How to Talk to Strangers (About Your Business)
There’s never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur! You and your generation are shaking things up, disrupting the status quo, and changing the way business gets done. With your energy and positive attitude, the Kantner Foundation believes in the power of young entrepreneurs to lead the world into a better future!
However, youth can also come with certain drawbacks for a startup CEO like you. Will adults take you seriously? Will anyone take you seriously? How do you approach potential customers and investors?
The good news is that teen entrepreneurs can and should approach total strangers to talk about their businesses. The bad news is that you might have to work on developing certain social skills to get good at it. But the good news part 2 is that anyone can develop those skills!
USE SOCIAL CUES
You’ve probably been there: you’ve got your headphones on and your face in a device. Yet someone taps you on the shoulder to get your attention.
Or this situation: someone is talking your ear off while you avoid eye contact and aim your body to get away as soon as you can.
Don’t be that person.
Reading social cues and body language doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s an essential skill all young entrepreneurs must develop. The best way to get strangers to listen to you talk about your startup? Make sure they’re ready to listen.
HAVE YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH READY TO GO
You simply never know when you’ll come across a potential investor or customer. That’s why it’s vital to have your “elevator pitch” perfected and ready to share at a moment’s notice.
The three keys of a fantastic elevator pitch are:
- Keep it short. Thirty to sixty seconds is ideal.
- Introduce yourself and your company.
- Answer the question of what problem you and your company solve.
Once you’ve created a masterful elevator pitch, practice saying it out loud until it becomes like muscle memory.
HAVE A BUSINESS CARD HANDY
The concept behind an elevator pitch is to whet the other person’s appetite. It should be a quick but effective way to spark their interest in your business.
Now give them the means to buy your product, hire your service, or invest in your company. Hand them a business card!
Young entrepreneurs don’t need the fanciest or most expensive business cards. With about $20 and access to a printer, you can buy a pack of Avery blank business card sheets, design, and print your own. Make sure your relevant info is on there, including your business’s name, web addy, IG, etc.
Most people love to talk about themselves, whether they realize it or not. So ask questions. Be curious. Without seemingly like a stalker, show genuine interest in what the other person is saying.
Active listening is another skill that all young entrepreneurs need to cultivate. This goes back to learning how to read social cues, except that now you are already engaged in a conversation.
Rather than focusing on what you want to get from the other person, focus on what you can do for them. What are they saying about their problems? How do you and your business fit in? Why should they hire you, buy from you, or invest in you?
In other words: what’s in it for them?
Answering that question successfully means being a good active listener.
OPEN WITH A QUESTION
Not everything requires an elevator pitch. Young entrepreneurs who attend networking events, youth competitions, business camps, and internships need effective networking skills. Since these events won’t always include people you already know, practice going up to strangers (safely) and starting a conversation.
The best way to start a conversation with a stranger is by asking a question. Try to keep the question relevant to the situation. For example, on the first day of your internship at the office of a public official, you might ask the other interns what types of afterschool activities they do. Ask your boss if they started as an intern, and what advice they have for you.
When you network, everyone you meet is a possible helpful connection. At a young entrepreneur’s business competition, you might meet someone who designs logos. It just so happens that your organic pet food company needs a new logo. Partnership made!
SHARE YOUR STORIES
This may seem like the opposite of our “show interest” advice, but we promise it’s relevant. Just as everyone likes to talk about themselves, most people also like hearing positive, inspiring stories. (Also, very few people enjoy one-way conversations.)
Sharing your stories works best when you are neither giving an elevator pitch nor in a professional work environment. Thinks parties, fundraisers, or school events.
Because you are not in a professional environment, keep your stories upbeat and personal. Yes, you’ve successfully started a business, but why? What do you love most about it? What got you into this field in the first place? What’s your favorite part about being a young entrepreneur?
Don’t talk someone’s ear off. Once you’ve shared a bit of your positive story, go back to active listening. Notice if the other person is interested and wants to hear more. If they don’t, try not to take it personally. This person may be having a rough day or simply doesn’t need whatever it is you’re selling. That’s fine. Move on.
The best-case scenario when talking to strangers about your business is that they will show genuine interest in your product or service, or in becoming an investor. Make sure you keep that momentum going with a simple follow-up.
Before you and your new friend (because they are no longer a stranger) part ways, ask them how you can reach them in the future. In a professional setting, they will likely have a business card to give you. Otherwise, take out your phone and ask for their email address. Reassure your new friend that you won’t spam them or share their info – this is strictly business.
Within one to three days, follow-up. Touch base. Remind this person who you are, how you met, and what you can do for them. Don’t assume they remember you or the conversation you had, but don’t approach them as a stranger again. Be brief.
Even if approaching strangers doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways to learn those skills. As with everything else in life, these skills can be sharpened with practice and motivation. Now go out there and make some connections!
Are you a Florida-based young entrepreneur looking for a college scholarship? Click here to learn more about how the Kantner Foundation can help you!