There is a time in the development of many projects when the issue of financing arises. There are many types of financing and investors, and it’s important to understand their way of operating in order to adapt your presentation. We have collected the advice of several specialists in the field for you.
Loans between people who know each other, crowdfunding, microcredit, bank loans, public financing, business angels, investment funds, etc. There are many financing solutions which are more or less suited to different types of projects and their extent.
We asked seven financing specialists to share their advice to increase your chances of obtaining funds: Catherine Iwankiw from Credal, Céline Bouton from Lita.co, Ellen Hansen from finance.brussels, Isabelle Gérard from Start Invest (FR), Jean-François de Hertogh from Growfunding, Rodolphe d’Udekem d’Acoz from hub.brussels and Roxanne Lemercier from Microstart. Here are their recommendations to increase your chances of success.
This may seem self-evident, yet all investors regularly meet with project leaders who are completely unprepared: they are sometimes no further along than an initial concept. In order to assess your need for funding, you need to spend time developing your project:
- Check the competition in depth and decide how you’re going to differentiate yourself from it.
- People often tend to include many activities in their business plan in order to ensure the profitability of their business (I’m going to open a restaurant, cater, deliver at home, give workshops and brunches and I’m going to work alone to reduce my costs). It’s important to run a simulation of a typical workday in order to understand how feasible the project is (when am I going to shop, can I have product delivered? Do I have time to handle the administration?) You also have to think about the potential unexpected events of life. If I have children, who will pick them up at school? What if they get sick? The more realistic your project is and the more potential problems you’ve anticipated, the better chance you will have of convincing an investor.
- Don’t work backwards when you prepare your financial plan. Don’t base yourself on your remuneration needs to calculate your forecast turnover. It’s better to estimate based on a market study, observation of the competition, the habits of the targeted customers, etc. Your financial plan must be based on concrete and verifiable elements as much as possible. You must provide the investor with a balanced financial plan which takes into account your repayment ability and provides a safety margin.
- In the event that you will be taking over an existing business, do the same careful preparation work: ask for figures from the seller, their tax and social attestations and check the various authorisations and permits and the lease.
- For all projects, evaluate needs in terms of amounts as well as in items to be financed (investments? remuneration? cash?) and phases.
DO IT YOURSELF!
You will have to defend your proposal in front of potential investors. It’s important that you fully understand the different aspects and assumptions of the financial plan. Don’t hesitate to get help, but don’t allow an accountant or other expert to do things for you without explaining and backing up their numbers! You have to understand what you will be presenting, otherwise you won’t be credible.
If you have a great idea but need to invest €500,000 and you have nothing to your name, or a competitor has already developed the project, or it’s too complicated given Belgian law...it’s better to adapt your project to make it more realistic in the current context rather than be in opposition to everything and be unable to ever implement it. Support organisations are there to help you see reality. Not to break your ambitious dream, but to support it, make it more realistic today and achieve it tomorrow.
It’s important to be transparent about your current situation when asking for financing, even if it isn’t always easy. There’s nothing worse for an investor than to find out that someone has tried to hide something from them. It destroys trust, which is the key when asking for financing. Credit comes from “credo” (I believe in Latin).
PLAN ENOUGH TIME
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your financing won’t be either. It’s important to anticipate the time you will need to raise funds in your schedule.
Many start-ups have left a first meeting with an investor optimistic and confident, sure that they would obtain their funds very quickly then had to wait nearly a year to finally get the expected money.
Generally speaking, don’t send your file to all of the banks at once: if your file has obvious weaknesses or errors, you may close all of the doors at once and it will be much more difficult to open them again. Send out a first file, wait for reactions, modify it if necessary, send it to a second institution, and so on. If you receive several positive responses, you will even be in a position to talk and choose. When you want to raise funds, it’s best not to work in the short term: it’s a process that takes time, preparation, motivation and good follow-up.
Try to assess the key phases of the project correctly (milestones) and include the needs and the financial strategy.
TEST EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE
It’s important to show the investor that the product or service you want to sell attracts attention. Try to test the market as much as you can to be able to provide concrete proof of implementation and customer interest. This is becoming easier and easier with current computer tools. A simple free homepage on the Internet will already tell you a lot about how appealing your product is!
LEARN TO NETWORK AND ADJUST
It’s very important to have a good understanding of the players/organisations you can turn to to ask for help and to personalise and adapt your request as much as possible to the person you are dealing with:
- the investor’s point of view is not the same as the customer's or your partner's
- the points of view/focus of an investor/banker/crowdfunding platform/R&D investor are not the same.
A FEW TIPS BY FINANCING METHOD:
A) INVESTMENT (EQUITY):
The “traditional” investor is primarily looking for a return on investment (corresponding both to the type of risk they are willing to take and the expected return). They will also look to exit the investment over a short-term period of four to five years. They will be particularly focused on the ability of the entrepreneurial team to implement the project and get the maximum benefit from the strengths of the project and the target market(s) in a short period of time. Therefore, you will have to convince them both of your potential as an entrepreneur (ability to deliver and react/anticipate, agility) and of the potential of the project.
B) CLASSIC CREDIT (LENDING)
A banker’s primary goals are to recover the funds loaned with a reasonable margin and to protect themselves should there be a problem (collateral). Bankers are therefore not focused on the ability to create the most value possible in a limited period of time, but on limiting risks and on repayment ability. Therefore, the approach is fundamentally different in this case.
C) CROWDFUNDING PLATFORM
The platforms work in different ways. Select one based on your needs. Some platforms will only put you in contact with private individuals, others with professional investors. It’s important to adjust your presentation for them. In any event, don’t forget that while a crowdfunding campaign can be a fantastic communication tool, it also requires a significant time investment.
D) R&D SUBSIDIES
In this case the focus is primarily on the technological challenge, improving the “state-of-the-art” and integrating the technological value in companies as added value (and as added value for the Region if the financing is public). Your file must be presented with this in mind.
One last tip for the road: diversify your funding sources! Don’t know who to contact? Get help from a support organisation that will guide you through the various options.