Raising Capital for Your Small Biz


The credit market has not loosened up much and Wall Street is still in the doldrums, but let's face it, it has never been easy to raise money.

If you have a game plan, money can be found, even in these tough times. "Millions of dollars are made in a recession," says Steve Bloom, chair emeritus at SCORE in Atlanta. Here's what you have to know.

Have a plan: A killer business plan, that is. Because investors and bankers are holding their purse strings a whole lot tighter, take the time to fine-tune, even overhaul, this document. At the same time, reassess your competition and marketplace, and be realistic about the amount of money you'll need. After all, venture capitalists expect a substantial return on their investment and banks require loans to be paid back in full on time and on schedule.

"People expect 100% financing but banks are not paid to take those risks," says Bob Seiwert, senior vice president in charge of the American Bankers Association's Center for Commercial Lending and Business Banking. "We do not take equity risks. We rent money. We like to be paid back on time."

Put yourself in their shoes: Think like your investors. What do they need to know to be won over? When it comes to banks, maybe it requires presenting them with three visions of the future, from optimistic to pessimistic. "Bankers are going to do a risk analysis anyway," says Seiwert. "Why not contribute to the risk analysis? If you have a game plan dealing with the different risk scenarios, they will feel more comfortable with your risk."

If you're approaching venture capitalists, remember that since VCs are mostly interested in businesses that will be game changers, you have to craft a strategic vision that is global in nature.

"There is a clog in the pipeline," warns Emily Mendell, vice president of strategic affairs and public outreach at the National Venture Capital Association. "There is no IPO market right now so venture capitalists are spending more time and money on these companies so that takes money away from new companies."

Lay the groundwork: Months before you even need the funds, set up a meeting with your banker or investors. Update them on your progress. Feel them out about your possible need for more money. Just as important, find out how the downturn is affecting their balance sheets.

"Lots of people say they would like to draw down their line of credit they talked about six months ago or are ready to do their expansion, only to discover the money is not available or the terms have changed," says Seiwert. "If you have not done so already, sit down with your banker and ask questions. How is the bank weathering the current crisis? Are you still making loans? If I request X amount of dollars today, would it be available? If so, on what terms?"

Don't have a relationship with a local banker? Then find one who specializes in small-business loans. "Forget a regional or national bank," says Bloom, who is also CEO of the consulting firm Capcom. "If a loan is not more than $400,000, they will not talk to you" because it's not worth it to them.

And, if possible, find one with a track record of lending to those in your industry. They will better understand the ups and downs of your company if they are familiar with your niche. As a result, they may be more willing to work with you if there is a downturn and help you figure out a way to improve business.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket: Whether you are turning to banks or venture capitalists for help, you can improve your chances by wooing more than one investor at a time. When Yodle, which specializes in local online advertising, needed another round of funding, the company courted about 10 venture-capitalist firms months before launching the C round, or first round of financing. Less than nine weeks later, it landed the needed $10 million. But it wasn't easy, says Yodle CEO Court Cunningham.

"We started in mid-October," he recalls. "It was an incredible time to be raising money, given the 30% drop in the stock market. But we stuck to our message. We think this is a stand-alone company and see $400 million to $500 million in revenue in the next few years. We are building for three to five years out. What happens today will be irrelevant when we go public."

Cunningham's advice: Cultivate investor relationships now, come up with a short list of possible investors six months before you need the money, and then stick to your timeline and get those term sheets when you need them. "If you say you're getting term sheets in a week and it slips into two weeks, then it shows you don't have them and they're in the driver's seat."

Haggle and trade: Cut down on how much capital you need by bartering. Offer your services or products for much-needed bookkeeping or legal advice. "Bartering would put a huge dent in the dollars that you'll need," says Bloom.

Dig a bit deeper: The axiom is true: Your first investors are going to be friends, family and angels. Since most businesses fail within five years, banks and other institutional investors are more reluctant than ever to spend precious capital on start-ups. Most will seek companies with a proven profit margin. When Artisanal chef-owner Terrance Brennan wanted to launch the less expensive, more casual Artisanal Table, he turned to loyal customers and building developers to fund the new vision.

"Before this horrible market crash, developers were going after celebrity chefs and restaurateurs for their buildings and to become equity partners," explains Brennan. It helps that his new concept took only $1 million to cook up. The first pizza, tapas and wine bar will open in Seattle with more planned.



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