Every entrepreneur has to present a business plan to outsiders at some point if he or she is seeking a loan or investment in the company. Obtaining venture capital funding, angel investment, or even bank loans for a business is increasingly difficult in a tough economy. You don't want a poor pitch to impede you ability to score financing for your business. In fact, it's imperative to have a pitch and presentation that showcases your idea, your potential, your market and your ability to provide investors with a return on their investment.

The business pitch is different than the business plan. But you need to have your plan drafted before you can fine-tune your pitch. "People misunderstand that the pitch is a different medium than the plan," says Tim Berry, president and founder of Palo Alto Software, maker of Business Plan Pro software, who blogs at bplans.com. "They misunderstand that somehow plan is going to sell the business. The plan is the screenplay for the business. You have to have it before you can put together your pitch. The pitch is a summary of the plan."

The following pages will cover how to prepare your pitch, how to choose potential investors, and some basics for delivering the best presentation possible.

Prepare Your Pitch and Presentation

A business pitch consists of an effort to convince others that your idea for a business is a good one. The pitch involves summing up your business plan -- going over your product/service offerings, your market, your leadership, and why you will succeed. Informally, you may have done this a thousand times already. "It can be as simple as your reality check in a one-person business, or agreeing with a spouse or significant other, your team members or your boss," Berry says.

The more formal process of pitching and presenting is usually before an audience of venture capitalists, angel investors, or bank loan officers in an effort to secure a loan or investment in your company. Usually, an entrepreneur starts off by asking for a certain amount of money, and the value proposition for the investor -- such as what percentage of equity in the business that investment would buy. Most of the time, an entrepreneur would make a formal presentation -- often with a slideshow -- to help illustrate a pitch. The formal presentation is typically followed by a question and answer session. Investors often mull over the details and, if they make an offer, will perform due diligence on the financials before turning over any funds.

Know Your Business Plan. The first rule of thumb is to write a business plan and to know that plan inside and out before pitching and presenting to outside investors. The written business plan is often the way to get in the door with investors. If they like your plan, they may invite you to pitch and present. You may get only one chance to present to this group. Don't blow it by seeming ill-informed or being unable to answer questions.

"It's crazy to think you can jump into this process without having thought through the details that come up in a business plan," Berry says. "You're not going to cover those details in many encounters with investors, but you need to know your plan backwards and forwards, inside out before you start, whether you show it to investors in early meetings or not. There is no room for filling in the details later. You are supposed to have them ready to go from the first encounter."
Venture capitalists, for example, may have 100 or so business plans piled on their desk at any given time. They only listen to formal pitches and presentations from a handful. Your business plan needs to include the necessary components -- the business concept, market, management team, financial projections, marketing plan, etc. You should have a hand in drafting the plan if you are the presenter so that you are intimately familiar with all the details. The goal of the business plan is to convince investors that you are worth the risk of investment.

Your pitch and presentation need to build on that theme.
"It really has to pop them," says Linda Pinson, author of Automate Your Business Plan for Windows® and Anatomy of a Business Plan, who runs a publishing and software business Out of Your Mind and Into the Marketplace. Pinson also was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration to write its government business plan publication. "It's got to say to that VC 'What's in this for me?' It's got to have an overview of what you're asking and what you're trading for it. Is this a business that looks like it will have fast and sustainable growth and get the returns to the investor that he or she is looking for?"

Determine How Much Funding to Request. The reason an entrepreneur makes a pitch is most often to request funding. But just how much to ask for is often key.

"Match your financing goals to reality," Berry says. "Don't think you're going to get millions in venture capital unless you have a good track record with previous startups, a very strong potential business, and a realistic exit strategy. If you're looking for a few hundred thousand dollars, look into angel investors, seed money investors and/or seed money funds. Understand which investors want high-growth and high-risk strategies, and which will accept lower growth and lower risk."

Many of the decisions by investors are based more than financials. "A lot is based on the personal confidence they have in you. It's not just numbers on a piece of paper," Pinson says. "Today is a very difficult time for investment capital." One way to prove to investors that you are investment-worthy is to show that you are investing in the business, too, by putting up your own capital and being willing to trade some equity for their financing.

Prepare Your Message. A pitch needs to be prepared in a variety of formats to take advantage of not only the formal pitch and presentation meeting but the informal chance meeting in an airplane or elevator. Here are a few types of pitches:
•    E-mail message and elevator pitch. Every entrepreneur should have a short, concise speech ready whether they step onto an elevator or prepare to travel on an airplane. You never know who is going to be sharing the ride with you. "It's the 60-second or two- or three-minute pitch where one person in a seat tells the other person about their business," Berry says. The key words to keep in mind while crafting this message are: quick, powerful, and condensed.  You won't have the investor's attention for long so condense this message. Berry suggests a one-page e-mail and/or a 60-second elevator speech are sufficient.
•    Summary memo. This is a lengthier treatment of your elevator pitch. It consists of a 2-5 page memo summarizing the need or want you fill as a business offering, your target market, differentiation, growth prospects, management team, and your financing plan, Berry says. It's important to emphasize how much money you need from investors, how much of your company ownership you're prepared to give in exchange, and how you're going to turn that back into money for them, including when and how much, he says.
•    Pitch presentation. This is your more formal pitch presentation that you make to investors. Cover the same elements included in your summary memo and in the executive summary of your business plan. Plan on 20 minutes maximum with no more than 10 slides, and use pictures and diagrams, not bullet points, Berry says. "Don't ever read bullet points in a presentation."

How to Choose Potential Investors

Research Potential Partners. Potential investors can range from family members and friends to venture capitalists or angel investors. "You should choose an investor as carefully as you choose a spouse," Berry says. "Look for investors who will be good long-term partners. They have to be comfortable with you and you with them." That's because you are going to be spending a lot of time with your investors if they become financial partners in your business. There are meetings, reports, and reviews. They may also seek new management if you don't do a good job meeting your goals.

"If you want partners who will just give you money and leave you alone, search for investors who do that -- and good luck with that," Berry says. "Very few people write checks to businesses and then forget about them."

In today's economy, you have to explore many different avenues before you secure financing. On one hand, venture capitalists frown upon businesses that blanket potential investors with their business plans. "Do not under any circumstances shower potential investors with mass print or electronic mailings," Berry says. "They'll know you did, and it won't work. Instead, focus on a few, well-researched targets." On the other hand, if you only approach one or two potential investors, you may have to wait a long time before hearing back.  "You're probably pretty quickly going to see that most of them are going to say, 'No, this won't work today. Our funding is not there for this now," Pinson says.

Here are some tips on finding the right investors to approach:

•    Who you target is very important. Pinson advises that you research which investors tend to know your industry well and invest in companies in your industry. She says you may want to start by approaching those investors with your plan.
•    It's not always good to go it alone. "It's good to find intermediaries," Pinson says. Sometimes intermediaries can help you connect with the right investors. Join the chamber of commerce, talk to business professors, and search the Web. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) sponsors about 1,000 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) around the country, most often hosted by universities, colleges, or state economic development agencies. SBDCs are designed to help entrepreneurs start, finance and run their businesses. Their counselors may know potential investors and may be able to introduce you.
•    Seek compatibility. You should want investors who will become partners in building the business as well as funding it. Do your research and ask the right questions. "Do they know people who can help you? Are they familiar with your business area? Do they share your long-term goals for growth and eventual exit?" says Berry. "Are they good partners? Do the people in companies they've invested in regret it?"

Pitch and Presentation Tips

It's important to be versatile and to be able to deliver your pitch in a variety of different media. These days, a growing number of businesses take to YouTube to deliver their business pitch. Some angel investors like Berry have taken to reviewing some of the YouTube pitches before scheduling a face-to-face meeting with an entrepreneur. "It's a new world," Berry says. "That lets me see the people as they talk about their business and how they manage communication. It gives you more access to information faster."

Berry's new pitch website suggests entrepreneurs adhere to the following five steps to deliver the perfect pitch:

•    Be specific and concise. Know what you want to say. Know your business plan. Pick out what matters most.
•    Sell yourself. This is the "why me" section. Talk about your skills, background, vision and why you can make it work.
•    Sell your offering. Berry calls this the "heart" of the pitch. What need does your business fill? Why is anyone going to buy your product or service?
•    Close the deal. This is where you put your salesman's cap on. Make sure to make a strong finish.
•    Nail your delivery. Practice makes perfect. So practice your pitch and presentation in front of family, friends, business associates, etc. and get feedback on how to improve it.

You also need to avoid some key pitfalls.
•    Don't memorize the presentation. "Know it like the back of your hand and be able to give it fluidly, using different words each time," Berry says.
•    Avoid PowerPoint faux pas. The formal pitch is usually accompanied by a presentation, most often a slideshow, which you should also hand out to attendees at the pitch presentation. "Avoid bad PowerPoint like the plague," Berry advises.
•    Keep in mind what's in it for investors. "Describe what benefits you offer to specific investors and how that will make your investors money," Berry advises.

Stay Flexible. In the text books, the standard process is that you make an elevator speech that produces a request to see your business plan, followed by an opportunity to pitch, which ends with investors offering you funding. However, Berry says, "The real world is not nearly as orderly as this would imply." Follow up with the investor but remember that the relationship is only going to work if it is mutually advantageous. If they want to invest, make sure you work with an attorney you really trust.

In the end, you should think of the pitch and present process as a filter. "If nobody wants to invest in your business, yes, you might be the true visionary in a world of lesser beings, but -- no disrespect intended -- it's much more likely that the world is delivering you an important message," Berry says. "Maybe you need to revise your plan, go back to the drawing board and improve it. On the other hand, maybe this idea has fatal flaws and isn't going to work, and your failure to raise money has saved you a lot of heartache."

Dig Deeper: How to Improve Your Presentation Skills

Presenting Your Business Plan: Additional Resources

The Funded
Research on histories and lists of different high-end investors.

Small Business Development Centers (SBCC)
Provides management assistance to current and prospective small business owners.

Bplans Business Pitch
Author Tim Berry's website dedicated to pitching your business plan.

How to Change the World: The 10-20-30 Rule of PowerPoint
Blog entry on pitching by venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki