Many professionals take the leap out of a job to start their own business. And, often, the leap is initially successful. Growth comes organically on the back of your existing reputation and through referrals from satisfied clients. But – and there is always a but – what happens when the market shifts, the economy slows down, the clients need change or you need to grow more rapidly? You can no longer afford to wait for organic growth, so what do you do?
You have a range of options, including adjusting your service offering to existing clients, getting funding from the bank or an investor, adjusting your marketing strategy, getting another job or winning the lottery. All of these options could work. But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be wanting to take more control of your destiny.
Future-proof your business
The best way to grow your business quickly is to expand and deepen your client base who are buying from you regularly. And yes, that means you need to learn to pitch for their business.
‘But I’m not a salesperson!’ I hear you say. ‘I’m an IT specialist with a great service. Clients love our work. We just need even more clients to love our work right now.’
I know, I know – take a deep breath now and stay with me.
Learning to pitch is the most liberating skill you can have. It will turbo-charge your confidence and your success as an entrepreneur. Even if you’ve been selling for years, honing your ability to pitch is always a good investment of your time.
‘But clients don’t like being sold to,’ you say.
Yes, you’re right. None of us like being ‘sold to’, including our clients. But pitching done well never makes a client feel this way. It’s about finding out what your listeners want, and outlining how that can be provided through your vision, change or service. This was brought home to me recently when we were halfway through delivering seven training programs to 140 leaders at a large financial services firm. Our client exclaimed that she’d love to see me in action pitching to a client, only realising once the words left her mouth that of course she had already seen me in action – she just didn’t realise it at the time.
How did that level of ease to buy happen? I’ll let you in on the secret. Here are 5 crucial steps to delivering a stellar pitch.
Many businesses make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people, particularly when you’re starting out, or in a slow patch. Take the time to understand what is valuable about what you do, and who it is valuable to. Ask yourself, ‘What is it about my business that sets me apart from everyone else?’
The other question to ask yourself is, ‘What don’t we want to do and who would we prefer not to work with?’ Sometimes what you say no to is more important than what you say yes to.
Walk a mile in their shoes
So often people meet with potential clients with the aim of convincing them to buy their services. This is a back-to-front approach. Take the time to get to know your client’s business: what are they trying to achieve? What are their challenges? Who is involved in leading it?
Research, research, research. Google them, read the news, connect with people in your network who know them, and build an understanding of their objectives and potential needs.
It’s a bit like dating – until you get to know the client, you’re not sure whether they will like/need what you have to offer, and you may not find them attractive to work with anyway. Finding new clients needs to be approached with care – for them and for your business. Approach each meeting with curiosity and a desire to explore whether there is the opportunity to provide value for fair exchange and, if so, whether it’s the right time to do so.
Do a trial balloon
So you understand your client’s business and their challenges, you’ve built good relationships, and you’ve figured out where your services can add value. By now you’re probably champing at the bit to give a presentation that will knock their socks off.
Not so fast! The best influencers first test out the receptivity to their ideas during more informal conversations. You can say things like, ‘I’m not sure if you’ve tried something like this already, but we worked with a client with a similar issue last year and what we did was …, and the results were …. I wonder if something like that could be a possibility for your business?’ Listen for interest, doubts and challenges. Ideally, you want the client to be asking you to submit a proposal or share your ideas with their key decision-makers.
The more you do this, the easier it will be to move to the next step: the pitch.
Pitch perfect in 10 steps
As you may have realised by now, the greatest way to pitch is to do all the work beforehand so the actual pitch feels like a formal acknowledgement from the client that you’ll be able to provide them with valuable solutions. It’s more of a conversation than a presentation. Whether you’re providing a written proposal or presenting in person, there is a powerful 10-step formula to delivering the perfect pitch:
- Why are we talking?
Describe the client’s challenges and opportunities, and the gaps in their ability to meet them. Give them a taste of what their world could be like if their outcomes were fulfilled.
- Why is now the right time to do something about it?
Describe the urgency of the need and the consequences of non-action.
- Why are they the right people to move forward?
Outline the client’s involvement and what they bring to the table, and how the outcomes can positively impact their ability to deliver.
- Why this?
Provide a high-level overview of the services you’re proposing and how it links to fulfilling their outcomes. Provide examples and data points as evidence of success.
- Why you?
Describe how your business is different and why you should be the one to deliver this. Address your credibility, values and experience.
- How will it work?
Provide a high-level outline of what the implementation looks like and what success looks like.
- What is the investment?
Provide a high-level outline of the investment required in time, resources and finances.
- What next?
Outline the recommended next steps e.g. detailed scoping, contracts, team selection etc.
- What else?
Turn the discussion to the group and ask them to have a quick chat with each other about what they like and what they’d like clarified, and then open up to questions.
- Agree on the next steps.
Don’t leave the meeting without agreeing on the next step, whether it’s a contract, another conversation, a revision or to start work.
Remember, practice makes perfect, so be sure to try your pitch out with your colleagues before you see your client.
The more relaxed and confident you can be, the more receptive your client will be. If you’re feeling nervous, start to teach yourself methods to reduce presentation anxiety.
Learn how to gain the confidence you need to successfully pitch your business. Download The Colin James Method® cheat sheet, Owning Your Confidence today.
The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.
Erica Bagshaw is an entrepreneur, Executive Coach and Co-Founder of The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She has spent the majority of her career growing and developing close client partnerships. She loves sharing her expertise on the perfect pitch.