Making pitches to potential clients is a part of everyday business life, but they can be daunting for start-ups. Whereas bigger firms will have people who specialise in making presentations, doing them week in, week out, it’s likely to be just you (and your partners) who have to prepare and deliver the pitch. But that doesn’t mean you can’t produce a presentation that’s every bit as slick and polished as those of the big boys.

Here are a few tips on what to do:

Read the brief

It seems blindingly obvious, but you’d be amazed how many firms don’t actually properly read or digest the instructions they’ve been given by the potential client. If they want A, B and C, but you offer them X, Y and Z then the client is likely to conclude either (a) that you don’t have the skills or capability to deliver what they want; or (b) that you’re stupid.

Also, do some homework on the client, to get to know the company a little better. You might conclude, based on your research, that the brief they’ve produced isn’t right, in which case come up with a list of suggested ideas which you think might be better for them. It shows you’ve understood the brief, but that you’re prepared to use your experience and imagination to better help the client to meet their needs.

Keep it simple

When you get in front of the prospective client you don’t want to blind them with science or tie them up in jargon. That’s not the way to impress them. The average person’s attention span has been clocked at eight seconds (that’s a second less than a goldfish’s*), so you need to keep your pitch clear and simple. Make it punchy and interesting – remember, you’re likely to be just one of a handful of firms pitching on the same day, so you want to make an impression. If they leave the room remembering the key ways in which you can help them then you’re halfway there.

Share your success stories

It’s always a good idea to include examples of your previous work during your pitch. Prospective clients will be interested to know if you have experience in that field or how you’ve tackled similar projects in the past. By explaining to them how you have helped other clients in the past you can prove your credibility and show off your skills.

Get excited

Your potential client is likely to be passionate about his or her business, so showing that you’re enthusiastic about the project is guaranteed to break the ice during your presentation. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions – it shows them that you’re keen to understand what makes their business tick. If you’re genuinely excited about the prospect of working with them then they’ll be more likely to want to work with you.

Practice, practice, practice

Again, it’s surprising how many people don’t rehearse their pitches. They might run through it to make sure that it makes sense and that the slides are in the right order, but what they should do is to learn it like an actor learns a script. It isn’t just what you say it’s how you say it. It’s particularly important for small firms to come across as professional and assured in their pitches to help counteract the natural advantage enjoyed by bigger firms with established brand names, track records and more manpower.

You can spend hours writing your pitch, but if your presentation is littered with “ums” and “ahs” then it’s unlikely to impress the client. If you know your presentation inside out, you’re less likely to dry up if you get nervous and you can even ad lib a little to give them a flavour of your personality. Business is all about people, so making a connection with the client during the presentation will help give them a better idea of what you’d be like to work with.

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At Hiscox, we’ve always believed that the most important part of any business is the people behind it. But, be it presenting a proposal, chasing an invoice or just getting a foot in the door, we all work differently. Different things push our buttons.

To get a better idea about what might make you or your client tick, give why not try the Hiscox Personality Calculator