Anyone who is starting or maintaining a business understands the importance of pitching to bring in various forms of support as well as new business.
Often, though, entrepreneurs overlook their networks closest to home in favor of those that (they think) can provide important connections, investment dollars, and immediate business. This makes sense, as these connections can provide the ability to conduct more research and development, make more sales, and cultivate more recognition.
But, it’s just as important to pitch to and seek the support of friends, family, and the community around you. Here’s why:
- They know and trust you. These are the folks who know you at your core and can vouch for you. Unlike pitching investors, you don’t have to prove yourself to your loved ones; you only have to prove your business and its value. Your community can be a great source for constructive feedback on your pitch, too.
- They can bring in business. Word-of-mouth is a very powerful form of advertising. In a 2016 study, 82 percent of Americans said they seek recommendations from people they trust when making a purchasing decision. When you educate those closest to you, you not only increase the chances of gaining business from them, but you also empower them to be advocates and recommenders of your business.
- They deserve it. Small businesses are the lifeblood of local communities. For every $100 spent at a local, independent business, at least $68 is returned to the community. Pitching your business to and garnering support from your closest networks benefits both you and them.
Sometimes, pitching friends and family can be more difficult for some than absolute strangers. Your loved ones may be notoriously negative. They may be textbook 9 to 5’ers who have never understood why you’d want to build your own business. It may be easier to walk away from a potential failure if you knew your family and friends were uninvolved. Regardless, it’s never fun to let down loved ones.
Whether you’re a budding small business owner or a serial entrepreneur, we’ve nailed down a few strategies to start talking about your business with your friends, family, and community.
Customize your elevator speech
Business owners should always have an elevator speech ready for any occasion. Whether you’re talking to a friend or stranger, humans maintain an attention span of about eight seconds. It’s important to be able to succinctly describe your business model, your market opportunity, and your value proposition. Focus on explaining what your business is and why it’s important to you.
Pitching to your hairdresser looks different than pitching to your wealthy uncle, so customize your spiel to ensure your pitch is relevant and interesting. For example, when speaking to friends and family with no business experience, avoid using industry jargon or acronyms that they may not understand. You have thirty seconds to trigger interest, so use them wisely. If you’d like to learn more, you can prepare and practice using our Elevator Pitch Guide.
Start with friends and family with relevant experience and connections
If you’re preparing to pitch your business for the first time, seek out well-connected friends, family, and members of your community who have experience relevant to your business. Starting with those who understand your business or industry can not only ease your pitch conversation but also open the floor for business advice and guidance. Reach out to people who are part of professional networks that you think could help you and your business the most.
Jennifer Hamley, founder and owner of JenniferHamley.com, leaned on her friends’ and family’s connections when she achieved the 2015 Independent Handbag Designer Awards in NYC. Handbag production needed to increase quickly, and “friends and family rallied and linked me with people in the industry,” Hamley says. “Manufacturers, suppliers, international shipping experts…I was amazed by the wealth of support and knowledge that came to light.”
People who have relevant experience and connections are also the most likely to bring in new business and reliable expertise.
“I have friends who are genius social media marketers, seasoned business owners, etc., and when I ask them for help, they are excited to be able to provide their expertise,” says Matthew Walrath, owner of Life Balanced Consulting. “I’ve had other friends with established businesses refer old employees or contractors who did great work for them, which saves me the headache and time suck of having to interview multiple candidates.”
In your quest to build connections, remember that the endgame is overall success, not just money.
Evaluate financial availability and ask for support in affordable ways
Evaluate which of your friends and family could best afford to help you. Don’t waste a potentially tough conversation on a friend or family member you know isn’t in the best place to support you, regardless of how much they want to.
Also, don’t limit your pitch to financial support. Let your loved ones feel they can help you in the forms of time, energy, or manpower. Deborah Sweeney, founder of MyCorporation, says that her friends and family are her biggest supporters. “[My husband] always has ideas for promotions, clients, and partners. My dad does document delivery, and my kids help file documents. Some of my biggest referral sources are my friends!”
Make it official
If you are discussing monetary support, don’t rely solely on a handshake for any deal, especially one made with friends or family.
These relationships are the most fragile as they’re built on a deeper, more personal foundation. Respect the risk and draw up a formal contract that clearly outlines expectations and holds everyone accountable.
Keep communication lines open
Don’t limit your pitch to a one-time conversation. Continue communicating the status and success of your business to your friends, family, and community. If they are invested monetarily, keeping them updated is a must, whether in the form of regular emails, one-on-one calls, or monthly support.
You can also consider social media and email blasts as ways to pitch your business and update your community. Consistently communicating about your business is a way to keep you front-of-mind and open to referrals.
Outline your business clearly
Putting a business plan together can be intimidating, but it’s crucial in outlining and communicating your business goals and potential success. Many startups think about writing a business plan when working with financial investors, but we believe they’re just as important when pitching friends, family, and your community. While most friends and family may not read your entire business plan, showing it to them (but maybe not reading it to them) shows foresight and intention on your part, further boosting your personal and professional credibility.
There’s a lot that investors want to learn from your business plan. Don’t assume that your community already understands the problem your business is solving, what kinds of customers or clients you’re seeking or how you’re marketing. Sharing your business plan with your friends and family not only increases the chances of gaining business from them but also equips them to be advocates and recommenders of your business.
“My dad has actually met someone who is our target customer in a bar, and pitched them on the company,” says Steve Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps. “The key is to have people who understand who your target customer is and how your business helps them. You want your friends and family to be able to do a quick elevator pitch and point people to your website. They can do this in person with people they know, or by sharing things on their social media. I would imagine almost anyone who has started and built a successful business has a lot of people to thank.”
What’s the best way to share your business plan with friends, family, and your community? Of course, here on the LivePlan blog, we recommend a business plan software like LivePlan. LivePlan is an easy, approachable way to not only brainstorm and draft your plan but also share it with others, and recent updates make it even easier for guests to access and review your plan.
As you work hard to build important connections, fund your startup, and generate business, don’t overlook the networks closest to home. Sure, your friends and family may not be investors looking to give you millions, but they’re sources of support nonetheless.
Pitching to your friends, family, and community may benefit you financially, but it can also bring in new business and connections you would’ve otherwise never had. Bridge the gap, share your business plan, and start pitching your business to those around you.