post it notes and people looking at a screen

How to pitch a business idea

By BBC Maestro

Time to make that business idea a reality? As an aspiring entrepreneur, sooner or later you’re going to have to pitch your business idea to investors.

But what makes a good business pitch? How can you make a great impression? And are there any tricks for winning over investors? Read on to find out how to pitch your business idea, with insights from British entrepreneurs Steven Bartlett and Peter Jones, plus some advice from public speaking expert Richard Greene.

What to include in your pitch

In a nutshell, your pitch should explain your business proposition, your growth strategy and what return on investment your potential investors can expect.

First and foremost your pitch should tell a story. What is your product or service, and why do people need it? Define your value proposition. What problem do you solve for your potential customers?

If you’re entering a crowded marketplace, make sure you can clearly explain how you’re bringing a solution to the market that’s sufficiently different from your competition. 

Include information on the size of the market, your marketing plans, what you’ve done so far to determine product-market fit, and what size of capital investment you require. Always back up your points with research, data and facts.

Additionally, include information on your exit strategy. Do you plan to sell the business? Merge the company? Or go public? Including your exit strategy shows you are forward-thinking and seeing the big picture.

You should also use visuals to bring your pitch to life. While spreadsheets and charts are important, striking visuals can help your investors engage with your pitch. You could use positive real-life case studies of ways your product or service has already been used by your target market.

Remember, you are part of your business’s story too, and investors tend to buy into the person pitching equally (if not more so) than the business idea. So why did you start the business? And why should they choose you? Make this clear in your pitch.

a persons hands resting on a notebook

Preparing for your pitch

There are a few steps you can take pre-pitch to make sure you deliver the best possible performance on the day.

Practise, practise, practise!

“Practise your pitch in front of a mirror until you know it by heart, and it is word perfect,” says Peter Jones. “Ideally, then practise it in front of your mum, your partner, your best friend – in fact, anyone you can rely on to give you honest feedback.”

Practising your pitch in front of others will help you gauge whether people understand your business – do they get it straight away? Or do you need to work on your elevator pitch? You must be able to explain your business proposition clearly and succinctly.

Peter Jones also recommends filming yourself when practising: “Record your pitch, then play it back to yourself and critique it.”

Do your research and adapt if necessary

It’s also a good idea to do some background research on the investors you’re going to meet with. Find out who you’re pitching to. Who have they invested in before? Are they experienced in your industry? What stage of business do they invest in? What successes have they had previously?

The more investors you plan to meet, the more you may need to adapt your pitch to different audiences. As Steven Bartlett says – “It is being able to adapt to the person you’re selling to” that is the key to success.

“Over the last ten years, I’ve been selling to lots of different types of CEO’s,” he says in his BBC Maestro course. “Some of them would require more information. Some of them would want me to get to the point, and be blunt and honest, and sometimes even swear. I would mirror their communication style. So if they were blunt, and quick and brash, then I would be in return. If they wanted more explanation, more story, more information – then that’s the approach I would take. I knew that to be a good salesperson, I had to adopt and adapt my approach to the person I was selling to.”

Someone discussing in a business meeting

Delivering your pitch

Now the big day has arrived, here are some tips to deliver a killer business pitch.

Make a great first impression

“That first impression is crucial. It’s a lasting one,” says Peter Jones. “You wouldn’t arrive at a loan meeting with your bank manager dressed in ripped shorts and flip-flops unless you’re trying to sell a surfing business. 

“I’m not saying wear a suit, I’m simply saying dress appropriately to your audience and give them the ‘real you’. Give me an impression of who you might be. Are you going to be reliable? Do you really care? And if you don’t care, why should I care? Why should I invest in you? People buy people first.”

Have confidence

“Everything you do in the art of selling something matters,” says Steven Bartlett in his online business course. “Everything you say, and don’t say, how you respond to someone, how long it takes you to respond, how you speak, the passion in your voice, the intonations, the pauses you use, your body language…” it all matters.

If you feel nervous pitching, remember the confidence you have in your business idea and use this to add passion to your pitch. Have faith in yourself.

“When I have to do a pitch, I try to get to a place where I relax. And I know that sounds easy, but if I know my business – I’ve got nothing to worry about. I know my business better than anybody. I enjoy talking to people about my business,” says Peter Jones.

Know the details

Be prepared for questions and remember to be honest with your answers. Unlike what you see in the movies, very few people can blag their way to an investment. Your business plan must be solid, and you should know it inside out. 

“Eat, sleep and breathe your financial forecasts and the main points in your pitch,” says Peter Jones. “This will make the difference between success and failure when trying to secure an investment deal.”

Two people having a business meeting

Encourage questions

Taking questions can be a bit of a minefield, especially at a high-stakes event like a business pitch. It’s the part the event that many presenter’s dread, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s another opportunity to get to know your audience better, and, in the case that you may feel some resistance from them, or they need that extra bit of convincing, here’s your shot to win them over.

Answering questions can really help “soften their resistance to you in general” says Richard Greene in his public speaking online course. “It makes it a lot easier for you to get your counter-narrative across.”

So when it comes to taking questions, what should you do to help get the most success? Here are two pointers from Richard:

  1. Listen to the question and questioner fully.
    Listen carefully to the questioner and what they have to say. Resist making assumptions about what they might be about to say, and try not to appear defensive, or show frustration or disinterest through your body language. This is their time to share their voice and concerns.
  2. Have a conversation with them
    Look the questioner in the eye. Talk with them, not at or to them. And, if it feels
    appropriate, you can also expand your conversation to include the others in the
    audience, especially if you feel that the question also relates to their interests
    and needs.

Take feedback on board

Even if you don’t win the investment you are pitching for, be sure to take any feedback from the investors on board. Learn from their experience and be gracious for any advice they give you. 

“Even if an investor chooses not to invest in you, it’s a great opportunity to get some feedback from experienced businesspeople,” says Peter Jones. “How your pitch was, where you went wrong. Then you learn from it. Be positive about it. Thank them for their feedback, really appreciate it.”

Pitching for investment is a uniquely nerve-wracking part of your entrepreneurial journey, yet it’s also a necessary one. Make sure you’re well prepared with the help of Peter Jones, Steven Bartlett and Richard Greene.

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