I’ve been quiet for a few weeks (working on a new business venture – more on that soon), so I thought I’d touch on a topic close to all entrepreneur’s hearts: raising money.
Few entrepreneurs are in a position to self-fund their idea, either at the startup or growth phases. Seeking money to get your business off the ground is probably the hardest part of being an entrepreneur (unless you happen to have a lot of rich, trusting friends). Coming up with the idea and developing a bullet-proof business plan is a walk in the park by comparison.
Many people have “issues” when it comes to money. They don’t like talking about money. They certainly don’t like asking for it. But that is something you simply must overcome – not merely because it acts as an insurmountable hurdle for entrepreneurship, but also because it will work against you during negotiations.
If you find the act of asking for money uncomfortable, then chances are that, when you find someone prepared to lend or invest money, you will rush through the negotiations just to get the whole, sordid process finished and, in doing so, may compromise your own interests. Negotiating the best terms for the loan/investment is often the “make or break” part of the entire process.
Key to fundraising is commitment. You must be 100% committed to the fundraising process. Anything less, and you will likely find the process very harrowing. Expect to hear “No” often – in fact, a lot!
You may have to pitch your proposal to upwards of 100 potential investors before you get a “Yes”.
Don’t take it personally. In many instances, especially with private investors, you will be pitching “blind”. You won’t get too many clues as to the potential investor’s risk tolerance, areas of interest and level of commitment to other projects, all of which heavily influence whether you will get a positive response.
As the fundraising process unfolds, you will need to draw upon all the drive and confidence you have to persist. Initially, you’ll be optimistic. “Who could say no? It is such a great venture”, you’ll wonder. But as the process draws out – first days, then weeks, then possibly months – you may become disillusioned.
You will also have to contend with other issues along the way, such as co-founders getting cold feet and the stress of stretching whatever funding you do have as far as you can. Seeing other ventures get funding ahead of yours can be particularly depressing.
But you have to stick with it.
Learn something from every “No”. What questions did the potential investor ask? What concerns did they have (sometimes you have to read between the lines here). Did the investor appear to understand the opportunity you were presenting?
It helps to maintain flexibility, so you can subtly tweak your proposal (or, if necessary, perform wholesale revisions) to deal with issues and feedback you elicit from each funding pitch.
Be professional. Create business cards. Get voicemail or a messaging service (this is quite essential, as you will be on the move a lot, and in meetings etc.). Create a prototype if possible, or some other form of tangible, visual demonstration of your concept (a lot of people are visual thinkers and this kind of prop can really help them get their minds around your idea).
Join any local entrepreneur forum or networks where you can liaise with like-minded people. Listen to advice, but run it through your own “reality check” before following it. Keep your eyes open and ear to the ground. It is often the case that the best potential source of funds is one you haven’t thought (or heard) of yet.
Finally, it always pays to have a “Plan B”. Don’t invest all of your personal savings at the outset. You will probably need a reserve of funds to draw upon at a later stage. If possible, don’t quit your job – take a leave of absence or use your holidays/long service entitlements.
Some advocate that would-be entrepreneurs should cast off any safety nets, as this ensures the “do or die” mentality and toughness needed to succeed. That may work for some people, but entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and such an approach may not suit you – especially if you have dependents.