When you decide to start your own business, you're fearless. You may not have a plan, but you're sure nothing can stand in your way. For me, that confidence quickly evaporated when I was invited to pitch for the very first time.
My business was social media marketing, and this was back when it was just starting to break into the mainstream. The client was a new restaurant chain launching in Australia led by a business heavyweight.
I spent hours researching their business, and on the day of the pitch I felt bulletproof. As a human encyclopedia of social media and competitor statistics, I was ready for any question they might throw at me. Add to that my killer proposal for taking their restaurant from "new kid on the block" to the new "it" place amongst their target demographic, what could go wrong?
While I spent countless hours finding the best strategy for them and researching everything there was to know about the restaurant industry, I failed to consider one thing: It is possible to throw out little too much information in a pitch?
Upon starting, I was confident. Hell, I'd worked hard and put together a flawless plan based on hours of research and competitor analysis. I had an answer for every question they threw at me and even had a "take home" version of the pitch beautifully presented in embossed folders.
I left that day feeling confident I'd found my first client. From there, I made the obligatory follow-up phone call and email. I let it marinate for a week before I followed up again, again and again. I heard nothing back. Confused was an understatement.
Fast forward two weeks and I found myself at said restaurant for a friend's birthday. As I sat down at the table and looked around, the room slowed. I felt as though I was on a bad hidden camera show. I hadn't noticed as I walked in, but on closer assessment, there it was: my pitch in action.
Every detail I proposed was to be found somewhere in the restaurant -- from table signage, to a launch competition, to the script proposed for their waitstaff. Without as much as the decency to change a few words, I didn't know whether to feel horrified or ecstatic that my first-ever pitch was in play and working.
As I sat and starred blankly at my menu, I felt the hit of irony. The more prepared, impressive and knowledgeable I was in my pitch, the more dispensable I made myself.
Since then I've been involved in countless pitches, all of which I handle differently thanks to the lesson I learned that day. I've revised my methods, breaking the process down into five steps for the perfect pitch:
1. Be prepared.
When you're formulating your pitch, cover all your bases. Make sure you know what your end goal is and how you're going to get there. Just because you're not going to give away every detail doesn't mean you shouldn't already know how to execute the plan, anyway.
2. Know your audience.
If there's one thing I can't stand, it's going into a meeting blind. In this day and age, there's a good chance the person or team you're meeting with is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or one of the many social platforms. Is this an intense form of creeping? Probably. But who cares?
Check their "likes," read statuses, check mutual friends and maybe even their marital status. All of these points can change your approach dramatically. Is the demographic largely comprised of single males typically going out for beers after work, or mothers devoted to spending time with the family on weekends?
With a little research, you've got a surefire way of building rapport and changing the tone of your chat before you get underway.
3. Manage questions.
The biggest mistake I made in my first pitch was answering every question thoroughly and precisely. Don't fall into the trap of giving the prospective client everything they need. Address their questions, but avoid divulging every last detail of your plans. For example:
“Based on what you've heard today, what sort of angle would you pitch to the media?”
“I would use (this angle) because it will yield (this result)."
“That's something we'd develop closely with you, and then rely on our media contacts to bring that story to life.”
4. Be the smartest person in the room.
In response to this I often hear, "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room," but that's crap. If you're pitching a client, make damn sure there is no one sitting in that room who knows more about the industry than you do. Being the smartest person in the room doesn't mean you make everyone feel stupid; it means you're prepared for any question or turn the pitch may take.
At the end of the day, the client has hired you to pitch them new ideas because they've exhausted their depth. Make sure you're not running low on yours.
5. Take the leap.
I've lost count of the times I've said I can achieve something that I wasn't actually sure I could. The outcome? I work my ass off to achieve it, and usually do.
You can prepare, research and pitch the socks off a prospective client, but sometimes you're just not ready. In business, I've learned to back myself up. Take a leap of faith that you just might be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
At the end of the day, if you're not willing to, the guys waiting outside will be.
Photo credit: Boiler Room