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031 - How to create your elevator pitch

How do you answer when someone asks: “So, what do you do?” As a vegan business, we’re all really excited about our companies. But how do you get someone else excited about your business when you’ve only got a really short amount of time to explain what you do? Maybe you’ve got 60 seconds to introduce your company at a networking event. Or perhaps you’ve got just the time it takes an elevator to go between two floors to tell your dream contact what it is you do. What do you say?!

David gives you seven fundamental points that every ‘elevator pitch’ needs to have – starting by explaining what problem you solve for your customer rather than just saying what you do, through to how embracing your vegan mission might be the most powerful way you could ever introduce yourself.

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Episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode thirty-one of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.
And if you want to go beyond the podcast and connect with our community of like-minded vegan entrepreneurs then head over to Vegan Business Tribe .com where you can get more involved in our community and help support our mission.  You can also attend our online meet-ups, get support, study our vegan marketing course and just be part of a wonderful community of vegan business people just like you.  And we’re always really grateful to our members because they are the people who mean we can keep recording this podcast every week and putting out all our content and just generally doing everything we can to support vegan business worldwide.
Now, did you know that there is one question that strikes absolute fear and terror into the hearts of many vegan business owners?  And no, it’s not where do you get your protein, but four simple words: ‘ What do you do?’  And it’s the simplest and most innocent of questions, but just the fear of not knowing how to answer that one question can stop some people from going to networking events or putting themselves in the place where they will meet other businesses or customers.  Because, well, what DO you actually do? And how long do you need to answer that question? Could you tell me in a few minutes what your business does and why I should be excited about it?  Probably.  Could you tell me in 60 seconds?  Well, maybe if you prepared a little and had it written down.  What about less?
Imagine you have just got into an elevator.  It’s completely empty, you go one floor up, the doors open and in steps your dream customer or investor.  I don’t know, maybe it’s Richard Branson, or Claire Smith from Beyond Animal or Dale Vince or Matthew Glover from Veg Capital.  They smile politely, hit the button for the next floor, the doors close, and after a moment’s silence they turn to you and say those magic words: ‘so, what do you do?’.  You’ve got the 30 seconds it’s going to take the elevator to get to the next floor to get them completely hooked. So what do you say?!  Do you take a deep breath and say “well, how long have you got?!”, or do you just blather on like a fool for 30 seconds with whatever comes into your mind?  Or, do you, succinctly and powerfully, tell them what you do and why they should be interested in the time it takes you get to the next floor?
Now, I didn’t just come up with this scenario.  In fact, being able to get over what you do in 30 seconds is actually called an elevator pitch.  It comes from the idea of if you are working in a large business you might unexpectedly find yourself sharing the elevator with a senior executive and having 30 seconds to pitch your idea to them.  And I found myself in this position myself, back in my twenties.  It wasn’t an elevator, I found myself unexpectedly alone with the chief executive of a global publishing company for about five minutes when he offered to drop me at the train station.  By the end of the trip he’d listened to an idea I had, offered me a spare office and agreed how much they were going to pay me to help them get into this new technology called the World Wide Web.
Now, you might say that it doesn’t matter for you, because you don’t really mix with a lot of people, you’re not hanging around big offices in the hope of bumping into people, or maybe you’re not customer-facing or you don’t really do networking events or business events.  But let you tell me this – I met the person who invested in my first business and then went on to become my mentor because we shared the same hairdresser.  You might get talking to your dream customer outside the school gates while waiting to pick up the kids.  There’s a really good chance that you won’t meet the people who have a real impact on your business in a business situation, but in a chance encounter that you were not expecting. Just like sharing that couple of minutes in an elevator.
So this is why it’s important that when someone asks you what you do, or asks you to introduce your company, that you know what’s about to come out of your mouth will not only tell them, but also gets them as excited about your business as you are.  And you might think that you’re already good at telling people about your business, you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation and everything – but that’s not what we’re talking about in this session.  This isn’t pitching to someone who already knows about you and is interested to learn more.  This is about what you say to get someone interested in about 30 seconds, and that might be on the touchline of your child’s football match.
So, how do you actually do that?  Well, like most skills in business, we’re not just born with it. When Lisa and I first started going to events together, she didn’t know how I could just stand up in a room full of 50 people and tell them all about our business.  She didn’t know how I could walk into a room full of people I had never met, walk up to the closest, shake their hand and then go straight into a pitch about my business.  When I started taking Lisa to these events, she would often stay by the sign-in table while I dived into the room.  Now, several years on and if I go to an event with Lisa then I don’t get a look in!  Lisa is the one warmly shaking hands and getting people to open up to her in a way I never could.  I would leave a conversation with a business card and a promise to follow-up; but Lisa left with a new lifelong friend and a promise to swap recipes.  I see this over and again, she makes connections with strangers at a level I never could.  Now if we go to an event, everyone wants to talk to Lisa and I feed off her scraps!
And it all simply comes down to planning, practice, and experience.  What Lisa didn’t know back then is that I’d done a LOT of networking and business events in my career.  I spent nearly 10 years going to my local early morning networking group where I had to stand up and introduce my business to a room full of people every single week.  I was rubbish at it for the first 6 months, not embarrassingly bad by the end of the first year, and then competent by the end of the second.  I didn’t get anywhere near approaching ‘good’ until I’d been doing it for years and by then could do it on autopilot.  But as with anything in life: you can purposely get better at something, simply by deciding you want to get better at it.  You research, plan and then practise over and again. And knowing how to introduce your company and answering the question: ‘What do you do?’ is one of those things.
So, we know there are going to be a number of occasions when you are going to be called on to introduce your company to someone who doesn’t know what you do.  Some of those are going to be more structured events when you are there specifically to make connections, such as our Vegan Business Tribe online networking meet-ups.  Others might be events where you are going to find new customers, such as a tradeshow or local vegan fair.  And others might be those chance encounters when you were not expecting them, when the conversation turns to what your job is and how you make a living. But you should be ready to encounter all these situations wherever you are.  Someone who might be a potential investor in your company might get into a chat with you on your busy stall at the local vegan fair when you thought you’d just be dealing with customers all day.  You might think you’re at an event where you’re looking to learn from the person speaking and might not have your sales hat on, but it turns out that person really needs what you offer and starts asking you about it.
Things like this will happen all the time when you have your own business.  So knowing this is going to happen means you have no excuse for getting caught out.  You can spend time working out now how to introduce your company, succinctly and powerfully, in a couple of sentences, and then keep practising until you can just press play and out comes your elevator pitch whenever you need it.
So, what I want to do in this session is actually look at the anatomy of what makes a good elevator pitch and give you a framework to create your own.  I’ve got seven main take-away points that have really worked for me in the past, and will give you the starting point for building your own intro pitch – so that when someone asks you “What do you do?” or you’re called on to stand up for 60 seconds and introduce your business, you absolutely nail it every time.
OK, before we get into the more interesting stuff, I’m going to start with quite a boring but important first point.  Whenever you introduce your business, don’t forget to say your name and your business name at the start!  Slow right down and say your business name slowly.  Say it clearly, even spell it out if it’s a hard word to say. Then when you finish, say it again at the end for those that missed it.  I cannot stress this point strongly enough – I’ve met so many people at networking meetings where I’ve had no idea what their name is or what their business is called, and you feel you’re too far into the conversation to stop and ask them!
OK, so once we’ve got that one out of the way, point two is, as with so many things in your business, you need to start by identifying the problem that your customers really connect with.  And if you’re a regular listener you will have heard me say over and again that you need to make your customers your best friends – you need to get to know them inside-out.  Because when you work out the real reason that people become your customer, that should be the starting point for telling people what you do.  That’s why so many elevator pitches start by asking a quantifying question.  For example: “What do I do? Well you know when you’ve put-off booking your holiday because there were just too many choices of where to go, where to stay, how best to get there?  You just tell me all the things you like and I’ll solve all that for you”.  Now, isn’t that better than someone just saying they are a travel agent?  Do you see how that connects better with the person they are talking to, that they have identified the problem they know they solve for their customers and used that as their introduction?
The three words “You know when… ” is actually a great way to tell someone what you do. For example: “You know when you finally get to an email in your inbox that you should have answered two weeks ago?  I work with you to make sure things like that never happen”; or  “You know when you lose weight and you’re really proud of yourself, then four weeks later you’ve put it all back on again and you just want to give up?  I get you out of that cycle”; or “You know when you’re worried about how ethical ordering from big businesses like Amazon is?  Well, we’ve built an online shop from the ground up where every single part of the business is sustainable, ethical, carbon-neutral and vegan – and we sell some amazing things you won’t find on Amazon either!”; or “You know when you can’t get the last bit of peanut butter from the bottom of the jar, well we made a spoon that makes sure you get every last bit!”.
Now, I’m suspecting at least one of those hit home with you – and because you could relate to the problem you are far more interested than if someone just said they are a virtual PA, a vegan nutritionist, an online store or a cutlery maker?
So once you’ve worked out what problem someone is going to identify with, the next question is how can you get that across in a really short amount of time.  Which is the third point of building a good elevator pitch.  When I have a one-to-one with new Vegan Business Tribe members I always start by asking them to tell Lisa and I what they do.  I know, the dreaded question!  And I always love hearing the completely different types of responses we get. With some people, I know within 10 seconds exactly what they do.  With others, we’re 15 minutes in to the session before I’m starting to understand what their business is.  You need to be the first person!  And that’s completely unfair on the people that need a lot of time to get over what they do, because all that means is they’re new to all this.  And I’m actually really glad to be part of that process of them working out how to answer the question – and usually when we get there, I’ll play back to them what they said to me but in just a few words to help them consolidate what they do into a single sentence.  Because brevity is really important, think back to the elevator, or the car passenger seat, or the chance encounter on the touchline with another parent at your kids sporting event.  You should be able to get over what your business does and why someone would want to know more in 30 seconds. And there are two reasons for that.  First, you want to work out really quickly if someone is just asking to be polite or if someone is actually a potentially interested party in your business.  If someone asks you what you do in passing, and ten minutes later you’re still explaining why Search Engine Optimisation is so crucial to a business then you’re not going to be the most popular person at the party!  But the second reason that you need to have a really short, concise intro to your business is so you can memorise it. When someone asks you what you do, you should be able to reel it off without having to think. It should be like the poem you had to memorise at school, or like your lines in a play.  Because you don’t know when you’re going to step into that elevator and see your dream client or investor.  So be ready for it.
Right, onto the fourth point.  And the fourth point is realising you are in control of the first impression you make.  If someone asks you what you do, there’s a good chance they don’t know anything about you.  Now, what I’m going to say next, you might be a little uncomfortable with, but if they do not know who you are then you’ve got a completely clean slate for what you tell them.  Now, I’m not saying you should lie about who you are, or about your background and your experience, but remember that to them – you are whoever you say you are in the next 60 seconds.  They have no reason to disbelieve you, so present the company you want to be, even if you’re not 100% there yet.  If you have a new business then you don’t need to tell people what you were doing twelve months ago – unless it’s extremely relevant.  Let people assume you’ve been doing what you do for years unless directly asked. What can you put into your introduction that will instantly set-up your credibility?  Do you hold a position with an organisation that you rarely mention but should?  Lisa, my far better half at Vegan Business Tribe, writes the business column for Vegan Food & Living Magazine every month – the UK’s biggest and best selling vegan magazine, so we make sure that doesn’t get left out of her introduction.  One of the main reasons I took on a role as an Ambassador for The Chartered Institute of Marketing for so many years was so that I could say I was an Ambassador for The Chartered Institute of Marketing when I was introduced.  It kind of set up my credibility on marketing without any more questions needing to be asked.  Has your business won an award, or even been shortlisted for one? What proof can you give of your experience or knowledge in a short sentence?  What picture can you present to people who don’t know you, so that their starting opinion of you is really high? Perhaps you just saved a customer several thousands of pounds, or helped them lose lots of pounds if you’re a weight-loss specialist.  Get that big win over in your introduction to prove you can achieve what you say.
The fifth point is: think about how your elevator pitch can start a conversation, not just be you broadcasting. I’ll give you an example.  When I first spoke to Mike Hill from One Planet Pizza I asked him what he did, and he answered “We’re making the world a better place, one slice at a time”.  And the reason that’s such an amazing response is he could have easily said “we make vegan frozen pizza” and that would be true.  But that doesn’t start a conversation, you don’t have to find out more.  Instead, I had to ask Mike what he meant by that, how can you change the world with pizza?  Which gives Mike an open floor to explain the amazing pioneering work they do at One Planet and their ethical approach to business – regardless of whether the person they are talking to is interested in veganism or not.  And this is something a lot of people don’t always consider when they are writing an introduction to their business – how do you want the person to reply to your introduction, what questions do you want them to ask next?
And again, you can practice all this and write it down.  You can write an opening line in such a way that it leads someone to ask a specific question, and then you can write out the answer to that question too so that you are leading the conversation instead of being led. You can also work out what endpoint you want to lead the conversation to.  At some point, if someone is proving to be interested in your business you need to lead them to an action point.  You might want to end your introduction with something like, “If you recognise this problem, then I do a 20-minute free intro call – just talk to me afterwards and I’ll send you the link to book, it would be great to talk more”.  Or you could say: “if you would like to know more then I have a free taster course on my website which is the perfect place to start – just go to www. …”.  Don’t just tell people what you do and then leave them thinking “well, that’s nice”- make sure you include a call to action for those that connected with what you had to say.
And this leads us nicely to the sixth thing that makes a great intro to your business, and that’s practice.  Once you think you’ve got a really good intro to your company, then it’s a bit like a new hat.  You need to try it on, you need to go out wearing it to see how it fits.  Try your new intro out at a networking event and see what response it gets.  Take what you learn, tweak your intro, and try it again.  Or try out different introductions on people you know.  We’ve got a great community at Vegan Business Tribe and that gives you a great place to practice introducing your company and to get feedback from people who share the same goals and ethics as you.  Our own networking meet-ups are great places to practice pitching your business in a room full of friendly faces who want you to succeed at this.  Or even better, get other people to tell YOU how to introduce your business.  Now, this might sound a bit bonkers, but you will often find that someone else can sum up what you do so much better and so much more concisely than you can.  Set up a session where you work on your introductions together with other vegan businesses and each aim to come away with a better way to introduce yourself.
And then finally, the seventh thing that allows you to really nail a good introduction to your business is, well, embracing your mission.  Now, I come from a corporate business background – I think most people know that.  I spent the first half of my career wearing a suit.  I would spend all my time in board rooms and at business conferences, so to me, my elevator pitch has always been very factual and to the point.  Here are my credentials, here’s what services I offer, this is how I can help, can we set up a call to talk further? And in some situations that’s still appropriate, but over the last few years the way I introduce myself has changed, because I’ve changed.  I’ve found my mission:  I don’t understand why a ‘vegan’ businesses should be the one that carries a label. Why should WE have to point out that our companies don’t cause cruelty or harm to animals? It should be the companies that do that have to carry a warning. And the only way we’re going to get to that point is to make ‘vegan’ businesses the new normal, we need to skill-up those already running a vegan business to have a bigger impact because it’s not enough to just run a vegan business, you need to run a SUCCESSFUL vegan business if you’re ever going to help us move towards a vegan world – and we’ve created a community full of amazing vegan businesses at Vegan Business Tribe that are helping each other do just that.  Now, you may have just noticed that I actually just slipped in my own elevator pitch there! Our own elevator pitch is our mission in three sentences, because we discovered that really resonated with other vegan businesses owners.  Laying out our mission in a couple of sentences gives us a real point of commonality.  And if someone connects with our mission, there’s a good chance they will want to get involved with what we’re doing at Vegan Business Tribe.
So, come right back to your reason for doing what you are doing.  It took Lisa and I quite a bit of time to actually figure out what our mission was and distil that down into a couple of sentences, and it took a lot of testing in various interviews and events to work out how to say it in a way people connect with. But how can YOU get across the real reason behind why you’re doing what you are doing?  And how can you condense that down into a sentence or two instead of having to give your ten-minute life story?!  Did you weigh twenty stone and now you’re a fitness instructor so that you can give other people the quality of life and health that you discovered?  Did your own child have a really hard time being vegan at school, so now you educate schools on how to be vegan inclusive so no other child has to go through what yours did?  (And I’m actually stealing that last one from Laura Chepner of Primary Veducation, because so many vegan parents connect with her mission). So take a moment; ‘what’s your why?’ as I’ve heard it called – and if it really connects with the people you want to get behind your business, it might just be the most powerful way you could ever introduce yourself.
OK, so you might think that’s actually quite a lot to get into an elevator pitch – but it’s a really good framework of what you might want to get across when you introduce your company, but let’s just do a bullet point recap of those seven points:
  1. Whenever you introduce your business, make sure you say your name and your business name clearly at the start!  Slow right down and say your business clearly, even spell it out if it’s a hard word to say. Then when you finish, say it again to make sure!
  2. When deciding how to introduce your company, start with what you know your customers connect with. The three words “You know when… ”  is actually a great way to connect someone with what you do.
  3. You need to be able to get across what you do in under 60 seconds, sometimes you might only have 30 seconds.  If it takes you 15 minutes to fully explain what you do and why someone should be as excited as you are, then you have a real problem.
  4. If this is the first time you’re introducing yourself to someone, then you’ve got a completely clean slate.  You are completely in control of the first impression you make, so present the person and business you want to be seen as, even if you’re not necessarily 100% of the way there yet!
  5. Use your introduction to lead a conversation.  Have a one-line introduction up your sleeve that you know will make someone ask a certain question if they are interested in your business.  And also have an end-point that you can lead people to.  If you meet someone in the gym you can’t expect them to listen to your full 15-minute pitch, have a follow-on ready, such as the ability to book a call or take a taster session if they want to continue the conversation.
  6. Practice.  Test.  Tweak.  Practice again.  This isn’t something you have to do locked away in a room on your own, gather your own tribe around you and work out how to introduce your business with them.  It’s far easier to explain what someone elses’ business does in a couple of short sentences than trying to explain your own.
  7. And finally, if you have a mission that really connects with people, then introduce yourself with it – because it might be the most powerful way you could ever introduce yourself.
And I’m going to tag on one last bit of advice, because it’s great to have a good intro to your business that you can reel off, or an elevator pitch that you have ready for those chance encounters.  But it’s no use if you never have the chance to use it.  You can do a lot to MAKE those chance encounters happen.  You can put yourself in amongst other people who might be able to help you move your business forwards, as customers, as supporters or even backers and investors.  Go looking for opportunities to get your business in front of people – we run networking meet-ups for our Vegan Business Tribe members which you would be hugely welcome at and are a great place to practice presenting your business, just come find me on LinkedIn or send me an email on to find out how to attend – but there’s also lots more out there.  Go to the big vegan business events: so much has had to be cancelled because of covid recently, but keep an eye out for VegFestUK, PlantPowered Expo, and all the other events that will hopefully return where you will meet other people in the sector.  Even if you’re terrified, just put yourself out there.  Go get involved with Beyond Animal, they currently run speed networking events online which is like networking roulette and a lot of fun.  You can put yourself in the places where, just maybe, you will find yourself in an elevator with your dream contact – and when you do, you will be really glad you’ve got your elevator pitch practised and ready.
So that’s it, and thank you for your time as always, Lisa and I really appreciate all the time you give up to listen every week and all of you who come along to our events on Zoom.  And if you do connect with our mission, then come and join us as – not only will you be part of the new vegan business movement but we’ll also help you make a real impact on the world a lot quicker.
So, thank you for your time, and I expect everyone’s introductions at our next networking meet-up to be absolutely amazing after listening to this, and I will see you on the next one.

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