Want to succeed as an entrepreneur? Hone your 'pitch'.

In the cut-throat world of startups, how you sell yourself and your concept can mean the difference between funding and failure.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File
New CEO Michael Barton presides over a meeting of his startup in April 2000. Entrepreneurs who can present themselves and their ideas clearly and powerfully have a huge advantage.

With a growing number of people seeking entrepreneurship as an alternative path in this rough economy, there is increasing competition for the key resources that can make or break the startup venture.

New entrepreneurs are competing for essential resources, such as the funding, the customers and the staff they need to build a successful business. Attracting these resources often relies on how well the entrepreneur can deliver "the pitch" for his new business.

An effective pitch starts with a hook -- something that grabs the attention of the person one is talking to about a business. The most effective hook lays the groundwork to show the underlying need in the market for what the new business aims to offer.

A common mistake we see in pitches is that the entrepreneur waits much too long to tell what the business does. I had my students watch some examples of pitches the other night in class. You can find lots of good ones and bad ones on YouTube.

We were amazed that some of the people making a pitch waited more than halfway through their pitch to tell what their product or service is and what it does.

Answer key questions

Remember this: Early in a pitch the entrepreneur should present a clear mission statement. Who are you? What do you offer? Who is it for? What makes you unique?

The pitch must also show that there is "pain in the market" -- that there are people who are in need of what you are offering and are willing to give you their hard-earned money to pay for it.

Who needs your product? Why do they need it? How many of them need it? What are you doing differently from your competitors?

The pitch needs to be presented clearly. It should be an unambiguous answer to some key questions that a skeptical listener is likely to have about the business. How will you make money?

The presentation of the pitch needs to be compelling. The entrepreneur should show his enthusiasm. Make it a personal message to those listening, and make eye contact. Never use note cards -- this tells the world that you are not confident and that you don't know what you are talking about.

While it is important to be enthusiastic, you still must be authentic. Putting on an act rarely gets an entrepreneur very far. Be yourself in how you talk, in how you dress and in how you interact with others.

Finally, a strong pitch always ends with a clear message. What is the one thing that you want them to remember? What do you need from them? What do you want your target audience to do for you?

In this economy, entrepreneurs face competition on every front as they launch a new business. An effective pitch can help distinguish you from all the others trying to grab the attention of investors and customers.

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