How To Unlock Your Value Proposition And Create A Powerful Elevator Pitch.

By Mark Eckhardt. Edited by Julia Dopp and Meaghan Pachay.

How many times have you heard, “I don’t like your vision and your passion for making life better”? My guess would be zero. After all, who wants to be the person trash-talking someone’s attempts to do good?

And therein lies the trap for social entrepreneurs.

Misinterpreting enthusiasm for buy-in is easier than you’d think, especially when your business is just getting started. If you consistently receive big applause when you pitch your business to potential customers or partners, and then nothing comes out of that, it’s likely that your value proposition is one-sided. Few people think of a business as having two distinct sides that need to be presented in balance, which makes it all-too-easy to conflate vision with strategy — leading to frustrated, confused audiences, lack of long-term engagement, and potential collapse.

Introducing The Two-Sided Value Proposition

As the name suggests, two-sided value propositions have two essential aspects:

  • Soft side = vision, social mission, commitment to impact
  • Hard side = the mechanics, offerings, etc. that will create value for your customers and partners

As social entrepreneurs, we tend to overdevelop our ability to convey the softer big picture (why and how we want to change the world) and underdevelop our ability to spell out an action plan (the step-by-step breakdown of how we will fulfill that vision). Couple that imbalance with the passion that social entrepreneurs bring to their work, and the result is often a person who goes on and on about their big picture, but cannot explain what they are actually going to build in a manner that compels people to engage. To use an analogy, when your value proposition is one-sided, it’s like being that guy at the gym who always skips leg day. His arms and torso might be huge, but his legs are like toothpicks. If we want to compete in the business world, we need to build up those muscles that allow us to explain the “how” of what we’re doing, and not just the “why.” After all, we need a strong foundation to hold us up. The best mission in the world means nothing if we can’t demonstrate how we’re going to follow through with concrete action.

Value propositions can end up one-sided for many reasons. We may present them that way unconsciously, are insecure about a part of our business, or lack experience talking about our work. We may even assume that we’re catering to the enthusiasm of our audience by only addressing the softer side of our business and that discussing the nuts-and-bolts aspect is boring.

Putting it together

So what’s the solution? Design a 4-part script that highlights the soft and hard sides of your business plan equally, that you can use with little variance each time you pitch/share your work. Here’s a structure you can play with:

  • Soft Side: My company was founded to/because____________ (This is your WHY)
  • Soft Side: The idea became clear to me when I realized that ______________ (This is your KEY INSIGHT)
  • Hard Side: To that end, we will___________ (This is your HOW)
  • Hard Side: To date, we have____________ (Your RESULTS/EFFICACY)

*Note: Once you’ve delivered the first three parts of the value prop, feel free to include multiple results-focused examples, as long as you keep each one concise, data-driven and relevant to the current audience.

Limit yourself to 30 seconds max, and you’re on your way to a winning, balanced formula.

To show you what I mean, here’s an example from COMMON:

  • COMMON was founded on the belief that social entrepreneurs can fix what’s not working with capitalism. (WHY)
  • The idea driving us is the notion that the more attempts to build, launch and promote socially responsible businesses, the higher the chances of impacting the trajectory that capitalism is on. (KEY INSIGHT)
  • To that end, we do two things: accelerate social businesses via our community model and operate as a work-for-hire creative and strategic consultancy. (HOW)
  • In just over two years, our membership has grown to over 200 companies in 21 countries and 27 industries. (RESULT)
  • In the last year, 12 out 15 members who initiated a capital campaign secured funding from outside investors. (RESULT)
  • We helped one of our members go from $40K in sales to over $1M in a year simply by helping them understand the activities they should be engaged in based on the stage their business was in. (RESULT)
  • On the consulting side of the business, we helped the Yakima Valley Farm Worker’s Clinic attract 76,000 new patients, representing $200 million in new revenue in just six months. (RESULT)

Once you have your own hard and soft bullet points fleshed out, refine your two-sided value prop to the point where it takes no more than 90 seconds to deliver. This is your new Elevator Pitch. Then, practice speaking your examples frequently. Delivery is where a lot of entrepreneurs trip and stumble. Remember that pressure is not your friend, so don’t leave it to improvising in real time. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Give it a try, and let me know if you see a difference.