Pitch PerfectJason Firmager
Creative entrepreneur, Max McMurdo of restore.com took his eco design dream to the next level in series 5 of BBC’s Dragens’ Den, when he gain investment from Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden; and so he brings his pitching survival skills from the Den to HTM readers…
Now, I am aware that the title of this article is extremely bold and I’m not for one minute suggesting I know how to deliver the perfect pitch, but I think I’ve spotted a human trait… people like people!
I’ve never studied business or sales, so when I walked up the daunting stairs to the Dragons’ Den in 2007 I didn’t really know what I was doing, all I had planned was to tell the Dragons all about my upcycled furniture design, show them Ben – the recycling bin – and make them smile. I actually never imagined they would invest, and was really just hoping for a bit of publicity.
I, like many of you reading this I’m sure find sales extremely hard, especially when it’s your own work you are selling, as in my mind it sounds like arrogance and self-praise. Creative people tend to be humble and not value themselves, the last thing they want to do is tell people how good their design, product or service is – we leave that self-praise to professional footballers and pop stars. (Cheeky!) It is the same for holistic therapists, as like designers many of you have embarked on your careers as a labour of love – and then the ‘selling’ bit is secondary.
Before I pitched to the Dragons I was aware that I wasn’t good at selling myself, and I don’t have a great memory, so memorising a pitch word-for-word was also out of the question. I decided to keep it simple and break my three-minute pitch down into five key points:
- Introduction: My name, company name, percentage of business on offer and for how much equity
- What I am offering: Brief description of the business
- History: How the business came about, mentioning my skills and experience
- Why they should invest: Tell them some big numbers (Dragons like lots of zeros!)
- Invite question: Let them do the talking J
Fortunately, they liked what I was offering although a few of them didn’t see how it could be scaled up into a big business where shareholders could make big money – to be honest neither did I, and to be honest even to this day I wonder if remaining as a little cottage industry one-man band would be more fulfilling and potentially just as profitable. Companies with large turnovers often don’t become more profitable, they just simply have more risk and a lot more stress. So don’t feel like you have to expand to be successful.
The three-minute pitch turned into a two-hour negotiation, which resulted in Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden investing in my company much to my amazement. Watching it back on youtube (which I don’t do often as it makes me cringe!) they clearly like my designs but are just as praising of me, which I acknowledge in true British style with a whimpering “thank you”. People buy in to people, I actually now have some suppliers who I know are slightly more expensive, but I’d rather deal with them than cheaper, yet more miserable alternatives.
I have also come to appreciate that business and sales are not all about sharp suits and BMW’s; we spend more time working than we do with our loved ones – everyone likes to smile and laugh so even if I’m going into a meeting with some jumped-up buyers from a major retailer, I simply act myself, try to relax, have a little more self-confidence than is natural and believe in myself and my product.
If someone likes your product or service they will approach you, once they warm to you as a person they will automatically trust your judgement and the sales part will become easy – and with your regular client base the trust and relationship is established, so they have already invested in you and are more likely to buy products and additional services.
One last final piece of advice is actually something I was told by a member of Theo’s team: “Stop bloody talking!” When we get nervous it is easy to talk our way out of a sale, silence isn’t such a bad thing, and by letting them do the talking they often talk themselves into purchasing your products… Hope this may be of some help in the future.