Move Up Give Back: Unforgettable Elevator Pitch

This column first appeared in United Way STL's "Move Up Give Back" online magazine for young professionals.  You can ask your networking questions through their contact page!

Thanks to Shark Tank and Kickstarter, we’re all familiar with the “elevator pitch.” But did you know that this startup tool can be just as helpful in building your network and personal brand?

The goal of any good elevator pitch is to get the next conversation. An effective pitch must give enough information to generate interest while also being concise enough to remember. There are five components to an unforgettable personal pitch, all of which come together to make you stand out.

Here are the five elements that will make you unforgettable:

1. Your intro. Introduce yourself, and highlight a few things the person should know about you. Depending on the circumstance and your goal, this might be your title, your education or a project you’re working on.

2. Your skills. People can only remember two to three things, so mention a few skills that you’ve developed in your current position or hope to use in the future. What are you best at?

3. Your benefit. This is the “So what?” part of your pitch. People understand benefits, especially when something benefits them. Be able to translate the skills you describe in terms of how they make a difference to organizations and people.

4. Your goal. Especially when you are pitching as an individual, people can connect best when they understand where you’re going. Be able to speak to your near-term goals, such as joining a board or learning about a new industry.

5. Your ask. If you’ve gotten this far, don’t miss the opportunity to let people know how they can help you. This isn’t the time to ask for a big introduction, but be able to mention the types of people you’d like to meet, organizations you’d like to get involved with, or things you know you need to learn. If all else fails, asking a question like “What are you reading?” will show your interest and help you learn something new.

Of course, you will never meet someone, shake their hand and say, “Hold it right there while I give you my pitch!” but knowing what you want to say, and being able to say it in a clear and concise manner, makes all the difference in networking. Your goal is to tell your story in a way that is brief enough to illustrate who you are and where you’re going. Being memorable allows those in your network to connect you to the resources you need to be successful.

Help! I'm a wantrepreneur.

This column first appeared in Silicon Prairie News for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, where Aimee serves women entrepreneurs as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute. Thanks, SPN!

Dear Prosper Women Entrepreneurs,

I’ve been thinking about an idea for business for a while, and recently have started checking out programs for entrepreneurs in my area. The networking has been fun, and I’m learning a lot about the startup community, but I know I need to focus on getting MY business going. What should I do so that I’m not still thinking about it this time next year?

Sincerely,

What’s Next?

Dear What’s Next,

Although studies show that only about half New Year’s Resolutions make it past the first month of the year, we think this is one worth going after! The start of 2016 is as good a time as any to get focused on your business and start moving it forward. As we’ve talked about in previous columns, entrepreneurs often have so many ideas that it’s difficult to pick one and get started. But the upside of that entrepreneurial spirit is that you are tenacious and driven towards your goal. So go for it!

Here are some thoughts to help you turn all that thinking into doing:

Get talking.

Up until now you’ve probably kept your idea mostly in your head, on the back of napkins and in a few notebooks. You might feel like you don’t know enough, or have a good enough plan, to start talking to people about it. That is a mistake. You’ll only be able to move your idea forward if you’re open to sharing it with others.

If having a well-constructed elevator pitch will make you more comfortable, google “elevator pitch” and start building one. If practicing will get you ready, grab a friend, your dog, or your neighbor and try it out on them. Record yourself and see how you sound. Watch videos of successful and terrible pitches. We shared some tips about how to talk about your idea in a previous column. Just get talking!

Get needy.

Whaaaat? You’re a smart and tenacious entrepreneur who’s not supposed to need anything, right? Wrong! Along with talking about your idea to other people, you should also be asking them for help. No one knows everything, and certainly there are parts of building a business that you’re not an expert at. Maybe you’re a great product designer, but don’t know squat about intellectual property law. Maybe you’re great at the books, but don’t know how to promote your venture.

Think about what you don’t know, prioritize those needs, and ask for help. At the very least you’ll get some feedback on your idea and the steps you’re taking (learn more about being open to feedback here). Hopefully, you’ll get some good leads and introductions. But how will people know what you need if you don’t tell them?

Get specific.

You’ve already started networking, and that’s great. By now you have a feeling for what resources are available and where startup people congregate. But as you start to grow your business, you’ll quickly learn that time is your most limited resource, and you need to be thoughtful about where you spend it. We would suggest finding a few networking events that offer both really good content and the connections you need – you can’t go to everything! Or, find a startup program or educational opportunity that will keep you on track.

Some days, you’ll have to be heads-down reviewing a spreadsheet or updating your website. Some days, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with a potential client or attend an event where you can run into people you need to know. It’s a bit of an experiment, but start to learn where your time is best spent. And getting connected with the right people on a regular basis will help with that “lonely entrepreneur” feeling!

Get moving.

Above all, just start. No secret formula, no excuses, no delay… just go do!

Entrepreneurially yours,

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs

Help! I can't handle feedback.

This column first appeared in Silicon Prairie News for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, where Aimee serves women entrepreneurs as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute. Thanks, SPN!

Dear Prosper Women Entrepreneurs,

Everyone is telling me the importance of getting feedback on my idea, but I find this to be really difficult. Most people don’t understand what I’m working on, and the feedback they offer isn’t very helpful. I’m trying to stay positive as I get my business off the ground, so the feedback sometimes bums me out!

Sincerely,

Don’t Need It

Dear Don’t Need It,

Feedback can be tough. After all, your business is your baby, and it’s you that works long hours and stays up nights thinking about how to make it happen. Why should you listen to what anyone else has to say?

Here’s why: They might know something you don’t. They might represent what a customer would think. They might have experience you’re not aware of. They might be able to help with a challenge that’s been slowing you down.

Being open to feedback can make the difference between having an idea and building a business. We’ve spoken in this column about testing your idea and doing market research (guess what, that’s feedback!). Feedback is also an important piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle.

Here are a few things that might make you more comfortable with accepting feedback:

It is vital to your business. Whether you’re just starting out and doing market research, or serving thousands of customers, being open to feedback is your lifeblood. Successful entrepreneurs pivot and make changes, often based on customer feedback. Could you imagine a large company with “No thanks, we don’t want to hear from you” on their Contact Us page? While it might not always be comfortable accepting critique, it is impossible to grow or sustain a business without it. You might as well start now!

It can tell you what you don’t know. You are probably right that many people don’t understand the ins and outs of your business as well as you do. But to dismiss their feedback is to miss out on a learning opportunity that might make your business even better. And here’s a hint: Even feedback that tells you that people don’t understand your business is a helpful tool. It shows you that you need to tell your story better! It’s not their job to understand you, it’s your job to be understood.

It looks good. Guess what? People that seem closed off and bristle at feedback are not people you want to be around, let alone support or invest in. No entrepreneur can do it on her own, so you will need people around you. Supporters, employees, advisors and investors want to work with someone who is open and willing to make changes where needed. If it seems like you know it all, why would anyone want to help?

It isn’t law. While listening to and even (gasp!) asking for feedback is a good practice, you don’t have to accept the feedback you receive. You should make an effort to consider the feedback that is offered, but perhaps knowing that you don’t have to agree with it will make it easier to take in. You might even write it down, put it away, and come back to it at a time when you’re feeling more open to suggestions.

It’s positive in the long run. You are right – accepting feedback is hard. But know that what might sting when you first receive it can be useful to your business in the long run. In the Prosper Mastermind Program, groups of entrepreneurs gather monthly to discuss business challenges and gather perspective and advice on overcoming them. Eva Tucker, founder of knews.co, admits that she left last month’s meeting feeling discouraged. She had received some difficult questions, tough love and hard advice from her Mastermind group members. But a month later she was excited to get back together with her group and tell them how she had tackled the issue. Sitting with the feedback and implementing some of their suggestions had made a difference in her work. She ended up encouraged rather than deflated.

Being open to feedback is one of the most important traits an entrepreneur can possess. Whether you take it or leave it, please stay open to suggestions. Consider them carefully against your business goals and challenges, and you might find that the feedback you get can help make your business stronger. We hope we can convince you to ASK for feedback and change your sign-off to “Do Need It!”

Entrepreneurially Yours,

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs

Move Up Give Back: How Do You Build Your Network?

This column first appeared in United Way STL's "Move Up Give Back" online magazine for young professionals.  These myths & tips hold true for any networker!

As a young professional, you’ve heard about the importance of building your network. Whether you’re finding your way in a new community, looking for volunteer opportunities or mapping your career path, building your network will be instrumental. But how do you actually do it?

The short answer – a lot of coffee. But how you get to that coffee meeting and what you say when you’re there can make the difference between building a strong network and wasting a lot of time and $5 lattes. There are two outdated misconceptions that stop people from networking – the ick factor and the perfectionist’s dilemma.

1. The ick factor. For too long, networking has been associated with building your client list and collecting business cards. While this is still important in some fields, networking has become much less formal and… icky. Think of networking as an opportunity to talk about what is important to you, connect with others who share your interests and learn something you don’t know. Yes, you’re looking for something (an ally, a volunteer, a mentor, a client) but so are they, and you might as well do it together.

2. The perfectionist’s dilemma. There is no need to perfect your pitch before you start networking. If you try to wordsmith each sentence, you’ll just come out sounding like a robot, which is never a good thing. Instead, have a few main points about yourself in mind, set a goal for the event or interaction, and just talk. Networking is an excellent way to get feedback on your idea, career path, even the story you’re telling. No robots allowed!

As you think about networking, you may realize you’re doing it already – when introducing yourself at the start of a meeting, at a conference, chatting with your neighbor and yes, at a networking event. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re doing it well:

• Give context. Help someone understand why you’re there (“I’m really interested in the program on technology and education”) and what your goal is (“I hope to join a board in this area that might need my skills”).

• Ask questions. It is true that your best networking happens when you’re not talking. Ask about someone’s career path, what they love about their job, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year – and just learn.

• Be confident, but not arrogant. We know the difference, right? Be confident in your skills and in delivering your message, but watch the namedropping and other things that might make it seem like you don’t need anything at all.

• Know what you need. Building on the tip above, you should be asking for something. Not a million dollars for your project or a big introduction – those might come later. But have in mind something you’d like to learn, an organization you’d like to get involved in, or the types of people you’d like to meet.

• Passion and authenticity trumps all else. If you forget your pitch and everything you’ve practiced goes right out of your head, just be you. Most people respond to authenticity and passion, so talking about your interests and asking questions is always a good thing. You’ll do better the next time!

Networking allows you to tell your story in a way that connects you with others so that you can find the resources you need to move forward. No matter your goal, a good story will help you be remembered. So work on the details, hone the pitch, and consider the ask, but overall, tell your story.

What questions do you have for Aimee about networking and telling your story? Tweet us at @moveupgiveback to tell us what you’d like to read about next!