Whether you are a founder hoping to launch a new startup, an early-stage firm looking for that next round of funding to scale-up or an organization or agency of any type seeking funds to launch a new project or program, the process of securing capital is essentially the same. In all cases, the entity in need of the funds must convince the provider of funds that the requested investment is valid and worthwhile. More important, the requester must demonstrate that the ask meets all the parameters the provider of funds has established for funding requests. This process is the same whether the funds sought are a loan, a grant, an investment or any other type of funding instrument.
Having secured well over $200 million for my clients and having either led or been part of the decision-making teams that have awarded over $1 billion in funding over the last five years, I have a thorough understanding of how these processes work. Below, you’ll find my top tips for securing funding, regardless of the instrument, including Loans, Grants, Venture Capital, Angel Investments, Friends and Family Investments, Convertible Notes, Crowdfunding and more.
Rule 1: Understand your funder
First and foremost, you must understand the funder before you start preparing your pitch, proposal or application. If banks, investors or funders just handed out cash to everyone who asked, the well would quickly run dry. That’s why every single potential funder—even if it’s your grandmother—has guidelines or parameters about what makes a smart investment. Your funding request must be structured to meet these parameters. Far too often I see people using the ‘shotgun’ approach, asking as often as they can, hoping for a hit. That approach just doesn’t work—ever. Instead, before you prepare your request, you should be sure to understand as much about your targeted funders as you can. The more you understand about them, the more you can tailor your pitch to meet their parameters.
Rule 2: Focus on the funder
Don’t get caught up in talking about how great you, your company, your project, product or organization is. Instead focus on providing the information the funder wants. If you’ve taken the time to understand your funding target (see Tip 1), then you should know what is important to them. Your communication must focus on providing this information in a clear, concise manner. Throw away the buzzwords, jargon and double-speak. Instead, use concrete terms that clearly speak to your target’s wants and needs.
Rule 3: Validate your numbers
When preparing your pitch or request, make certain that your numbers are valid, logical and based on sound assumptions. Be fully prepared to demonstrate the basis for your numbers and calculations. Depending on different factors, there may be two or three (or in some cases more) types of numbers you need to present:
- Funding request – clearly detail how you will use the funds, how the funding will enable you to achieve specific goals and the cost-basis for the funds. For example, simply saying “$50,000 for marketing expenses” is not very convincing. Instead, you should breakdown how you will spend the $50,000, the period in which it will be spent, discuss how it will enable you to achieve your goals, and indicate how you came to determine the requested amount.
- Projections – when providing financial projections, they must be realistic, attainable and based on sound assumptions. Be certain to outline the assumptions supporting your financial projections.
- Valuation – if you are seeking outside investors, you will most likely have to determine a valuation for your company. This process can be much easier for established firms, but for startups and early-stage firms, determining valuation can be complicated. There are several different valuation models that are used. Regardless of the one you choose, be prepared to demonstrate the assumptions used to determine your valuation.
Rule 4: Show the value of your team
Whether it’s just you or a team of ten, it is critical that you demonstrate the skills, experience and expertise of your team. Funders need to know that the persons managing their funds are going to do so responsibly and that they are fully capable of achieving the stated goals and objectives. An unskilled or incompetent team can bring down anything but a skilled, qualified team can make something that is just mediocre a huge success. If your team lacks certain skills or capabilities, be sure to acknowledge those deficiencies and have a plan in place for strengthening the team.
Rule 5: Understand the risks and obstacles
Few things in life go as easy as we would like. Funders understand and expect this. Put yourself ahead of the curve by taking the time to assess the inevitable risks, challenges and obstacles you will face. Let them know that you understand these risks and be prepared to discuss your strategies for avoiding them or overcoming them.
Rule 6: Be persistent
The process for securing funding always takes longer than expected. It is normal to get more “No” responses than “Yes” responses. Don’t be discouraged when you are denied. Instead, find out as much as you can about why the request was denied and try to learn from the experience so you can improve your approach the next time.
Regardless of the amount or the reason, raising funds or securing capital is never an easy process. In the funding world, the odds are against you. Consider that across the platforms of grants, angel investors, venture capital or crowdfunding, less than five percent of requestors are successful in their quest for funding. If you want to be among that five percent, you have got to do everything you can to give yourself that edge. Following these six rules is a good start.