1982 was a good year.  Prince William was born, the Commodore 64 was introduced, and Police Squad began its all too brief run on television.  Among the great comedic exchanges written into the show was this gem:

Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?

Frank Drebin: I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.

elevator pitch

When you run a small business, you are the small business. You may not have the resources of a P&G or a Unilever, but you have something they don’t: you.  Every personal relationship you build has the potential to be a business relationship, and vice versa.

That means you need to give some serious thought to how you present yourself.  There’s a difference between knowing what you do and knowing how to talk about what you do.  That’s marketing communications, plain and simple.  Here are a few pointers for the next time someone asks what you do:

  1. It’s not really about you, it’s about them. Let’s say you operate a housecleaning business.  Despite what you think, you don’t clean homes.  You give people time to focus on their families.  Or maybe you transform a home from a source of stress into a source of enjoyment.  Don’t think about your business in your terms, think about it in your customers’ terms. Why do they hire you?  Those benefits should be the foundation of your marketing communications.
  2. Think mugs, elevators, and Hamlet. There are three different levels of marketing communication.  Using the wrong one at the wrong time can do more harm than good.  Develop three different approaches and use them as appropriate:
    1. The mug: If you had to boil down the essence of your product or service and fit it on the side of a mug, what would it be?  Spoken, this should be 5 seconds tops.
    2. The elevator speech: If you had 20 seconds to describe yourself and your company to someone, what would you say?  Yes, 20 seconds.  Time yourself.
    3. Hamlet: If someone is really interested in what you do, you’ll have your moment in the spotlight.  Practice your 2-minute soliloquy, but don’t launch into it until the right time and place.
  3. Tinker and test.  Thomas Edison tried thousands of times before getting a light bulb to work.  It may take you a few attempts to figure out the right message.  You want something that makes people interested without making them confused.  Your communication should elicit an “interesting, tell me more!” and not a “what do you mean by that?”.  Whip up a few different options and try them out on people the next time you’re at a party.  See which ones work and which ones don’t, and tweak as needed.  When you find the right one, you’ll know it.

Crafting effective marketing communications takes patience, discipline, and creativity.  Inspiration doesn’t always strike while you’re standing in line at Starbucks.  Sometimes you need to sit down with a pen and paper and think until your head hurts.  But it’ll all be worth it the next time someone asks…

So, what do you do?

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