At every stage in the entrepreneurial journey, the ability to build a killer pitch deck is an essential part of everyone’s skillset. While the standard, long-form business plan document can be useful to help you figure out every detail of an existing or potential business, the reality is that few people will take the time to read it. When presenting to others, there are two other documents that are much more important:
- Your pitch deck.
- Your financial plan.
We’ll look at what goes into a great financial plan in the new year, but for this post the focus is all about the pitch deck…
What’s It For?
Think of the pitch deck as your visual elevator pitch. So, you have a short window of time (5-10min) to convey your awesome idea to someone. It needs to be super clear and to the point so that someone who has never heard of you, or your business, can walk away clearly understanding what you plan to do, how you plan to do it, and why they should be as excited about it as you are.
Where To Start?
Don’t be scared of building your pitch deck. If you understand your business well and are clear on what you offer, that’s a great start. Lucky for you, the pitch deck has evolved into a near universal standard. That means the model is pretty straightforward. There are a few main slides that are standard and you can customize them for your own business.
You can start by looking at other pitch decks for inspiration. A quick search on Slideshare using the term ‘pitch deck’ brings up over 400,000 results! Another great resource is your own network. You can tap into industry and category specific knowledge by viewing pitch decks from people in your industry, especially those that have been successful. I’ve found in the past that just asking for this sort of thing can be really rewarding. Many people are happy to share a successful pitch deck.
What Needs To Be In It?
So, back to that common standard for pitch decks, it’s all about describing what the problem is and why you are uniquely placed to solve this problem.
There are plenty more resources out there online that use a very similar format like this one, or this one. You’ll begin to notice some common themes in the slides used. Don’t be tempted to deviate too much from these models. Investors, bankers or anyone else who might be looking at your deck will expect to see something similar to this format.
And a final note… keep it brief. 8-10 slides is ideal, a few more is no problem. 20 pages is probably too long.
What Are Some Common Mistake To Avoid?
Being vague about the problem and failing to spell out why YOU provide the solution. Be laser focused here. Clearly show what the problem is. Back it up with data/evidence. Show how large the problem is and then show why you/your company are perfectly positioned to solve this. Don’t be tempted to try and solve everything. It is far better to highlight a very specific niche or problem and show how you are laser focused on just that.
Missing what’s unique about you or your company and why you stand out from the competition. Similar to the problem above, once you’ve articulated what the problem is, show clearly why you or your company stand out from the pack in being able to solve it. Is it your unique experience? Some proprietary technology or product? A head start you have in development of some kind? Some defensible intellectual property? It’s safe to assume any investor has seen something similar already so you need to stand out!
Failing to show that you have some traction already. OK, so we know start-ups are often operating in a white-space/big idea territory but it’s really important to show more than just ideas. You need to demonstrate that you have some traction. The best type of traction is actual CASH from sales, but if you don’t have sales to show, anything that demonstrates demand for your product/ service is great. Surveys, case studies, testimonials, advance orders, product development work, prototypes, test results…. Anything to show you have done some work already on this, you are invested in it and you are not starting from scratch.
Not being clear with what you want. It’s OK to ask for money. That is probably the reason that you’re pitching, so it’s far better to be up front and clear about this. State exactly how much investment you need, explain how you’ll use it and show the impact it will have on the numbers in your financials.
Too much text/detail. It’s really easy to get carried away. You know your business better than anyone and it’s tempting to cram all that knowledge into your deck. But don’t! Keep it super succinct and to the point. Stick to a few bullet points on each page and NEVER get into the habit of reading directly from the slides when you present in person.
Final Tips, Tricks, Resources.
Don’t be put off thinking you need to be an expert Powerpoint or Keynote user at this stage. Both tools have templates available. It’s fine to keep it classy and simple. Personally, I go for black slides with white text if I’m in any doubt. Always save the file as a PDF if you are sharing it by email. This keeps the file size down and prevents anyone from editing the file on the other end. Alternatively, think about hosting the deck on Slideshare (you can also password protect it) and then you just need to send someone a link rather than the whole file.
If you find yourself needing more complex visual design then check out tools like Canva which give you a whole bunch of Photoshop functionality without actually needing Photoshop or the skills to use it.
As a last resort I would consider working with a professional designer, but a note of caution on this. Don’t get yourself into a situation where you end up with a beautiful deck that has been designed by a pro, that you are not able to update easily! Decks go through (or should go through) many iterations as you improve it, get feedback, tweak it for different audiences… so you need to be able to do this yourself in PowerPoint or Keynote, rather than having your designer do it each time, costing you unnecessary time and money.
If you do find yourself needing professional design help there are some great, cost effective resources out there like 99 Designs (great for things like logo design) or UpWork to find designers of all levels of expertise and cost.
Lastly, do think about changing your deck slightly to fit specific audiences. For example, what you show a more conservative banker or loan officer might be different than what you would show a more aggressive Angel Investor. The same thing goes for any tech or industry specific content. If the person you are pitching to knows the concepts or underlying tech in detail, you can present things in a different way than you would to someone who knows nothing about it.
I see a lot of pitch decks as part of our Sounding Board process here at SOREDI, so we’re always happy to help to provide feedback on this. If you’d like to make an appointment, fill out a Sounding Board application, or e-mail me directly.