When you’re surrounded by strangers, the simplest question can suddenly become the most difficult to answer: “What do you do?”
In networking situations, responses can easily be too vague or too detailed, too boastful or too passive. Whether you’re at an industry conference or a neighborhood barbeque, every business owner needs an introduction that falls somewhere between the occupation you state on your tax documents and the career history you describe on your resume.
For most professionals, that compromise is the elevator pitch—so named because you could recite it during a 30-second elevator ride. A good elevator pitch should be concise yet persuasive, touching on what you do, who you serve, and what differentiates your business from the competition. The goal isn’t necessarily to start a sale but instead a conversation.
We asked representatives from twelve small businesses to give us their best elevator pitch examples and explain why the pitch has proven effective in their work.
1. Lauren Fonvielle: Freelance writer; Philadelphia
“I write web content for solopreneurs and small business owners in the B2C market. I focus on helping my clients hone in on their ideal customer, clearly define the problem they solve, and create copy that resonates and increases their sales. This includes writing content for websites (home pages, About pages, Sales pages), lead nurturing email campaigns, and weekly marketing pieces like blogs or e-newsletters.”
Why it works
Fonvielle used to say she simply wrote “web content,” an overly general term she found created more questions than answers. She now explains not only what she writes, but the type of clients she serves and the benefits they see by working with her.
The revised elevator pitch has led to better conversations with prospective clients, no matter where Fonvielle is networking. In the bleachers at her son’s baseball game, she found herself chatting with another parent, a chiropractor who needed more clients and didn’t know where to start. A week later, she was hired.
2. Brooklyn Tribe: Postpartum doula; Brooklyn, New York
“I am a postpartum doula. This means that I work with all kinds of families who are caring for a new baby. I am like a personal trainer in that I guide families and support them as they go through this amazing, chaotic time of their lives. I provide different kinds of support from infant care and feeding education to self-care tips and professional referrals with the goal of working myself out of a job.”
Why it works
In her pitch, Jessica Jimenez aims to educate prospective clients about both her business and her profession. Many new parents don’t know what a doula is—and even those who are familiar with birth doulas don’t always realize that Jimenez can help after baby’s arrival.
To an anxious parent-to-be, Brooklyn Tribe’s services sound too good to be true, Jimenez said. But she’s also sure to set realistic expectations as part of her pitch.
“Using a comparison to a personal trainer gives people a reference point and lets them know that I don’t do the work for parents, but I sort of train them to be able to thrive on their own,” she said.
3. KangoGift: Human resources software company; Arlington, Massachusetts
“We make it easy to say ‘thank you’ at work.”
Why it works
KangoGift founder Todd Horton thinks too many elevator pitches describe what the company does, following a formula like, “We operate in the $X market of Y and offer Z.”
Yet his company’s original elevator pitch wasn’t straightforward enough. He used to say, “We help companies put a gift in the hands of great employees”—referring to the idea of sending electronic gift cards to an employee’s phone.
Now, Horton focuses on what the KangoGift software allows users to do: say thanks. With that simple promise in mind, prospective customers then hear more about KangoGift’s tools, which allow managers to celebrate work more easily and employees to receive praise more frequently. One example he cites: A manager can send a Starbucks gift card via email or text to thank an employee who stayed late finishing a big project.
4. Willard Hypnosis Center: Hypnotherapy services; Cornestoga, Pennsylvania
When given the opportunity to pitch his business, Willard hands out an introduction card that reads: "Hi, my name is Roger Willard and I am a hypnotist. As you are reading this, your eyes will become very heavy and you find it hard to keep them open. They are slowly closing. Just let it happen. As they are slowly closing, you are getting very relaxed. It is getting harder for you to keep them open. Just let your eyes close and when they are completely shut, you will listen to
my voice and to each and every word I say. Close your eyes and become completely relaxed. Now."
Why it works
Who could forget that time someone tried to hypnotize you with a business card? Willard says the pitch instantly sparks interest in his business and helps people remember his name. While some people hand back the card, uninterested, others start asking questions or even close their eyes, willing to be a participant.
5. Merchant Machine: Payment processing comparison site; London
“Merchant Machine helps small businesses quickly and easily save money on their credit card processing costs by comparing the leading options in the market. It's completely free to the end user, there are no obligations and takes just one minute to do.”
Why it works
Merchant Machine founder Ian Wright used to elaborate on his company’s services and onboarding processes, only to realize he was leaving most people confused. So he streamlined his pitch to focus only on the main benefit—saving money—and on overcoming common objections about cost, obligations, and time.
Since then, Wright has seen people instantly understand the value of the company. Once, when he was chatting with someone at a bar, his new acquaintance pulled out his phone and got a quote from Merchant Machine for a 25 percent reduction in payment processing costs.
6. Hux: House cleaning platform; Atlanta
“Hux is an online platform directly connecting local consumers with house cleaners. With Hux, you can easily compare local house cleaners on total price, reviews, availability and instantly book a service. Our technology empowers local house cleaners by replacing costly overhead found in the traditional service industry and makes it easy for consumers to book services online in just two minutes. Just think of us as the Uber of house cleaning!”
Why it works
Plenty of businesses want to be the Uber of their industry—so much so that the comparison can be a cop-out for an original pitch. Hux manager Shayla Hill explains the platform on its own merits first, describing its benefits for both the consumers and housecleaners who use the service. But adding the Uber line—as she and colleagues did after customers kept making the comparison—helps drive home the platform’s ease of use and instant booking features.
7. Cigarette Pollution Solutions: Cigarette receptacles; Los Angeles
“I make energy from cigarette butts.”
Why it works
Cigarette Pollution Solutions makes the Butts Only Box, a cigarette receptacle placed in public areas like parks and beaches. But trash doesn’t necessarily make for good networking conversation, so founder Ken Beckstead focuses on the treasure. His one-sentence opener begs more questions on what happens after he takes cigarette butts to a waste and energy plant to be converted into electricity.
8. Chellie Campbell: Financial coach, Los Angeles
Campbell’s opening line is sung to the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie: “You're gonna be rich tomorrow...if you take my class today!”
She goes on to say, “I'm Chellie Campbell and I treat money disorders: spending bulimia and income anorexia. My 8-week Financial Stress Reduction Workshop is designed to help you make more money and have more time off for fun. I'm also the author of three bestselling books, “The Wealthy Spirit,” “Zero to Zillionaire” and “From Worry to Wealthy.” So if you're living on peanut butter and jelly and would like to afford deli, call Chellie!"
Why it works
When a former musical comedy actress gets into financial services, you get songs, rhymes—and, if you’re Campbell, new leads.
Campbell’s pitch conveys that taking her financial workshop might actually be fun. She always gets laughs and often gets prospective customers, who come talk with her after seeing her pitch. Campbell has been teaching her Financial Stress Reduction Workshop since 1990, thanks in part to her creative approach to a dry topic.
“I built my whole business from just giving my 30-second pitch at networking events,” Campbell said.
9. The Pendergraft Firm: Law office; Greenbelt, Maryland
“I'm Brian Pendergraft, Esq., and I am a full-service real estate and title attorney. I help with ABCDEF: agreements, business entity formation, closings and title, deeds, evictions, and foreclosure. For all of your real estate legal needs, it's as simple as ABC; work with me.”
Why it works
Upon hearing Pendergraft’s pitch, new contacts probably won’t remember what ABCDEF stands for. But they will remember Pendergraft for his attempt to be clever—and that’s his main goal, anyway.
“I feel like no one really cares about what you do, so they will quickly forget who you are unless you come up with something memorable,” Pendergraft said, who has stuck with the pitch ever since landing a new client on his first attempt.
10. The Style Foundry: Style consultant; Chagrin Falls, Ohio
“I'm Megan Moran, and I am the owner and wardrobe stylist at The Style Foundry. We are a full-service wardrobe styling business that helps you take the stress out of getting dressed through our styling services. A typical customer cycle starts with a Closet Cleanse, where I clean out your closet, tell you what to keep and get rid of, take pictures of all of the yeses and then upload them to an app/website where I mix and match them into over 100 different outfits from what you already own. From there, I am able to really see what's missing and what you need. We can tackle that by personal shopping, which is done in-person at your favorite stores or ones I suggest; virtual shopping, which is done online (I send you my finds, you buy what you like, and then when all of the items arrive at your house, I come in for a fitting); or through our mobile boutique, which we can pull up in your driveway and fill it with our pieces that best fit your style and shopping list. It’s the best of online and boutique shopping.”
Why it works
In pitching her business, Moran faces a couple of challenges: People don’t realize that styling services like hers are available—and they assume that they don’t have the wardrobe or budget to make it work.
That’s why Moran added the detail about creating 100 outfits from an existing wardrobe. Explaining the process behind her services adds further validity for skeptical customers.
“They realize I’m not trying to make them buy a whole new wardrobe, just weeding out a few things,” she said.
11. AccessDirect: hosted phone systems; Kansas City, Missouri
To start, AccessDirect president and founder John Kinskey shares only one sentence: “We provide hosted telephone systems for small companies.”
Allowing a pause for questions, he goes on to share more details: “We provide virtual phone numbers, either a local or toll-free telephone number. We can also host your existing phone number. Our system includes an automated attendant to answer all calls with a professionally-recorded outgoing greeting so your company sounds more professional. We can customize a menu of options with multiple extensions, call transfer, voicemail to email and fax. What is best about a virtual phone system is that your staff can work from anywhere with an answering system that makes it sound like you all work in the same office.”
Why it works
After 20 years in business, Kinskey’s pitch is gaining more traction now that terms like “hosted” and “cloud” are better understood by the average businessperson. But terminology aside, his pitch speaks to the concerns of the AccessDirect target customer. The services are aimed at a small business owner looking to project a sense of professionalism—especially if the staff is comprised of individuals working remotely from cell phones.
12. Text Request: Business texting software; Chattanooga, Tennessee
“Your business relies on communication with customers, but calls, voicemails, and emails are less effective with people under 40. But almost all texts are read within three minutes. Text Request makes live two-way texting possible for your business with our easy-to-use dashboard. People can text you, too, and we can even use your current phone number in many cases. Other businesses use Text Request to increase leads, grow revenue, improve operations, and drive customer satisfaction, all because of the power to connect instantly.”
Why it works
In pitching its service, Text Request has tried adopting a more technical tone ("Our cloud-based business texting software lets you engage...")—as well as a more personal one ("No one answers calls anymore, and people get way too many emails. Why wouldn't your business text the same way friends would?").
Co-founder and CEO Brian Elrod settled on a compromise between the two in targeting small businesses, typically those based around services and appointments, that rely on customer communication to make money. The new pitch first identifies a client’s challenge before introducing text messaging as the solution.