Why I’m wrestling with an elevator pitch

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Previously, if you had met me in an elevator and asked me what it is I do, you would have got a reply like this one:

‘I clean wee off the floor, cook food for the bin and cry in the pantry a lot.’

You see, I have spent the last few years as a stay-at-home mum to three young boys. While I’m grateful to have had those years at home with them, just me and them, every day, all day, all the time (just breathe), I now find myself emerging from the nightmare those precious baby years, ready to get to work.

Admittedly, I have a few more years of wee-laden floors and fussy eating ahead of me, but soon I will have two allocated child-free days, every week, to breathe and lay on the floor without threat of injury work and write. You know what that means right? I need a new answer for all of those times that I am in an elevator with people that I did not birth. Queue the elevator pitch.

For those that don’t know, an elevator pitch is a short overview of your business, products or services, that is used in business settings such as face-to-face networking. An elevator pitch is meant to be short, delivered in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride (hence the name). When I heard it described as one of the simplest but most powerful tools for small business owners, I decided that I wanted one. So one day while my youngest slept blissfully for not long enough, I used the time to research the best techniques for writing it. Here are the basic steps I discovered to creating a great pitch:

  • Create an attention grabbing hook
  • Tell them who you are
  • Describe what you do
  • Identify your ideal clients/customers
  • Explain what’s unique and different about you and your business (your USP)
  • State what you want to happen next
  • Put it all together
  • Practice

Sound easy? Here is a polished example that I got from a reputable small business site that I am waaaay too scared to cite in case they find about this blog post:

“Have you ever felt held back by lack of time and wished you could clone yourself so you could get everything done, when you want to get it done, the way you want it done?

Well, I work with busy and driven small business owners who struggle to accomplish everything they want to accomplish. The clients I work with generally understand the value of a team and are ready to learn how to delegate, but find it challenging to let go of their quest for perfection, find quality team members and commit to creating a team that can thrive, even without them being hands-on.

I consult these time-challenged business owners on how to build teams, delegate effectively and ultimately become more productive and profitable. I’m in a unique position to help my clients because I’ve faced the same struggle of not having enough time and feeling held back from true success. I have figured out a formula that can help just about any entrepreneur build a team and delegate effectively, giving them the time they need to grow their businesses, explore new endeavors and take time off, knowing their businesses will continue to prosper in their absence.

I’d love to schedule a time to talk more about some of your delegation and team challenges, and explore how we may be able to work together.”

Wow, imagine copping that? Now, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here, but if I met someone in an elevator at a networking event, and I asked them what they did for a crust, and they proceeded to introduce themselves with a question that sounds as though it were plagiarised from an infomercial, they would probably not get the enthusiastic ‘yes’ that they were expecting. More than likely, there would be a really uncomfortable silence, or a timid ‘ummm’, which would leave the rest of their pitch hanging uncomfortably between us until the ‘ding’ of the elevator finally sounded. What about the last line? Is it just me or does that that seem a bit keen, like someone discussing marriage on a first date?

Because I’m not one to hate on a process before trying it, I decided to give it a go. Admittedly, I dropped the attention grabbing hook – I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t matter what I wrote, I sounded like a cheap ad. I also left off the ‘I’d love to schedule a time to talk more…’ line at the end. I would like to think that people intelligent enough to operate lifts, are also capable of speaking up if they need something from me.

So this is what I ended up with:

When I’m not cleaning wee off the floor, I’m a freelance writer. I write fiction, features and essays, as well as copy for small businesses. I help clients clarify their key messages, articulate their skills and strengths, and tailor communication to their target audience. Small business owners often feel overwhelmed by the thought of using an agency and appreciate being supported through the process. The brief comes to me, and stays with me.’

I feel like this reads fine on paper, but I’m a writer, it was always going to be better on paper. Would I say this aloud to a stranger in an elevator? You will be the first to know if I do.

Anyone have a good elevator pitch they want to share?

The 9 stages of ‘writer-rejection’

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Many writers have been there. You have poured your entire self into a piece of writing, only to be told ‘no thanks’, or worse, nothing at all. The rejection process is similar to that of grieving, but because writers have signed up for a lifetime of struggle, there are four more stages, and it takes much longer because you use it as writing material along the way.

If you are wondering why successful authors are always banging on about growing a thick skin, it’s because they know that a writer cannot survive without one. So if you are new to writing, here’s what to expect:

Stage 1 – Denial

This is when you tell yourself that the submission ended up in the wrong pile, that it went missing in the mail and was never received by the intended recipient, or that your cover page fell onto someone else’s manuscript. That they meant to say yes. You tell yourself anything that will keep the truth at arms distance.

Stage 2 – Sugar

You will start to notice pacing to and from the food cupboard. You will not be hungry, but you will have an unimaginable desire to gnaw. This instinct, combined with the mental energy consumed by your recent rejection, will drive you to sugary foods. Think of yourself as a suburban border collie who hasn’t been walked in a long time. A bag of lollies is the human equivalent of a Kong filled with Schmackos. It will minimise destructive behaviours while you are processing what has happened. Don’t fight it, but do brush well.

Stage 3 – Anger

After cutting open your own chest and baring its content to the very people who should care to see it, you have been rejected. An unsatisfactory response from a publisher will have you ranting away at unsuspecting friends and strangers for some time. There will be no muzzling you during this stage because the dangerous amounts of sugar you are consuming will fuel the crazy.

Stage 4 – Toast for dinner

At this point you are going to be completely burned-out by your anger (and probably insulin resistant from all the sugar). Your self-care regime will be kicked into the gutter with the manuscript that you will later reprint and apologise to. Accept that there will be a few nights weeks of poor-quality meals while you come to terms with how shit all people are.

Stage 5 – Bargaining

Maybe the manuscript was not a good fit for that publisher. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right for that genre. It’s possible that the editor was dealing with a personal issue and rejected everyone that day. These are some of the reasonable thoughts that may consume you while spreading vegemite on your dinner.

Stage 6 – Booze

Writers have enough voices in their heads. Rejection adds more dialogue than most writers’ mental health can handle. This is when you will likely hit the cheap vodka expensive merlot. Initially, it will bring some relief, nothing but the sound of the air buzzing in your ear. And then comes stage seven.

Stage 7 – Depression

The booze will eventually tip you over. You’ll start to question your place within the writing community. You’ll google things like, ‘the average salary of a writer’, ‘what percentage of books are published’, and ‘what will happen to my cat if I die’. Hold tight, you’re almost there.

Stage 8 – Rejection projection

This is the stage where you project your feelings of rejection onto all of your relationships. Friends who don’t immediately text you back will likely send you into a howling mess of even they don’t like me. Watch for other triggers too, like partners with ‘other plans’, babies crying when you hold them, and bartenders who serve you last. Eventually, those closest to you will call you out for being egotistical. They will deliver a much-needed ‘at least you have clean water and a roof over your head’ sermon which will enable you to move forward.

Stage 9 – Acceptance

This is the stage of withdrawal and calm. It is also a great time to write. As Robert Frost once said, ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’. So pick at those fresh scabs and get something onto paper. Before you know it, you’ll be a bestselling author advising struggling writers to grow a thick skin.

There you have it. Time to get those manuscripts polished and start bleeding.

Five reasons why I’m a bad feminist

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I’m a feminist, but if I’m honest, I’m not particularly good at it. While I would love to blame my failings on my religious upbringing or lack of feminist role models, the bottom line is that I now know better.

Here are five reasons why I am a bad feminist:

  1. I read (and love) romance novels.

I don’t just read stories about love, but stories about gender stereotypes; manly men who save women in need of physical or emotional rescuing. To make matters worse, I prefer endings in which the protagonist and love interest end up together. Single and happy does not work for me in this space. Ouch.

  1. I will go and watch Fifty Shades Darker.

Do I agree with feminist claims that Christian Grey is an abusive sociopath? Sure. Would I warn a friend off him? Absolutely. Would I date him? No way (wait, how rich is he?). Did I crush on him while watching Fifty Shades of Grey? Little bit. I can’t explain it, and ashamed to admit it, but I will go and see the sequel the day it opens in the cinemas. I feel ill knowing that in some small way I will be reinforcing to men that women secretly want to be dominated and controlled. I can only promise to take a long, cleansing shower afterwards.

  1. I’m capable of intelligent feminist debate, yet generally resort to ‘men are shit’ type comments

A good feminist does not lose their shit during a feminist debate. If you lose your cool and call someone out for being a misogynist arsehole, your opinions are immediately devalued by your audience. People may even laugh at you. You will be labelled as something that ultimately translates to ‘hysterical’. It’s not fair, but this is how it is for now. So a massive hats-off to all the amazing feminists in the media who give well-thought-out, calm responses under difficult circumstances. I will continue to swear openly at all the chauvinists so that you don’t have to.

  1. I like a man who offers to pay for dinner

I know, I know. I blame this one on all of the romance novels I read that keep me badly trained. But until women are paid the same as men, I’m allowed to hold on to this one. Consider it the price of patriarchy.

  1. Chores in our house are gendered

Sharpen your pitchforks because it’s 1950 in the Bird house. Each morning hubby traipses off to work while I tend to the children and commit myself to cooking and chores. We have got ourselves good and stuck this way. And unfortunately I am a huge part of the problem. You see, watching my husband attempt to multitask in the kitchen is a bit like listening to a stutterer read. Eventually, I’m going to jump in there and help. As an accountant, I thought he would easily grasp varying cooking times in order to get to one agreed eating time. But despite an elaborate mess of chalky sums on the pantry door blackboard, he usually finishes with burnt sausages and a sweaty forehead. To be fair, I think his fear of me inhibits his abilities. On the mornings he prepares breakfast for the boys, I stand at the edge of the kitchen like a tethered Rottweiler. Every few minutes he glances cautiously over at me because he has no idea how long the tether is that day.

Before you feed me to the social media trolls, I want to reassure all the ‘good feminists’ reading this that I am a work in progress. I have no doubt that in a few months years you will be reading all about the Five ways I became a rockstar feminist.

Experimental fiction: This Is The Story I Tell Them

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They tell me I am displaying neurotic behaviours. The intense boredom and frustration make me do strange things. They tell me to stop, lay-down. But I have seen the sores that are born from defeat, so I remain on my feet, chewing at the air and the bars that confine me. They say, stop. Tell us the story. This is the story I tell them.

My grandmother was born on a farm in Gippsland. Not a farm like this, one with a dirt floor and no roof. There were vibrant, grassy lawns, and water troughs so clear that you could see your reflection in them. She spent her days sprawled in sun-kissed paddocks beneath painted skies. When the heat became too much she would cool off in the wallowing pit and forage for food in the shade of tall gums. In the evenings, when the farm stilled and the air cooled, she would huddle with her sisters in a nest made of straw. This is the story I tell them.

Last year, in the grip of winter, she was moved beneath a noisy tin roof where the straw was thick and warm under her labouring body. My mother arrived during the night, amid pounding rain and crackling black skies. She was one of eleven, fighting for warmth and nourishment, determined to survive. In the morning heavy frost and eerie light stained the landscape. My mother lay content in a cocoon of siblings, gazing through the wooden fence. As each shadow lifted, a new world was revealed to her. But this world was not hers. This is the story I tell them.

I came into the world thrashing and terrified. My mother wanted to turn and comfort me, but the metal bars held her in place. She tried to calm us with stories of vivid skies, green pastures and cleansing air. It was the only form of comfort she could offer from her soiled prison. There were nine of us standing on icy slats, squealing and shivering. Then there were seven, the dead left to decompose among us. We took what warmth we could from our mother as we absorbed the horrors around us. Crates as far as we could see, stagnant with infection, pain and grief. I turned away from the suffering and listened to my mother’s story, a story that would die with the lucky ones in slaughterhouses, and remain with the unlucky ones who lived to tell it to their young. This is the story I tell them.

Our stories are all that we have. We tell them to our young before they are taken from us too soon. We tell them to ourselves when their tails are cut off without anaesthetic, their violent shrills piercing the dank air. I tell the story of a place with painted skies and sun-kissed paddocks. A place where we are social, where we touch and play, and where we build nests for our young. This is the story of pigs. This is the story I tell them.