We held a meeting last week of the Mayfield Business Forum (MBF). This is a networking group that I set up for people working in and around my village of Mayfield in East Sussex, UK. Many of us work from home for much or at least some of our time, so it is good to be able to meet up from time to time to share experiences and learn from each other. We have set up a small wiki for the group in case you want to find out more.

The main discussion topic last week was elevator pitches. Given that most of the members of the group work for themselves, this is an important skill given that they are the only people to can sell their products or services. I started with a small exercise where we wrote down what we knew of each other’s businesses. Given that many of us had met several times and presented ourselves on each occasion, it was a salutory lesson how weak our understanding was of what other members did. It served to highlight how much a memorable elevator pitch could make us stand out from the crowd.

We had a useful discussion on the subject and a number of us tried out pitches on which the others gave feedback and suggestions for improvement. You can read more of the key points and the tips for a good pitch that were suggested on the Elevator Pitch page of our wiki.

But there is one element that I want to explore in more detail – USPs or “unique selling proposition”. The idea is that every business should have one or more of these, which are the things that make your business unique and help them stand out from all the competitors who are in your field and seem to offer the same products and services as you do.

But companies often struggle to define their USPs and also to present them in a way that is meaningful to customers and prospects. I have seen many startups present business plans where the USP is either not unique (as proved by a little online research) or else some detailed technical design which does not make clear how it will help customers. For technology startups, defining the USP, especially when looking for funding, is difficult and requires more effort than is usually devoted to the task.

But individuals working from home have attributes that often make it easier to define a USP in presenting their elevator pitch : presence, locality and experience. The first of these two are normally used in reference to mobile phones but they apply here as well.

Firstly, presence which means simply that you are the person talking (and just as importantly, listening) to your audience, whether face to face or even on the phone. Most of your competitors are not there and you may even be the only person present with your skills (which is obviously true in the case when you are phoning to present yourself). It is the chance to pick up on new needs and priorities of your audience, by a short introduction and then listening to them talking about their business. New needs do not come about every day, so it is a matter of keeping in contact, which demonstrates your interest in them as well as reinforcing your pitch.

Secondly, being local may be an asset. This will not be true for people you contact online or by phone, but you will normally attend networking meetings that are in your local town or even, as in the case of Mayfield Business Forum, in your local village. Being able to say that you are easily accessible, easy to reach and even bumping into people at social occasions, can give you an advantage.

Thirdly, your experience defines your current capability. There may be others with 20 years experience in your industry, but you can tell stories that bring your skills to light. Stories are memorable and will stick in the minds of your listeners.

Two of the three attributes, presence and locality, vary from time to time and from presentation to presentation. They need to be adapted to the different audience, as do the stories you tell about your experience. So your USPs will change. But so they should. Elevator pitches are just hooks which encourage your audience to want to find out more. From them, you develop the conversations that lead to working together. After a short introduction, you should be listening and thinking about what part of your experience and skills can help match your audience’s needs. This then tailors your conversation with them, just as hopefully you will tailor your product and service to their needs in selling to them.