When starting out, a top concern for most entrepreneurs is securing funding for their business. What they may not realize is that an investor can bring value in ways other than money.
Depending on where you are as a company, you may be after different things in an investor. Established companies that have strong management and direction may not want their investors interfering, in which case mezzanine financing (i.e., debt capital) could be a more feasible option.
A young startup, on the other hand, you might not have as strong a foundation and may require the extra support. This kind of company should bring on investors who can offer pro bono advice in a variety of areas. Here are three practical ways investors can (and should) help your company:
Strategy and Focus
Often, those in charge of a company are too close to the action to see what’s going on and may not see the forest for the trees. Good investors, like good board members, have the experience and the distance from the business to remain objective. Offering impartiality and the advantage of a bird’s-eye view (while holding the company’s best interests in mind) can be invaluable to a growing startup.
Sales and Marketing
An investor who isn’t concerned with gaining a return on investment is not a good investor. Marketing and selling a product or service is vital for a business to succeed, and this is another area where your investors should be willing to share some insight. Investors are likely to be looking at the “big picture,” and this will probably include market trends, pricing, and the overall sales funnel model.
Structure and Operations
Any good investor is looking at the bottom line: the profit and loss statement. Investors’ financial acumen will allow them to see where your company is heavy and where it’s light. They should also be evaluating the burn rate — or negative cash flow — and how it will dilute their investment. If you drive sales without the ability to support them, it could be even worse than never having made the new sales in the first place. By focusing your company’s efforts in the wrong areas, you could be harming your customer retention.
Set Expectations at the Start
It’s wise to be upfront when you’re looking for investors. If you expect participation (and a startup should), then let them know ahead of time. If they’re just a deep pocketbook with no expert skills to share, perhaps their money would be safer elsewhere. Given the choice, I would always take money and the advice of a smart investor rather than money alone. The decision is yours, but opening up to others’ input can never hurt.
Getting investors involved in your company can help foster a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. Ideally, they will continue their rounds of investment because they’re confident in the direction of your company. At the very least, you’ll get the benefit of another perspective to consider.
Tim Edwards is the CEO of NSR, a holding company that acquires underperforming or undervalued businesses, provides capital for fast-growing or high-potential startups, and creates holistic teams focused on strategy and execution in sales, operations, finance, and human resources. Tim is an entrepreneurial thought leader and an expert at acquiring, building, and turning around businesses.
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