Your Elevator Pitch: Who Are Your Clients and How Do You Serve Them?

young entrepreneur

young entrepreneur

If you are like me and many others I know, you have spent way too many hours in front of the computer or a blank piece of paper, working on your elevator pitch. If you had two minutes or less, what would you say about “what you do?”

As I have learned the hard way over the years, if you can’t spell something out on paper, you aren’t there yet. You have the germ of an idea, but no architecture. Hence the need to write first, then speak. Only when you have honed your thoughts through multiple revisions, and then rehearsed it in front of a sympathetic audience, can your words come to life. Very few of us can express what we do in a short phrase – “I fix bicycles” – without attempting a couple of iterations on the theme. Yet we need to distill it, or we lose our audience.

So what happens when I say:

Your elevator pitch. You have two minutes. Or maybe thirty seconds. Go.

Can you make it interesting, fresh and versatile enough to keep people’s interest and deliver those same few lines to contacts the world over and in your own backyard? How do you dress it up for the formality at networking events and down for the banter at kids’ soccer games? How does it look in print?

I recently joined a women’s entrepreneurship group, and six of us presented our elevator pitches today. We all have useful, personalized services to offer. We did not all, however, make a concise or compelling argument about why anyone should buy our services. In fact, a few of us were great in the first fifteen seconds or so, and we should have quit while we were ahead. Others delivered an “information overload” that would send any real prospect right out the door.

The essential elements in an elevator pitch are not what features you offer a client, but what clients you serve and the benefits they get from hiring you. People don’t hire you for your experience, or your fancy “tools” that get the job done, but for what you offer them. Focus on your target audience (i.e., niche) and the benefits of hiring you:

Who do you serve?

What value do you bring?

I would love to hear your answers.

Post originally published on LinkedIn Pulse as Your Elevator Pitch.

Five Key Questions to Ask When Creating a Personal Advisory Board

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In a prior post, I explored why you should have your own personal advisory board to facilitate your professional growth. Regardless of your seniority, industry or role, here are five key questions to ask yourself as you assemble your board.

1) What do you most need right now? We all have our blind spots and skill gaps that evolve over time. Can you find someone to meet each of your current, most pressing needs? For example, you may have all the emotional intelligence in the world but not know how to run numbers. Or vice versa. If there is a gap between where you are and where you want (or need) to be, the advisors who can fill that gap should be front and center.

2) Can you call them in a crunch? Make sure the people you elect to your inner circle can be reached when you actually need them. This doesn’t mean that they all will pick up the phone at 3 a.m. when you call, but it does mean that they will make time out of their day or week to help you address a concern. It also means that they will make time for you to check in regularly, which you’ll need to keep the relationships fresh and assure your advisors are current on your professional goals and milestones.

3) What role can each advisor play? In addition to the needs and gaps to be met (mentioned above), consider what role each advisor would have in your professional development.

In many organizations, for example, you need a “sponsor” to help promote your career. Without one, you can toil away without growing into greater levels of responsibility and renumeration. A similar rule applies if you are looking to raise capital for a business, and even top level management need support of their board, close colleagues or fellow partners. If possible, choose someone who knows you well enough to credibly sing your praises, has the motivation to help you and has the “political capital” to make a case for you to the right audience.

You will also want a mentor within your firm, as well as someone at your own level in whom you can confide. Save the most thorny issues for advisors that you know you can trust without a doubt (hopefully this would apply to all, but sometimes extra care is required), possibly a mentor or other advisor outside of your firm.

Build your advisory board with individuals that offer different ways of supporting you professionally, and re-evaluate from time to time as your career progresses.

4) How does the team fit together? Imagine all of your advisors were seated at a single table. Do they round each other out? Have you missed anything?

For example, do you have someone who can be your cheerleader when you need to be motivated, someone who can see you clearly enough to give you realistic, targeted advice and another who knows how to get out of sticky situations? Do you have someone who knows your industry as well as you do (or better) and another who can give you an outside perspective? Think top-down to whether your advisory board has the right range, or if you have too many similar talents or a missing voice. You should also strive for some variety in gender, age and affiliation, or at least a group of people who do not all approach problem-solving in the same way that you do.

5) Will you be motivated and committed to help them in return?  Every relationship is a two-way street. If you can’t offer something of real value to your advisor, it will be hard to count on that person’s commitment when you most need it. People are just too busy, with too many demands, to support someone who is a metaphorical dead end.

For a sponsor or mentor, this may mean that you support initiatives the person has spearheaded, mentor a younger colleague in the person’s group, act as a sounding board or simply deliver great work. For a colleague, it may mean that you support his or her professional or personal life in a way that’s helpful and meaningful to that individual. There are creative ways to show your support in return for someone who has helped you, especially if you truly focused on that person’s life and needs.

Make sure to choose advisors with whom you can authentically request and return support. The last thing someone wants is to think your interest is insincere or that it is an effort for you to show up on their behalf. Even a hired advisor (like an accountant or career coach) needs to be a good fit, with mutual trust and rapport, or there will not be enough goodwill generated in the relationship for you to draw out the support you are hoping to achieve.

Whenever possible, surround yourself with people whom you are more than happy to help succeed. If you choose well, the feeling will be mutual.

Great Resumes Are Powerful Marketing Documents

Your resume is a marketing document that tells the story of where you have been and where you are going. How you tell that story is largely up to you, but in all cases it is more effective to set your career objectives first and write your resume to meet them.

While there are certain conventions for resumes in many fields, you have a lot of latitude to create a document that will entice employers to call you for an interview and, if you can ace that, make you an offer. As a critical piece of your overall job marketing package, the importance of a powerful resume cannot be overemphasized.

Below is a Slideshare file with my seven strategies to transform your resume into a powerful marketing document. (Click here for the original at slideshare.net.) Feel free to contact me if you are looking for career coaching through any of the stages of exploration, job search and transition, including how to make the most of your new role.

My Biggest Career Mistake: Sailing, Secretaries and Lime Green Pants

Green Pants
I believe in the power of mistakes.

No one likes to make mistakes, of course. But that is where the learning happens. Bigger mistake, greater opportunity to learn.

What may have been my biggest career mistake happened very early on, while I was still finishing my undergraduate degree. I had my very first internship and was ready to conquer the world. Good so far. I also thought I knew exactly how to do it. Ha!

I was a lowly intern, feeling on top of the world that I had gotten “in” at a place that I very much wanted to work. The secretary in the department was very good to me, trying to help me out so I could make my way. But I didn’t take the cue.

Not only did I not yet understand that secretaries rule the roost (if not the world), but I did not appreciate that someone could make choices very different than mine and still have a lot to teach me.

Here’s the thing. This secretary (we’ll call her Nancy) wore lime green capri pants, corduroys and other outfits to work that in my naivety had judged as “not fit for the professional world”. I call myself naive not because I was wrong to recognize that Nancy would not move up the corporate ladder if she didn’t emulate the look of those at the top: dark-colored suits. She wouldn’t. Rather, I assumed that moving up within the organization was and should be Nancy and everyone else’s goal, without realizing that she had her own plan. One that was more carefully formulated than my 19-year-old point of view would allow.

Nancy wanted a place to work during the day (while she pursued her own interests on the side) that was forgiving enough so she could wear want she wanted and be whom she pleased. She was expected to conform to certain norms and left blissfully free to ignore other ones. She made calculated decisions to achieve the results she wanted. She knew exactly how to get where she wanted to go, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could have imagined.

So when Nancy pulled me aside one day to tell me that I should “follow the lead” of the head of the group (we’ll call him Troy), who wanted to talk about basketball and sailing a good part of the time, I ignored her advice. I wanted to ask Troy about things that interested me, and at the time these were not at the top of my list. While others joked and called him Captain Troy, I smiled through gritted teeth and pushed on for the certain set of experiences that I had expected out of the internship.

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After all, we were not on a yacht, we were in an office. I wanted to learn the ways of leadership and success, and they were not going to come from talking about sailing, I thought. At the time, I didn’t have a boat, or any family or friends with a boat. The one time I had taken an extended trip on a boat as a child, I had been seasick most of the week. I was bound to say something ill-informed, so wasn’t it better to steer the conversation back to what was comfortable to me?

I couldn’t look bad if I just avoided topics that were out of my league, right? Anyway, I reasoned, what did Nancy know, with her green pants and all? How could a chat about sailing be useful to me at all, other than to smile and humor my boss? Why would I encourage him to continue that conversation?

Turns out, Nancy knew a lot. In particular, she knew how to keep everyone happy while keeping herself happy. She kept these two goals in perfect balance, giving Troy and the group the support they needed while feeding her own needs. She intuitively understood that showing an interest in sailing was showing an interest in Troy. And that was the important part.

By contrast, I was being immature, overly serious and even selfish – holding on to the world as I knew it – by expecting to direct the line of conversation. And I was missing out on the chance to learn, bond, grow and have fun.

So, my biggest career mistake was actually a set of related mistakes:

Mistake #1: Discounting the message of an unexpected messenger.

Mistake #2: Closing myself off from new experiences.

Mistake #3: Making it all about me.

As I found out later, the green pants were a statement on Nancy’s part, a line in the sand that she was in a bridge job and had no pretense of “moving up” to a management position within that organization. She had her eyes on another prize – her own set of professional goals – but she also made sure to be so good at her job (orienting herself to the situation, as needed) that there was no way she would risk losing it over something as simple as wardrobe choices. In fact, as a highly creative person, she literally wore her authenticity on her sleeve. And she was respected for that by others in the group, including (in the months and years following my internship) by me.

I often think back to Nancy, the unexpected messenger, with whom I have lost touch in the over 20 years since I had that internship. I am indebted to her wisdom. I wonder if she has started her own company, maybe even a fashion line.

Nancy could have changed her style of dress any day. Changing my attitude took a lot longer.

From my biggest mistake, I learned my greatest lesson. It is not all about fitting in, it is also about being a fit.