The art of the pitch

October 14 2014

I’m not an investor or angel, but I recently received an email from a stranger looking to raise significant funds for his seafood company. This eager entrepreneur quickly launched into the background of his fish farm, detailing his motivation and financial goals. In his excitement, he failed to do background research on my work and interests.

While I can’t claim I’ve secured millions for a start-up (yet…), I’ve raised my fair share for causes and organizations, conferences and seminars. I’ve successfully procured hard cash, in-kind partnerships, sponsorships, food, clothing and more.  I’ve learned there’s a certain grace that must accompany requests; a careful, precise touch can endear people to you instead of sending them running away.

I’ll spare details from the fish man’s email and provide my top tips for anyone looking to acquire capital and build valuable partnerships:

1. Serve an appetizer before the main course.

Give people a taste of what you have to offer. If they’re interested, you can launch into your full pitch. It’s like dating; you don’t want to give away too much too soon.

Investors and VCs are short on time and attention, so keep your message concise to increase your chance of success. If someone likes the first course, they’ll stay for the next serving.

2. Know your audience.

Invest in the people you’re asking to invest in you. Ask questions. Find out what they’re interested in, what they like to do on the weekends, what projects they’re excited about and pitch appropriately.

3. One size does not fit all.

Take time to craft individual emails. (If your need is met, the energy and time spent will be worth it.) Copy-and-pasting can result in embarrassing formatting errors if you’re not careful, and people know if they’re subject to mass mailing. Hand-crafted emails make people feel like you actually care — and in turn, they’ll care about what you have to say.

4. Express gratitude.

It doesn’t matter if someone funds you or not, you’re building a relationship. They’ve taken time out of their schedule to hear you out. Thank them graciously.

5. Investment isn’t only dollars.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not handed a check. Consider other ways someone might “invest” in you: Mentorship? Referrals? A solid reference? Meaningful introductions? Ask for feedback and suggestions as you continue to move your project forward.