This month we interrogate business pitch experts Catherine Ludgate, manager of community business banking at Vancity; Dawn Bowles, founder and CEO of Dreambank Inc.; and George Hunter, director of Small Business BC.
Great entrepreneurial ideas are, let’s face facts, a dime a dozen. The crucial part of getting your new widget into the world is convincing others it’s worth their attention. Understand the rules of this subtle game and the sky’s the limit. This month we interrogate pitch experts Catherine Ludgate, manager of community business banking at Vancity; Dawn Bowles, founder and CEO of Dreambank Inc.; and George Hunter, director of Small Business BC.
You, as much as your idea, are the thing being evaluated when you wind up for a pitch. It’s a big help to know the language of business and be professional in your conduct and presentation. Most importantly, be clear about what you need. “People listening to a pitch want to be blown away,” says Hunter. “It’s your vision, so exude confidence and deliver it.” If you need a hand calibrating first impressions, Ludgate suggests seeking out a mentorship circle for support and advice.
A common mistake of the rookie pitch is to focus on the result, not the process. Be honest with yourself about what you mean to undertake and know that the real work is done before your proposal gets off the ground. Research possible grants you may be eligible for. Bowles recommends setting goals and developing a milestone strategy. “A well-researched plan will build confidence in your project – and in you,” she says.
Months of pitching and repitching to angel networks and venture capitalists will force you to revise your model. It can be frustrating and time-consuming. “At some point you do need capital,” says Bowles. “But by being flexible, you can open yourself up to opportunities that may not have been available to your original idea.” Markets can shift during the developmental process, and your idea has to stay relevant. Ludgate agrees: “Have your head in the stars but keep your feet rooted in the soil.”
“Don’t just invite criticism, relish it!” says Hunter. This means recognizing where the dividing line between you and the business lies and understanding that a negative opinion isn’t a personal attack.
“Sometimes I question who we are involving and whether they’re in line with our core values,” says Bowles. The lesson: if you’re too “pure,” you won’t reach your market. Don’t have morals stronger than your business plan. Separating your emotions from your proposal is “the best way to get your message out there,” says Bowles.
In the end, the best pitch is nothing without commitment. “Generally speaking,” says Ludgate, “getting a new business venture to establish itself can take around two years.” You might have some early indicators of success, but you should be prepared emotionally and financially for the ups and downs. Hardiness is key as you take your brilliant idea down the long road to market. – Alison McLaughlin