How to tell the story of your business

Whether you’re a freelancer pitching for work, an agency trying to bag a new client, or an entrepreneur selling your business to customers and investors –  a compelling story will be the difference between success and failure. 

When you know your business inside out, it’s easy to accidentally find yourself blurting out every fact you have about it – but that’s probably not what your audience needs. Here are a few simple tips for approaching the process of distilling down your product, service and vision for somebody who’s coming to it for the first time. 

Do think of it as a story
This is a good way of avoiding the ‘lots of facts’ pitfall. Your pitch should flow almost like a fairytale, particularly if you’re a startup selling a new product or service: 

  • ‘Once upon a time…’ - this is the initial status quo in the market you work in (eg. professional freelance photographers used to work for set fees’)

  • ‘Along came an ogre…’ - this is something (usually the rise of the digital age) that disrupted that status quo (eg. the rise of digital cameras and sharing sites made publishers lose sight of the value of professional photography, and photographers lose out on revenue)

  • ‘Along came a knight…’ – this is you (eg. we provide a service for putting publishers in touch with quality professional photographers)

  • ‘And they lived happily ever after…’ – the benefits that your startup provides (eg. we ensure publishers have quality bespoke photographs, and photographers get paid)

Include characters
You need to highlight what’s unique about your business. The likelihood is that the people involved with it are a key USP. What’s your background, what’s your expertise, what insight do you have that nobody else has? Why spend time / budget / investment capital with you specifically?

What makes you different? 
A particular problem with putting together a pitch for your business is making it sound different from everyone else’s. Ever startup entrepreneur, freelancer or agency has competitors who are doing a very similar thing (if you don’t, there may not a market for what you do!). So beyond you and your team, what else gives you an edge? What’s your unfair advantage? First to market? Patents or IP? A unique approach? A locked down client list? 

Keep it snappy
If it’s an email pitch, say what you want from the person in the first sentence (don’t be coy). The next paragraph should give the contextual detail they need. You can always point to a website link, or offer to provide follow-up documents. If you do include attachments, keep them small (clogging an inbox is a surefire way to annoy people). If it’s a slide deck that you’re presenting in person, try not to have too many slides, but don’t compensate for that by cramming in information. Stick to Guy Kawasaki’s rules for slide decks.

Don’t bcc the world
Sending an identical email and pitch out to a hundred people at once is a definitely no-no. Send a bespoke email to the right recipient – it’s amazing how often pitches or proposals simply get sent to the wrong person, or even a the wrong organisation or business entirely. If you do want to save time, think of the story you’ve produced above as a bunch of LEGO blocks. Have maybe two descriptions of your company (one short, one longer), a breakdown of your team or your biog, graphs describing the market etc – and then you can pull them together in different combinations for different communications. 

Clever Boxer runs training workshops and offers consultancy for businesses of all sizes who are trying to communicate effectively with customers and audiences.