When people ask what I do for work, I tell them I’m an articulator. I don’t write business plans or create financial projections; I help entrepreneurs get their business ideas on paper so they can approach investors. I help my clients articulate what’s in their heads in the format that banks and investors want to see.
At some point in your entrepreneurial endeavors, you’ll need to raise money –– and when you do, you’ll need to put together the executive summary, business plan and financial projections. A lot of work goes into these documents, so it helps to have a sense of the larger aim as you put them together.
The bottom line is that you’re asking someone to give you money. They are not only investing in your business, they’re investing in you. You need to demonstrate that you will be a good steward of their money.
In the last few years, I’ve helped my clients raise over $2.5MM in financing. Here are my five tips for putting together a compelling package and presenting it successfully.
- Learn a few words of “Investor-ese”. Every industry has its own language, and when you mix and mingle in other industries, you need to learn a new lingo. This is especially true for farmers and chefs applying for a loan or seeking investors to grow their business. Being able to understand investor lingo will better equip you to answer their questions as they consider investing in you. Here are some of the key terms that investors and lenders will throw at you, and what they mean.
- Tell a good story. When asking for money to grow your business, you need to paint a compelling picture. One of my favorite techniques is to start with an introduction like this:
“Every week millions of Americans ask the same question, “What’s for dinner?” And over 13 million turn to the web looking for that answer. Unfortunately, no website or other meal-planning service provides a free, customized meal plan to answer that burning question. Until now. The Weekly Feed is a recipe-community website, powered by an application that uses artificial intelligence and user preferences to generate customized menus and shopping lists.”
In a few short sentences, it states the ‘customer pain’, the opportunity space, and the solution the entrepreneur is providing. It engages the reader quickly. As you think about writing your own introduction, consider these questions:
- Why is your business key to the enhancement of the local food system? For a retail store or restaurant, this could mean sourcing locally. Will you solve a bottleneck in the system? For example, opening up an abattoir would help local meat producers get their meat processed more locally and easily.
- How will the money help you grow your business? Will you be able to new equipment to improve efficiencies; or implement a marketing plan to grow revenue?
- And how will you be able to pay it back? Can you demonstrate that you will have revenues to not only cover your operating expenses but also pay back the loan?
- Make sure the numbers add up. Within the words of your story are numbers: increased sales, decreased expenses, increased market share, and so on. As you put the numbers on paper (better yet, into an Excel spreadsheet) make sure they reflect your story, and make sense. Make sure that the numbers are consistent and add up. One of the biggest mistakes I see is when entrepreneurs make adjustments to their business plan and forget to update their financial projections.
- Be realistic. I’d even say, be pessimistic. Recently, I reviewed financial projections for a chef opening a cafe. She anticipated that she would be able to open within 3 months of getting the lease signed; and on day one the café would be operating at full efficiency. While I generally agree that you should live optimistically, when it comes to business planning I encourage pessimism. Anticipate everything that could go wrong, and plan for it. As it turns out, the café opened 4 months behind schedule incurring all sorts of unexpected costs. During opening week, there was a huge blizzard, so they had very few customers. Thankfully, she had enough of a cash buffer to cover the unexpected expenses and lost revenue. While it’s hard to predict everything that could go wrong, it’s important to recognize that things will, and have a plan to address them.
- Be professional. A few years ago, I worked with a farmer who wanted to open up a retail produce store. He showed up to our first meeting in a threadbare t-shirt, tattoos up and down each arm and dropping f-bombs with a particularly ornery disposition. He was an excellent farmer, and I had no doubt that he could make his business wildly successful. I was less confident that he could raise the money he needed because of his personal presentation. In fact, many chefs and farmers go into their industries because –– beyond wanting to make a difference in our local food systems –– they don’t like offices, and prefer a casual work environment. But if you want to use someone else’s money, you need to demonstrate you will be a good steward of their money. And the first step is being professional: from personal appearance, returning phone calls and emails promptly; showing up for meetings on time; and staying positive. In the end, this farmer was able to get the investors. In addition to having all the mechanics of his presentation down, he presented himself well too.
Complementing your great idea with these tips will help you ensure that your whole plan is rock-solid, and ready to be presented with your best foot forward. Meeting investors where they are and making it easy to understand why they should give you their money will go a long way towards helping you secure funding and hit the ground running with your new enterprise.
What helped you in securing investors or loans? Send us your tips to offer to hardworking entrepreneurs at @juliashanks.
Thinking about putting together an investor package? Get in touch: we’re here to help.