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Develop an Elevator Speech for Your Business Plan

Ideally, your business plan will help you be prepared for any situation to come. When you’re in business, you need to be ready at any moment with an answer to the question, “So what do you do?”

Since the 1900s, marketers and investors have called your response to this question your elevator speech because if you craft it correctly, you can deliver it in the time it takes to ride an elevator through a high-rise building – which is where many happenchance pitches were delivered during the heyday of the tech boom.

Today your pitch is more apt to take place at a conference or a networking event — or online, where your website and social media pages present your business on your behalf. One way or another, in 20 to 30 seconds or, online, in about 20 words — you need to

  • Introduce yourself and your business in a way that seizes interest and makes people want to know more.

  • Tell what you do in nontechnical words that someone outside your business or industry can easily understand.

  • Describe your product or service and the benefits that it delivers.

  • Define the market for your offerings.

  • Set yourself apart by highlighting your competitive advantages, your business model, and the people behind your business, such as prominent investors, board members, associations, or business partners.

  • Generate interest, prompt questions, and begin to develop a relationship.

This list is a tall order for sure. For that reason, don’t hurry through this task; you need to devote some time to perfect your response and prepare to tailor it to the interests of various audiences.

How to prepare for your in-person elevator speech

As you begin to develop the elevator speech you’ll present when meeting people face to face, be aware of what you shouldn’t do or say:

  • Don’t begin with a dull, generic introduction, such as “I sell insurance,” or “I run a social service agency.” Start by inspiring interest and prompting questions rather than evoking stereotypes.

  • Don’t dive into a sales pitch. Remember, you’re presenting your business here, not the bells and whistles included in each of your products.

Instead, begin by imagining that you’re talking to a group of friends. You’re apt to relax, get right to the point, and explain your business — or your new business idea — in the simplest, most persuasive language possible.

Get ready to jot down a first draft, or use a voice recorder so you can hear your pitch and transcribe it for later editing. If you find yourself at a loss for words, revisit your company’s mission and vision statements for inspiration. In a few phrases, they should capture what your company is all about.

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Drawing from the final draft of your elevator speech, include a short, description of your business in the Company Overview and the Company Description sections of your plan.

How to present your elevator speech online

After you get the wording of your in-person elevator speech down pat, it’s time to shrink your message for presentation online, which is where many people are apt to first encounter your business description. Cover the following points:

  • Convey what your business does, its target market, and what makes it distinct and credible.

  • Include keywords that those looking for businesses like yours are apt to use in their search terms. The Google Keyword Tool offers the example of a business selling men’s athletic footwear that might use such key terms as “men’s sports shoes,” “men’s sneakers,” and “men’s tennis shoes,” as well as brand and product names.

  • Convey a sense of your brand promise.

  • Keep it short. Twitter limits introductions to 160 characters, and that’s a good length to keep in mind across other networks as well.

As proof it can be done with 160 characters — or far fewer — here are Twitter introductions from a few recently well-publicized startups, each beginning with the @ sign that precedes each Twitter username:

  • @TaskRabbit: website and mobile app where you can outsource small jobs and tasks to fully vetted people right in your neighborhood. Need help? Meet us over at TaskRabbitHelp.

  • @Pinterest: A place to collect and organize the things you love. If you need help, check help.pinterest.com or tag your tweet with #pinteresthelp!

  • @Square: Accept payments. Everywhere.

Although the format and length of your in-person and online introductions will differ, be careful that both convey the same message about what your business is, does, and stands for. Be sure that both are consistent with the facts and experience people will encounter when they take the next step by venturing through your front door, into the pages of your website, or beyond the cover of your business plan.

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