My ability to pitch is what has defined and connected my 40-year multifaceted career in arts and culture, film and television production, business consulting, media finance and more recently philanthropy. Over the past four decades, I have been at both sides of the table: pitching my own ideas and listening to pitches.
My pitches have taken different forms: face to face, emails, treatments, proposals, pilots, pitch documents etc. Amongst the memorable pitches I recall: when I pitched the idea of a documentary series to a commissioning editor, walking from one end of a corridor to the other and securing a ‘yes’ at the end of our three-minute walk! This led to the production of 4×30 minute films from the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War. A newspaper cutting led to one-page proposal, emailed to another commissioning editor, followed by face to face meeting and a production commission. In April 2014, an email I wrote to Mr Elumelu, offering to bring my skills, knowledge, and experience to serve on the TEF Board led to a meeting with him and my appointment as the Director of Entrepreneurship and a year later to the CEO of the Foundation!
Evidence provided by Small Business Trends in 2013 from research conducted by Top Business Degrees, has shown that 40 per cent of small businesses are profitable, 30 per cent break even and 30 per cent are continually losing money.
Additionally, Investopedia reveals that a major rule of thumb for all investors is that the stock market has a long-term average return of 10%. Translating this into the world of entrepreneurship, this means that of every 100 businesses that they decide to invest in, they only expect 10 to succeed and generate returns.
So, the big question is, how do investors decide what businesses will be in this highly narrow ten-per cent margin? Herein lies the power of a Pitch. Scribendi defines a business pitch as ‘a presentation by one or more people to an investor or group of investors, though it can also be an email, letter, or even an impromptu conversation.’
For those of us who have worked in the media industry, the ability to pitch is a fundamental skill you have to master if you are to survive in the industry: a compelling title, the logline or the elevator pitch of no more that 1 or two sentences which is an impactful summary of the story concept.
Drawing on my personal experience of pitching and receiving pitches, in this article, I want to share some key things to note while developing and delivering a business pitch.
Today, pitching has become a pivotal part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, especially in the last decade. In Africa, organisations like Seedstars and the Tony Elumelu Foundationorganise pitch competitions to empower African entrepreneurs. More recently, the MEST Africa Summit kicked off their second annual Pan-African pitch competition for start-ups based in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Cote D’Ivoire.
Pitching a business is not a frivolous task and should be handled with the uttermost care as it can be the difference between business success and failure. Fortunately, the skills required to deliver a successful pitch can be learned and honed over time. Here some key things to note while researching, crafting and delivering a business pitch to companies, investors and customers:
Whether you are pitching to a company, an investor, a customer, or a potential partner, turn your business pitch into a story and make an emotional connection with the listener. People will remember not what you said, but how you made them feel. For me the best pitches I have made and heard have been those which told me a story about the product, the customers, the audience, the impact – the why. Most business pitches start with the what or the how and get lost in the numbers which the investors will never remember. But they will remember your story, so develop your story telling skills, practice them on your family and friends. Watch when their eyes glaze over, and you know you have lost them. Entrepreneurs need to become storytellers at the start of their business and not when they have succeeded.
Time is of the essence when you are pitching an idea and the best pitchers usually get to the important aspect as quickly as possible. If you spend time beating around the bush or coming up with lengthy introductions or conclusions, the investor might get bored or lose interest. Always remember that if the investors do not understand your idea in the shortest time possible, it can be assumed that your customers will not understand either.
Presentation and delivery are the building blocks of every pitch. Unfortunately, in a bid to impress investors, some entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating complex and layered presentations. A pitch meeting is not an avenue for display of intelligence but rather a means to show the business objectives and how funding would help to expand it. It should be broken down to the simplest terms using basic language that even a child can comprehend. This is the best way of getting your message across.
Before stepping into a pitch meeting or sharing your ideas with an investor or a group of investors, you need to conduct your research of the individual(s). What background do they come from? What sectors are they primarily interested in? What is the nature of returns they expect to gain? What kind of investors are they?
All these and more are very important because they help you prepare the right framework for your pitch. They also help you go into the pitch with more confidence knowing that you’re not walking in totally blindsided. Always remember, these investors are human beings too and it is important to get to know them.
It is not enough to just work on your ideas and documentation, you must work on yourself as well. The investor(s) is not just there to buy into an idea but also the individual selling it. As such, tardiness, poor mannerisms, and a general lack of confidence will work to your disadvantage. Always remember that they are investing in the entrepreneur first before the business plan and they would need to see that you can sustain the business efficiently from start to finish.
While it is vital to keep your pitches short and simple, it is also important to ensure that you are selling your investors an experience. Keep in mind that these investors have probably heard hundreds of pitches before you and will hear hundreds more after you are gone. You must ask yourself, “What makes my business unique?” Your answer is what you are trying to sell!
Whether it’s a product or a service, make sure your pitch tells a compelling story because these are the pitches that create an impression.
For some pitch meetings, the entrepreneur may be required to create a presentation, usually via PowerPoint. Here is a short breakdown of the important elements that must be represented.
To build on the points highlighted above, take advantage of online resources (books, podcasts, and videos) that address the subject of business pitching.
Conclusively, pitching is not optional but a mandatory skill that every entrepreneur should strive to develop. Remember that most of these investors were once in your shoes and as a result, they know what to look for in a business pitch.