You've Done the Work... Are You Ready to Talk About It?

04/18/2013 05:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2013

Countless times, in the years since my business began in 2001, I stood over a showcase filled with my jewelry, wondering what to say as potential customers stopped to take a look. The words that came out were generally a description of the materials, or a nervous, "I just finished that." Here were these pieces, my art, which I had put my heart and soul into, and I couldn't find the words to engage with the curious people that stopped long enough to look. After spending large sums of money and pulling many 18-hour days in preparation for exhibiting at a trade show, at the last critical moment, when an interested person was standing in front of me, I was falling short.

Fast forward to the present, and I am at an event, meeting new people. Sooner or later, the question of what I do comes up, and my response is, "I empower women to buy jewelry to stand out and to celebrate their achievements and special memories in life." Or, I tell them about my client's custom ring that she wears to tap into a higher power for her public speaking engagements. If they want to know how I got started, I let them know that I began in order to express my values of creativity, mastery, curiosity and beauty in the form of handmade, limited edition jewelry. Their eyes get wide, and my business card suddenly becomes a treasure that they want to have, rather than a throwaway souvenir of a networking event. I have, in a succinct way, given them a glimpse of the deeper levels of what I offer.

What was the method to discovering and learning to deliver this message? It began with many conversations with current clients, potential clients, and insightful women with the ability to see beyond the techniques and materials. I asked over and over, "Why do you buy jewelry for yourself?" Over the course of months, themes emerged. Some jewelry purchases were connected to an achievement, and there were others that captured memories. Whether it was a 50th birthday, having a book published, or marking the loss of a friend, these pieces are physical reminders of something profound in my client's life.There was still the matter of articulating this collection of insights into something that I could deliver at any moment.

Enter my business adviser for the 10,000 Small Businesses program sponsored by Goldman Sachs and the Tory Burch Foundation. He was well aware that many business owners were just like me. Many of us are putting money on the line to pursue opportunities, but are not able to maximize the potential of the opportunity, since we haven't spent the time to practice articulating the deeper value, meaning or benefit of our business. To remedy this, for the four months of the program, we would get on the phone with him once a week, as a group, and deliver either a one or three minute pitch. I could have written something up and read it out loud on my own, but that would have left out a critical part of the process. I could sometimes hear the awkward or vague wording as I read it out to myself, but it was the feedback that I received from him and the other women in my group that really made an impact. Sometimes they would tell me, "you lost me there", or would highlight the parts that were working really well. As small businesses, we are so familiar with what we are doing, we can't always see when we are confusing people or when our word choice doesn't have the clarity we would like. In listening to the other group members, I was inspired by the variety of ways they approached their pitches. Each business became memorable and distinct through the development of their pitches.

This has been an expensive mistake over the years, as I add up all of the times that I needed to be able to talk about my business. It is a continuous process of client in-depth interviews, discovering themes, and writing up the pitch that will create success when the window of opportunity opens. Most importantly, it is the group of people, willing to give honest and constructive feedback on the verbal pitch that will keep the potential client engaged at the most critical moment.