Getting backers for your ideas takes energy and creativity. But it also takes a little bit of self-awareness. Sheer volume alone won’t help push your project forward. Success isn’t a numbers game. It’s about developing a feedback mechanism where you learn from each conversation you have and then refine each pitch as you go.
To help you devise that feedback mechanism I’m going to do a deeper dive and share some of the common mistakes people unknowingly make and strategies that will help you overcome them. I’ve tested these strategies out with engineers who were looking to lead projects, founders who were looking to raise money from investors, and even entry-level employees looking to get their first job!
1. It’s not about you. I’ve noticed that many people just sit down and start talking about themselves, and what they need. They don’t take the time to thank the other person for their time, and get to know what their interests are. Start by giving the other person 3-5 minutes. Let them speak and share their background.
Here’s a simple script you can use:
“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. Before I dive into telling you about myself and what I’m working on, I’d like to get to know. I know you’ve done a lot, but I’d like to know what your current interests are and what you’re working on?”
This may lead them off-topic, but it will clear their mind. You’ll notice that they’ll put their cell phone down and that they’ll pause to reflect and then speak. They’ll open up to you, because you asked them to. They’ll also tell you something you can use to persuade them: what matters to them and what doesn’t.
2. Talk vision, not skills. Pitches are about possibilities. I’ve come across many engineers who say, “Oh I’m a Ruby on Rails developer.” Instantly the person on the other ends think, “Oh too bad I was looking for a Python developer, moving on…” The engineer should have instead said, “I’m a backend engineer, who has built web applications for growth stage startups. I pick up new frameworks pretty quickly. In fact, here’s an example of a time I had to learn iOS within a weekend for a hackathon…”
3. Offer unique expertise. If you are a domain expert, highlight that, and give clear examples. Think about your own experiences and how that has led to you have a particular expertise.
I just met with a founder yesterday, who told me that everyone on his founding team had worked for at least one of the competitors. Talk about unfair advantage!
And if, after reflection, you find you truly don’t have any unique expertise to offer, consider this your wakeup call. Go out and find something that only you can offer so you—and your ideas—are truly irreplaceable.
4. Build trust. I cannot emphasize this point enough. People are concerned about their ass being on the line if they back you in any capacity: hiring, financing your idea, even working with or for you. So you need to take the time to mitigate any concerns they have about risk.
Luckily, trust is built in a number of ways. You can have a set of referral customers, highlight where you went to school, past employers who are reputable, tell them about awards you’ve received and showcase things you’ve built. Even writing and speaking builds trust.
My best backers show up to a meeting or call having googled me, read a post, or watched one of my YouTube videos. They already have a solid impression of me before I’m in front of them!
5. Call out the competition. If you’re doing something that everyone else is doing that is OK. It’s not about being original, it’s about how you’re better than the other person, and better also means highlighting how you’re different.
For example, when I was hiring an editor last year for my first book, I met with a handful of editors. Most told me: I do grammar edits, I cost $75/hour, and my turnaround time is usually 48 hours.
The editor that I ended up hiring took the time to tell me how she was different. She explained her process, she asked me questions about my audience, and she even gave me a sample edit of a chapter so I could get a taste of what the finished product would look like. It was a no-brainer for me to choose to hire her versus the pool of candidates who all sounded the same.
6. Plan—but experiment, too. Clear visions are important, but you also need to bring it down to reality. Show how you are going execute. It’s OK to present people with a plan, and make it specific, and acknowledge how that plan might evolve or change. It shows great foresight.
7. Explain the urgency. Don’t end the meeting wishy washy. Tell them why you need their backing now, not five years from now. When someone isn’t interested, ask for intros for others. Just because they aren’t interested doesn’t mean their friends won’t be.
I had an investor who once didn’t understand my space, he referred me to his friend. His friend was psyched after our meeting, invested, and then convinced the original investor to put in capital along with another. Interesting things happen when you ask.
8. Practice, practice, practice. If they aren’t asking to follow up or asking insightful questions, then they aren’t interested. This is not a sign of failure. This is another step closer to your turning point. You edge closer with each request as long as you stay self-aware and read their cues. Ask for feedback, process it and address what you think is relevant to future meetings. Commitment to this strategy will help bring your project to life.
Related: To hit your goals, get help
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This article also appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.