have a meeting with the school supply committee. They need an alternative to pens, an unfortunate result of several vandalism incidents. Lucky for you, your soft-lead pencils leave no trace. Lean into that perk when you pitch your No. 2 pencils to the supply committee.
Whatever your solution is, make it crystal clear when you pitch yourself.
Now, you may not drive a Tesla or own a suit (good choice—stick to the stretchy pants) but Elon Musk’s pitch for Tesla stands as a great example employing all of these tactics. It says:
“Why does Tesla exist? We have record high C02 levels in the atmosphere resulting in a steadily increasing temperature. And, it’s still climbing. Combustion cars emit toxic gases too, killing 53,000 people per year. What can we do to change this? How can we make a difference? What we’re trying to do with Tesla is accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. At Tesla, we make great electric cars. This is really important for the future of the world.”
What makes Elon’s pitch so effective? It tells the story of a world in danger (this is everyone’s problem) and presents Tesla as a solution, using visual language to set the scene and backing it up with facts. He presents the problem and solution by asking questions and proceeds to answer them concisely and persuasively.
Before you go and try to compete with Elon Musk, know that your elevator pitch doesn’t have to save the world. It just has to resonate with the people you exist to serve.
One more thing! I know there are a lot of multi-passionate entrepreneurs out there (I’m one of them) and summarizing what you do in a quick sentence can be tough. As long as you focus on serving your people and improving your skills, everything will work out just fine. Remember: the quality and depth of your work speak for themselves.
If you found this post helpful, make sure to also check out: How to Write Your Mission Statement.