During his keynote at this year’s inaugural AICPA Engage conference, “Shark Tank”’s Kevin O’Leary recalled the shared traits of entrepreneurs who have successfully faced off with the show’s notoriously tough panel. One of those, he explained, was the entrepreneur’s ability to describe their business opportunity in 90 seconds or less. Over time, O'Leary has observed that the vast majority of business owners who aren’t able to adequately summarize their organization’s value proposition in a tight minute-and-a-half, don’t get funded.

Crafting the perfect elevator pitch for your firm can prove important in any number of scenarios. Whether it be pitching your firm to a prospective client or, later down the road, looking to sell your practice, it pays to have a brief summary of your firm’s selling point in your back pocket.

It’s not me, it’s you

An effective elevator pitch shouldn’t just be about your firm. It needs to be meaningful to the person hearing it; it needs to resonate with the prospect.

If you don’t already have a pitch, it’s also helpful to create a vision or mission statement, which you can refine into an elevator pitch that is easier for a prospect to consume. Your statement should cover how you serve your customers, the people that work for you and the partners in the business.

Gather insights

As a starting point, talk to your existing clients and, with minimal guidance, ask them what value they think your firm provides for them. This way you can take the words straight from your client’s mouth and reframe them towards prospective clients. In fact, it is highly valuable to turn this into a group exercise. Around a whiteboard, take the time to ask the people in your firm how they define the value of the firm — maybe in one word — and vote on the key words. Start working these into your purpose, mission statement and tagline. Brainstorm these key ideas by asking everyone to think about why they do what they do.

For me, starting out as a young child working at my mother’s business, I quickly observed the ups and downs of being a small business owner and the importance of understanding your company’s finances. As a result, I ended up pursuing a career in accounting to help small business owners like my mom to get a handle on their cash flow, numbers, taxes and overall business process. These experiences helped form my practice’s larger mission statement, which is easier distilled into a succinct elevator pitch. By incorporating stories such as these, you can humanize your pitch in a way that people understand.

Customize by vertical

While your elevator pitch may cover most bases, it won’t ever be one-size-fits-all. There will likely be occasions where you’re meeting with creatives, or lawyers, or architects and you’ll need a pitch to suit. Start by looking at the markets you serve or want to serve, understanding these verticals and what you can or already do to help them. Consider how to best communicate your firm’s ability to improve their lives.

Your research can be as simple as talking to your existing clients in the same industry and gleaning what causes them trouble or trawling discussion forums on the Internet to find out about the pain points that entrepreneurs in the field experience. Ask yourself whether your firm has the services these people are looking for, and how you can adjust them to suit. Using your research, you can create a pitch that shows you understand the prospect’s industry and have solutions to their problems. Once you understand the markets that you’re targeting, find organizations that you can use to network and get involved in. This way you can practice your pitch and ensure your message resonates with the type of customers that are at these events.

Once you’re happy with your elevator pitch, make sure everyone is aligned on it. Send it to customers, staff and partners and ask what it means to them. Armed with a compelling, relatable way to communicate your firm’s value, you’ll be able to sell your business’ value more effectively than ever.

Amy Vetter

Amy Vetter

Amy Vetter is the chief relationship officer, partner channel, for Xero Americas.