An orangutan’s lesson in pitching

By  •  Updated: 08/07/17 •  6 min read

My mother was a teacher, and then a college principal. Her college was in the same small town where I went to school and most days I would walk up the road to meet her and get a lift home.

Invariably, she’d get collared by someone as she was trying to leave and I’d be left staring at the walls in her office as she finished up the day’s business.

There was one poster up there that clearly wasn’t issued by the Department of Education.

A rather stupid looking orangutan, with a thought bubble containing the words:

“If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance.”

Now at the time, I took away the same meaning as most people – that you should invest in your education – but since then, as social media has taken a hold of our lives I have taken it to mean something else.

You see education could be free.

Universities like MIT are giving away more and more of their materials for free to stimulate students who can’t, for whatever reason, participate on campus.

So, that meaning has gone out of the window along with the idea that “you get what you pay for”.

Sure you need to invest time, but not always money.

Recently I’ve taken it to mean something else.

A judgement of whoever is giving you advice, and how educated, or ignorant of your aims they are.

Let me give you a stark example that happened to me on Friday evening.

I was at a pitching contest – a sort of Dragons Den / Shark Tank mock-up – at the end of a business accelerator I’ve been working on.

As part of the pitch I told a story about something that had happened in my first ever job, which taught me some of the principles I still teach today:

Anyway, at the end, one of the judges had, I think, been having a bad day.

She started criticising that I wasn’t using more up to date marketing examples like using Snapchat or working with companies like Uber, that I might have alienated too many women with a flippant comment I’d made about “another handbag isn’t going to make the world a better place”, and that I might have upset all the millenials with a comment about “one hit wonders on the social platform of the day.”

As little as 10 years ago this could have been a disaster for me, but do you know something about grey hair?

It’s like duck feathers for uneducated comments. They wash right past me.

A few things about my business that she didn’t know (5 minute pitch, you can only get so much in, but she asked ZERO questions before launching in with her opinions).

  1. My best customers are older – they’re people with a lifetime of knowledge and experience that they want to share, but because they’re not marketers, they want to hire someone who is. They’re also more likely to have money. Most millenials are buried under a mountain of debt.
  2. My best customers are mainly men. No all, but I got a chance to see a snapshot of my email list with as many photos as could be scraped from Linkedin and other services and you know what?
    It was like looking in the mirror, and it is for most of my clients that I’ve done this exercise with.
  3. I couldn’t care less if you’re a millenial. I’m not against them in any way, but I want people with a solid base of testimonials behind their methods, and most millenials simply haven’t had time to build that. You can’t bend time.
  4. I care even less about working for “trendy” businesses like Uber, and the rest of the pumped-up VC backed unicorns.
    They give very few lessons on how the other 99.999% of businesses can achieve success, and very few can give me the individual gratification of seeing exactly what I’ve added to the bottom line each and every month.

The punchline to the story?

The next judge in line asked for my business card to refer a client to me.

If I’d listened to judge #1, I’d almost certainly have alienated judge #2.

You see you can’t please all the people all the time, so I don’t bother. I look for my best prospects and give them 100% attention.

Free advice is incredibly expensive unless you have a compass to guide you through what is and isn’t appropriate advice for you.

The first three steps of The Mapped Method are your suit of armour against bad-vice.

Market – Know your target market, and know who the best segment is within it. Don’t be swayed by people who don’t have that knowledge. I’ve seen endless business try to ape competitors who were shiny on the outside and shitty on the inside.

Audience – Figure out how you can get in front of an audience of your best prospects.
That judge wasn’t even in my audience, but I knew plenty of other people in the room were, that’s why I was there.
I wasn’t really interested in the judges, just the audience.
(Did you know that the most successful businesses on Dragons Den are the ones that DON’T get investment there and then, but get seen by a better investor on TV)

Positioning – Put yourself in a position that commands a premium over the rest of the competition.
There were other people in the room who run digital marketing campaigns, but no-one who could claim 22 years of testing the process they use, noone who had weathered 3 recessions including the original dotcom crash.
That puts the get-rich-quick idiots at the back of the room, and the whales – the ones who grow biggest, but slowly – queueing up to take my card.

You need to know these, even if you don’t share what you’re doing with others as I have here, or you’ll be like a grass in the wind every time an ignorant, but opinionated person starts to hold forth.

See how you’re getting on here:


Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.