You only get one chance to make a great first impression for your business. So, understanding how to create your best freelance elevator pitch will help you make the most of those opportunities.
Most successful freelancers will have a steady stream of new clients enquiring about their services or products, even if they’re not particularly comfortable promoting and selling themselves. By spending time crafting one or more great elevator pitches, it means they’re able to respond to any enquiries with a short and compelling summary of what they do, and why someone should hire them.
It means you’ll be prepared if your dream client contacts you unexpectedly, whether it’s via email, at a networking event, or a chance meeting when you’re standing in a queue to buy some lunch.
Elevator pitches will also help you explain your self-employed ambitions to friends and family. If you can win over your most sceptical spouses, partners or relatives, then it’s a positive sign your elevator pitch will work for your business.
Even if you’ve been successfully self-employed for some time, reviewing your elevator pitch on a regular basis can help you view your business and career from an outside perspective. And help you realise when it might be time to evolve or change.
What is an elevator pitch?
Your elevator pitch should be a short, compelling and persuasive summary which explains what you do, and why you’re a great choice.
While the exact American origins of the term may be disputed, it’s spread around the world to emphasise the fact your description should last the time of a typical elevator (or lift) journey, which is typically between 30 seconds and two minutes.
An ideal example will explain the concept of your business and why you’re a great choice in a simple, compelling and memorable way. Unlike a sales pitch, you’re looking to generate interest or excitement, rather than focusing on securing a signed contract by the time the conversation ends.
Whether you’re at a business networking event, a wedding reception or a supermarket checkout, when someone asks what you do for a living, it should be ready alongside your business card in case you’re chatting to your ideal new client.
Why are elevator pitches so important for freelancers?
Many freelancers will tend to work in new or emerging fields, and it can be difficult for more traditional clients to understand exactly what benefits their business might get from those services. An elevator pitch enables you to distil exactly how and why you can help them.
But even if you’re self-employed in a more established industry, and your profession is widely recognised, it’s a great way to stand out amongst potentially global competition. People remember the IT contractor or marketing consultant who captured their attention in just a couple of minutes, even when they might not need those services immediately.
Especially if your elevator pitch demonstrates your focus on particular industries or specialisms. There’s a big difference in pitching yourself as a writer, or as a copywriter who specialises in email marketing for extreme sports after discovering snowboarding as a child, and living at ski resorts for the past 10 years.
How to create your best freelance elevator pitch
You’re not going to create the perfect elevator pitch at your first attempt. But the time and effort you invest in crafting one or more options will not only help you attract new clients. It can also help you view your business with a fresh perspective, especially if you’ve already been self-employed for years.
Define your goal and audience
You need to have someone in mind when you’re crafting your elevator pitch. Generally, that will start with your target clients, but you may want to have other options for networking with fellow freelancers or speaking at local business events.
It’s vital to remember that you’re creating the pitch for your audience, not for yourself. If what you find most amazing about your business isn’t going to resonate with your listener, then it shouldn’t be included. The focus should be on the person you’re talking to, and what’s going to be most important for them to know by the time you stop speaking.
Don’t try to be concise at the start
Every great speech or idea begins with someone writing down all of the information and key points they believe might be useful. And then slowly pruning and editing it down to the desired length.
The same process will work for you. Note down everything you feel is important or notable about your business and career. It can help you discover something interesting that you might have overlooked, and provides options to adapt your elevator pitch for different audiences and circumstances.
If you’re struggling to come up with enough information, you can ask anyone that knows you and your business well about what they find most interesting. And the questions in the next section are designed to prompt you.
What do you do? And why?
There’s no point telling a great story if you forget to tell a potential client your name, and what you do. But don’t just stop at the end of your job title. The essence of what you do should include precisely how you help people with the service you offer.
Journalists are trained to always ask who, what, why, when, where and how. So, apply the same questions to yourself. The Where question will typically refer to your previous clients or employers, unless there’s a relevant reason to mention your business location.
Who are you?
What do you do?
Why do you do it?
When did you start?
Where have you done it?
How does it deliver results?
There’s a big difference between stopping after telling someone you’re an SEO consultant, or following up by explaining you help membership sites grow sign-ups by focusing on an SEO strategy targeting keywords relevant to new members.
This can lead onto a relevant example of the impact you can deliver, and if there’s a compelling reason why you chose to specialise.
Be ruthless about cutting your elevator pitch down
Strict editing is required to create the best elevator pitch. The aim is to leave space to start a conversation, rather than potentially boring your audience. And the best way to do that is by encouraging questions, rather than trying to pre-empt them.
A common rule of thumb for writers is that 25% or more of their initial words will be lost during the editing process. So don’t be afraid to be ruthless about cutting your elevator pitch down, even if it means dropping parts that might be meaningful to you. The essential test is whether it will important to your audience, or whether it will work better as an answer to a follow-up question.
Remember that the aim is to create a conversation, rather than rattling off your prepared lines and then abruptly turning the tables on the other person. Allow space for them to ask questions or comment if they’re genuinely interested.
Make sure to practice your elevator pitch
If you’re not accustomed to public speaking or speechwriting, it’s hard to know how many words are appropriate when you’re writing your elevator pitch. Reading your drafts aloud will not only help you discover the right length, but also helps to build confidence in how you’ll deliver them.
It’s important to speak slowly and clearly, especially when you might be repeating your elevator pitch in a noisy conference room or networking event. It’s important not to cause any confusion or misunderstandings, especially if a potential client has to ask you to constantly repeat things.
And practice also allows you to work on your body language, facial expressions and delivery. If you’ve never listened to a recording of your voice or seen your posture while speaking, it can be a shock to realise how different it may be from your own perception.
It’s quick and easy to record some of your practice attempts on a phone or webcam, or try rehearsing in front of a mirror. Speaking in a monotone voice can cause your listener to tune out, so you may want to add a little more emphasis than normal to avoid your pitch coming across as a rehearsed sales speech.
When you’re ready, try your elevator pitch with family, friends or fellow freelancers to get some honest, but hopefully supportive, feedback. And remember that the best public speakers have honed their craft over many years, so don’t expect perfection to come naturally on your first attempts. Confidence builds over time, but a little bit of humanity and vulnerability isn’t a bad thing in creating a conversation.
If your pitch works, continue the conversation
A good elevator pitch will provide the opportunity to keep the conversation going. You don’t want to lose the momentum you’ve built by coming to an abrupt stop.
You can avoid this by finishing with a relevant, open-ended question. Try and avoid turning the tables abruptly by immediately asking what they do, or using a question which can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, focus on something related to your pitch, and how it’s currently working within their business strategy, for example.
Once this leads into a full conversation, remember to finish with a strong call to action by asking for their business card and their permission to follow up in the future. If it’s going really well, you might even enquire directly if they’re interested in working with you.
How to handle rejection
Even the most experienced self-promoters, and the best elevator pitches, will face pushback or rejections at times. It’s good to remember that this is often due to circumstances entirely outside your control. The other person might be tired or hungry, may have other worries, or could have just had a bad day.
If you’re being challenged or rejected, it’s important to stay calm, polite and rational. Rather than taking it as a personal attack, use the situation as a learning experience to try and improve your elevator pitch for the future.
Sometimes it’s possible to find out more about their current business concerns. If you’re able to show empathy and potentially suggest solutions it can build a relationship which means they’ll think of you when they’re in need of your services. This can even involve recommending other freelancers who can handle issues outside of your area of expertise, if it’s what their business needs right now.
If there’s an objection to a particular point you’ve made, then you made need to look at your elevator pitch and make changes. Or you can try to politely challenge them, although this comes with some risks.
For example, you can use the 3Fs (Feel, Felt, Found), to explain that you understand how they feel, there was someone else who felt the same way initially, and how that person found that when they hired you, they got what they wanted.
Always try and remember it’s the business that’s being challenged or rejected, not you personally.
If you’re looking for more help in winning work for your freelancing career or self-employed business, then why not take a look at the other helpful guides in our advice section, including How to find freelance clients.
And if you’re in the early stages of your self-employed career, our 12-month IPSE Incubator programme will give you all the knowledge, support and protection you need to get going, including finding clients.
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