At times over the past several years it's felt like every college student with a website has been able to raise money for their idea to create a Facebook for dogs or an Uber for cat food. How can you replicate their success and raise money to kick-off what is, undoubtedly, your significantly sounder idea for a small business?
It doesn't ultimately matter whether you're pitching potential investors, getting a Kickstarter campaign running or attempting to take out a small business loan. The more work you put in ahead of time, the more likely it is you'll get access to the funding you need.
Before anyone's going to provide you with money or other resources, they're going to want to see that you have a plan in place detailing how you intend to use those resources to build your business.
To that end, one of your first steps should be to write up a business plan. This plan should include a description of your company, a bio that digs into what makes you suited to build this sort of business, a look at all of your initial products and services, a discussion of your most notable competitors and an overview of who else (if anyone) will be involved in this early stage of the company.
Additionally, you need a fairly detailed budget that estimates production, sales and marketing costs over the first year of your business, alongside rough projections of expected growth and expenses for your second year. There's no way you'll get these numbers exactly right, but it shows that you're serious about the business and have the foresight to be thinking ahead.
An idea is good. An idea backed by a business plan is better. An idea with a tangible product / service that a potential funder can see or use is best.
Are you a designer? Have some of your clothes available to view.
Are you a photographer? Put a physical portfolio or look book together that shows samples of the kind of photos you'll soon be taking for money.
Are you bringing a new product to market? Build a prototype.
Regardless of what your potential business happens to be, it's key to provide funders with proof that you're not just claiming you can do something, but that you're actually capable of doing it.
The more your business appears to already be in swing, the more likely it is a funder will trust in its potential. This means building a website. Creating business cards. Designing a logo.
The website might feel like the most daunting of these three, but it certainly doesn't have to be. Your site needn't even be finished, it should simply feel finished. This starts with creating a compelling home page (the most important, since it's possibly the one a funder will focus the most on), along with about, contact and basic product / services pages. Even if the website is in progress, don't leave any blank pages visible on the site. Hide those by designing a nice navigation structure for the site, and simply make sure any page that's accessible fairly complete. It's better to have a half-finished site that looks whole than a half-finished site that looks like a messy construction zone that funders can't be confident will ever be finished.
A good logo usually requires a designer. If you don't have the money for a designer yet (you are looking for funding after all), then a service like Logo Maker can guide you to creating a solid, inexpensive logo. Whatever you make here doesn't need to be your only and final logo, just something that will connect funders to the potential of your brand identity.
Once you have a logo, you can incorporate it into your site and use it as part of a simple business card design; MOO Business Cards — and many other online services — make it simple to do so.
Once this is all together, you'll need to be ready to talk about your business. A lot. Sometimes potentially to a small group, like you're on a non-televised version of Shark Tank. This might make you nervous and, if so, you wouldn't be alone in that: fear of public speaking is the most common fear in the United States, with over 25% of the population saying they're terrified of it. That's more than the percentage of people afraid of flying and clowns. Combined.
Preparation is the best way to move past any such fears, consider writing up two different presentations:
- A 30 second elevator pitch that describes what your business does and what makes it (and you) unique.
- A 5 to 10 minute deeper discussion of those same things, covering the same topics you cover in your business plan.
If you write an elevator pitch and it takes longer then 30 seconds to say, cut it down until it takes 30 seconds. Same thing is true if your deeper presentation takes longer than 10 minutes. Practice each one on your own several times a day over the course of a week. Don't get frustrated when you don't remember every word. No speaker remembers every word. Even comedians who do nothing but tell the exact same jokes on stage every single night of their lives sometimes have to check their notes.