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Jul 19 2013

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Keeping it real: 8 tips when seeking funding

Looking to approach investors for funding? Here are eight tips to prepare for that process.

Advice Help Signpost by Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)Do you have a great business idea for which you need financing to get it off the ground? Are you in the process of implementing your idea, but need some more funds to take it to the next level? Many entrepreneurs get to a point where they need access to external funds to help start a business, or to scale it. Below are eight tips to help you (or an entrepreneur you might know) prepare for the process of speaking to investors.

1.  Know your budget.  First, it is important to know how much you will need to take your project from wherever it is now, point A, to point B. Although persons seeking funding tend to be happy to pitch their ideas, when asked how much money they think they will need, too frequently they tend to be vague. Sometimes that can be a deliberate strategy – to not scare off a prospective investor from the outset – but on the other hand, investors can interpret that as someone who is not truly ready for funding.

2.  Have a compelling pitch. As the saying goes, you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, thus make is an excellent one. Appreciate that you might have only have only 1—5 minutes to tell a prospective investor about your project. Be succinct. Know the points that you need to get across. Plan your delivery. Try to prepare your pitch to answer key questions that a typical investor might wish to know, e.g.

  • What is your product?
  • What is its potential?
  • What are your target markets?
  • At what stage of development is your project?
  • How much money will you need, and for what purpose?
  • How will the product make money? How much is projected?

3.  Do you homework.  Tying back to the pitch, it is critical that you do your homework. Too often persons get excited about an idea and start working on it without giving much thought to the likely viability of the final product. Some of the questions that you might need to ask, and be prepared to investigate, include:

  • Are there similar products on the market?
  • What makes my product different from the others already available?
  • What is the size of the market?
  • How much market share can I realistically secure?
  • How are customers typically prepared to spend on similar products
  • Is that market share adequate to have a viable and sustainable product?

4. Know what value your project can add.  Although sometimes it can seem like a trick question, you ought to be able to answer questions along the lines of “why should be people want your product?” Again, questions such as these demonstrate the extent to which you have truly considered your project and its likely impact. More importantly, it begins to help prospective investors understand the project’s potential for impact, reasons why they should (or should not) invest, and its potential sustainability.

5.  Be transparent.  A sure-fire way to turn off or alienate prospective investors is if you appear evasive, vague, or unsure of yourself or what you are trying to sell. Although there might legitimately be concerned about how much you share with a stranger, and whether they might steal your idea, here are two things to consider.

First, there are truly very few ideas or projects that have not been done (or attempted) before. What might be the differentiating factor between your project, and others that have gone before, is the execution – how you have been, or plan to, implement the project and the skills you and your team possess to bring it to fruition. Second, persons are unlikely to invest in a black box – something for which they do not have a clear idea of what it entails. Hence, it might be somewhat counterproductive if somehow insufficient information is shared in the initial engagement to begin to highlight the opportunity, and provide a basis for further discussion.

A word about NDAs: Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality agreements are important, and even necessary when sharing intimate or commercially sensitive details about your project. However, it can be off-putting if before much is said about your project, a NDA is shoved in front of an investor for signature.

If you absolutely need external funding to take your project to the next level, then it is important to get your foot in the door, especially when monies might be scarce and demand for funds is competitive. Hence spend the time deciding what details of your project are truly commercially sensitive and which ones are not.

6.  Have something to show. It will be considerably easier, relatively speaking, to attract interest in your project if you can begin to demonstrate your project in action, rather than that just trying to sell an idea. Some entrepreneurs are of the view that they need all the money up front to start. However, you are likely to gain more respect and be seen as a more legitimate prospect if you have bootstrapped your project – gotten it off the ground – and have something to show for your efforts and a basis for future investment.

7.  Know what you are prepared to give up.  Very rarely, especially when significant sums of money might be involved, are persons prepared to invest in a project without wanting something in return. If the financing provided is in the form of a loan, then timely repayment of the loan may be necessary. Alternatively, an investor might not only want a stake in the project (or company) in exchange for funding, but also he/she might also want to be part of decision-making team. Hence prior to engaging prospective investors, do consider what stake in your project you are prepared to give up or what loan terms you are prepared to agree to in exchange for funding.

8. Have your project documented. Finally, it is strongly advised that all of the information that would have been generated from the previous points, including details on the proposed product, funding needs, marketing and promotion, anticipated revenues and expenses, etc., should all be documented in a business plan. Often, there can be an urgency to start the project, or get in front of investors to pitch an idea, but again, the project – the entire concept – has not been thoroughly thought through. Hence be prepared to spend the time to clearly set out the research, plans and projections that have been envisaged to realise a viable and sustainable project.

 

Image credits: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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About the author

Michele Marius

Michele Marius has a wealth of experience in the telecoms and ICT space, which has been gained in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and in the public and private sectors. She is the Editor and Publisher of ICT Pulse.

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7 comments

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  1. John Thompson

    i think its also good to express what investment you have stashed away to put into the project yourself. Nothing conveys commitment more than putting your own money in as well.

    1. Michele Marius

      Absolutely true, John!

      It is important to show that you have put some skin in the game. Quite often I find persons are looking for investors in their sure-fire venture, but are not prepared to invest in it themselves…

  2. Minerva Saddler

    Good tips! I would also add that an entrepreneur should have a plan that complements the idea, and must know how to “work” that plan. Without a plan it’s difficult for an idea to bear fruit. The tips on “do your homework” are so important. An entrep should also make it a habit to do their homework on the particular investor they are pitching to so that their pitch is (for lack of a better word) customized. As well, investors should be targeted…not all funding is good funding.

    1. Michele Marius

      Excellent points, Minerva!
      They really speak to preparation – knowing the intricacies of your idea, and what is needed to implement it successfully, and also, researching prospective investors in order to customise the pitch and make it more effective.

  3. kamutula

    Great insights indeed.

    John, as much as I wholly agree about putting some skin in, I think often it’s much the question of having the idea but no funds.

    That’s why I agree with Minerva’s “customisation” concept; targeting specific investors and fashioning the pitch in such a way that it is tailor-made for them. That has the sure-fire of succeeding.

    1. Michele Marius

      Thanks Kamutula for your insights.

  4. Richard

    Although I read here regularly, I have never commented. I just couldn’t pass this one up.

    In addition to the great ideas identified in the post and discussed in the comments, I feel that raising and putting up your profile also helps a lot when the time to face funders arises. There are now a lot of fora where this could be executed, social media is a prominent. This can be achieved without necessarily giving away the substance of the idea.

    Although not immediately, comparable, but examples of this abound: Facebook. Profile was already high. When they went to the fund market it was waiting for them ( whether they were making money or not ).

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