Unless you're one of the iron-walleted few, gaining startup capital for your business venture will require the help of investors. But navigating those waters can be a lesson in humility; it also requires a certain amount of knowhow.
Whether you plan on taking a traditional route or a modern approach, understand that startups do everything in the fast lane. Successful business plans must be laser-focused on innovation, growth, and scalability—all looking to become the next Google or Uber. Accordingly, they require quick money-raising techniques, so be creative when you're on the hunt for capital.
Here's how to conquer that dreaded startup task.
If you're truly committed to funding your startup, accept that efforts at finding investors will, more often than not, result in failure. You may have to deliver the same pitch 100 times before you get your first check. That said, you can't deliver the same exact pitch to 100 companies. Do your due diligence and know whom you're pitching to. Just as you need to tailor a resume, make each pitch unique to the person you're selling your idea to.
Some general principles apply to fantastic pitches. Be prepared to wow a potential investor with some extras:
- Use visuals. If you're launching an app or website, use screenshots or prototypes to get their attention.
- Tell a story. Storytelling is all the rage in marketing these days, and if you can frame your product pitch through a problem and solution scenario, you're on the right track.
- Tell the investor what you're specifically doing with the money.
- Don't be afraid to make bold claims (as long as they're true). Startups are rooted in innovation, and you're offering something that's never existed before. So show it! Exclamations like "for the first time ever" may seem over the top, but they'll draw attention.
Network, network, network
Local networking events can be a remarkable way to reach out to potential investors or other business leaders who can give you a referral. If you can, find out who's going to be at your local networking event so you can plan accordingly. If you're strapped for ideas on where to start, try finding an event...
- Through your local Chamber of Commerce. Even if you're not a member, these associations can provide you with valuable leads to events in your area.
- On Meetup and EventBrite. These websites are geared to bringing people together with similar interests. Search for networking events by industry.
- At pitch contests. These are a unique way to secure funds. They have a panel of judges, eligibility rules, and real investors waiting to give you money for your innovation. You've heard of Shark Tank... Same concept.
Be wary of people who promise to connect you to someone with funds in return for some equity or percentage of sales. They are usually scammers, so watch out and use common sense.
Connect to investors online
When in doubt, turn to the Web, which is full of tools to get you the funding you need, if you know where to look:
- AngelList is a mecca for all things startup: Find a job, post for help, and raise money online. Investors and innovators alike can register at the site to see what opportunities are out there. When you create your profile, make it easy for people interested in your service to find you. Share it with your friends and professional contacts. You can even search for investors based on market and deal size.
- CrunchBase operates on a similar arc as AngelList. It connects innovative companies with potential investors around the globe.
- CapRally promises to be "your full-time fundraising assistant." Find investors, track your capital, and analyze your data—all from one website. Subscriptions fees apply.
Don't expect to get all of your funding by using these sites, though they can be powerful tools; the best investment opportunities come from face-to face contact. Using a combination of techniques is a surefire way to earn the capital you need.
It's tempting to cast your net as wide as you can to snag potential investors, but it's better to formulate a plan before you hit the fundraising trail. Use sites like AngelList to make an outline. Rely on the help of other entrepreneurs to aid your search and introduce you to connections. Arrange as many introductions as you can through common contacts. Think of how much more likely businesses are to hire a candidate if they came through a personal referral.
Once a mutual connection agrees to arrange an intro, refine your email elevator speech. Include a 3-4-sentence blurb about your company in the message. Prove you're not simply cold-emailing hundreds of companies by tailoring your message: "Once I heard about your involvement in project X and investment in company Y, I knew I had to introduce myself."
Make yourself marketable
If you want to hear "yes" instead of a chorus of "no's," you need to know how to make yourself desirable. Spend some time courting potential investors by getting your name out there.
If you're looking to fund a tech startup, volunteer as a guest writer for a tech blog. Start conversations on Quora, or establish yourself as a thought leader; no matter the avenue, doing so helps investors know you have the expertise to see your product through.
Crowdfunding is the fundraising du jour for the young and tech savvy. Connect with others who find merit in your product, from the general public to benevolent entrepreneurs.
Each crowdfunding site has its own structure for providing incentive to investors, so do your research before picking. Kickstarter and Indiegogo, for example, appeal to the general populace to get in on the "next big thing," whereas sites such as RocketHub appeal to philanthropists.
Whichever outlet you choose, make sure it aligns with your professional goals and business plan.
Go the traditional route
Startup funding options range from the unique to the absurd, but sometimes it's nice to rely on a method steeped in tradition. The Small Business Administration remains a good source to seek funding, especially since the government is still offering incentives to stimulate economic growth. If you're looking for a small business loan or grant, this is the place to start. The terms are generally fair and hands-off, so you don't need to worry about anyone asking for a claim in your company down the road.
Brick-and-mortar banks can also give you an extra financial boost with little headache. Just don't expect these institutions to cut you a check for $15 million; they're meant to supplement your business capital, not provide it in whole. Talk to your local bank to see what kind of small business loans are available.
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Of course, you can try all of these methods and still be greeted with a whole lot of "no" responses. Startups are risky by nature, so find investors as innovative as you are to get the funding you need. But when you hear the first unqualified "yes," all of the work will have been well worth it.
Where do you look for startup capital? Let us know in the comments how you funded your business venture.
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