Thursday, January 14, 2010

The process of finding investment for a new venture

Irrelevant if you are a new or growing business, for most business owners the time will come when further business investment is needed. With many entrepreneurs realising that going to the bank for a loan is no longer the only or most beneficial avenue, other sources of business finance needs to be considered. So what are the steps that you need to take for this to happen? Michael Weaver, chief executive at investor network Beer & Partners, has compiled the following guide to securing funding.

1) Decide level of funding required
The level of funding required is largely dictated by what stage of evolution the business is at. Established companies with revenues, profits and an order book, and that are seeking working capital or replacement of bank debt will typically fall in the R350,000 to R1.5 million bracket. Broadly speaking, start-ups or early stage businesses seeking funding for final product development/take product to market will tend to require R150,000 to R450,000. In both cases, the amount must be sufficient to fund the delivery of the planned stage or end result.

When considering the amount of funding required, businesses must take the long-term view. It is important that the level of funding is sufficient to see the business through all of the identified stage of development. Otherwise they risk not achieving the desired goal and having to halt progress part way due to cash running out.

Remember to:

· Take the long term view
· Identify your end goal and ensure the funding is sufficient to get you there

2) Put in place a strong management team
Few early stage businesses have complete management teams and very few can claim to hold all the skills required to maximise the potential of a business. These skills include general management, finance, marketing, sales, production and licensing, to name a few.

Entrepreneurs who can recognise their weaknesses as well as their strengths and plan accordingly are well placed to raise investment. Many of the complementary skills required are available on a freelance or part-time basis, sometimes on a sweat equity basis and can on occasion be provided by an investor. Sweat equity is where someone invests time and skills in exchange for a shareholding stake in a company instead of cash.

There are different general management skills required to run a small business compared to those for required for larger firms. It may even be that the founder is not best placed to lead the company through all the stages of its growth and will at some point need to step aside.

Remember to:

· Consider what skills you and your existing team have and what needs to be brought in
· Be broadminded about your relationships with employees – putting someone on the payroll is not the only option

3) Create a business plan identifying the strategy
A solid business plan that identifies the strategy is crucial. The plan must contain a commercial idea which will provide an eventual profit for investors or, as a minimum, sufficient profit to repay the interest and the principal on a loan. However, not all plans need to be unique as many ‘me-too’ but better businesses are established to take advantage of a niche or to stake a claim for a share of an existing market.

The business plan must set out the key factors that determine success or otherwise of the business. In addition, the entrepreneur should be prepared to monitor these factors and not be afraid to set out the risks. If an entrepreneur does not recognise the risks, it may be either because they do not fully understand their own business or they are ill-prepared to manage these risks adequately.

Remember to:

· Always have a business plan
· Only include as much within the business plan as is necessary to keep you on track and to give investors a clear idea of where you are taking the business and how you are going to get there

4) Determine a sensible valuation of the business
Early-stage businesses are notoriously difficult to value. There are different ways to approach this. One rule of thumb is:

· A solid business idea alone: R10,000
· A solid business idea with a reasonably presented business plan: R50,000
· Both of the above, plus a good management team with relevant CVs: R250,000
· All of the above, plus a sale: any figure upwards of R500,000

A perhaps better approach is to apply the rule of thirds, with the valuation split between the inventor, the management team and the investment. As such, the level of funding sought determines the post-money valuation. This ensures that the management are sufficiently incentivised to drive the business forward. It also ensures that investors can retain an important stake after second and third round funding which is sufficient for them to make a respectable rate of return on final exit.

However, the bottom line is that the valuation is essentially what a willing investee will accept and a willing investor will pay.

Remember to:

· Be realistic
· Make sure you can justify the valuation
· Don’t be too greedy – remember that if you fail to secure any funds you may not have a business that can go forward

5) Define the unique selling points (USP)
Aside from coming up with a compelling business proposition, the entrepreneur must ensure that nobody else is offering exactly the same product or service, or have a particular USP which makes it different and potentially more profitable than competitors.

If the entrepreneur is certain that any competitor, even one with unlimited resources, will take at least two years to come up with the same product, then they are in a strong position to claim that they have a chance to establish their brand. However, in this example, it could be a case of weeks or a few months. As a result, the market will be saturated by other similar products, some of which may be backed by known brands.

Another valid USP is a unique management team mix. However, this would have to be very specific as it could be replicated. Alternatively, a patent or other Intellectual Property Right by definition would fit the bill perfectly. There are many further examples, but the crucial point is to have a clearly defined view of how viable the business proposition is in the long term.

Remember to:

· Research the market
· Research the competition and put yourself in the mind of the competition to figure out how they will react to you entering the market

6) Protect your business
Depending on the business, there are times when protection is an absolute must-have. An easily replicable product for example, if protected, can be a great investment. Entrepreneurs should also ensure they understand how patents and other forms of intellectual property work, which may require seeking professional advice.

Without replacing professional advice, it is worth remembering that once an idea is in the public domain, it is not possible to then apply for a patent. Therefore, it would be a mistake to assume it is possible to find the funding first and then look at a patent – if investors have told people the idea, the business will not be able to apply. There are many forms of protection for different aspects of the business and products. Patents are just one, which is why professional advice is very worthwhile.

Remember to:

· Seek professional advice

7) Prepare your business for due diligence
Due diligence is usually carried out when an investment or acquisition is going to be made and is the process of checking the facts of a business, including its market, key staff, directors, financials and legal position. Any investor and many banks who do not have a direct relationship with the entrepreneur will require a level of due diligence on their affairs before investing or loaning funds to the business. However, there is a real danger that investment deals will fall through if factors are uncovered during the due diligence process that were not already apparent. It could be that the investee had failed to recognise the point as relevant.

Companies can save themselves a lot of time and energy when negotiating an investment by completing much of the groundwork and making it available to the bank or investor during negotiations. There are certain legal advisors or financial services professionals who work with business investment networks who can provide specific assistance around due diligence. This includes providing a pre-packed questionnaire which reduces the risk of deals falling through and minimises legal costs on completion.

Remember to:

· Always expect due diligence to take place so be prepared
· Seek professional advice if you are unsure how to do this

8) Appoint a solicitor
It is essential to appoint a solicitor who has experience of similar forms of investment in small businesses. Just one example of where this is required is that, in line with the Financial Crime Prevention Procedures, the business and the solicitor will have to verify the identity of investors before accepting any investment. This will require a copy of an official photographic ID such as a passport, driving licence, services ID card or national ID card.

Remember to:

· Make sure the solicitor you choose has the relevant experience
· Make sure legal charges are commensurate with size of investment and try to obtain fixed fee for the work

9) Have an exit plan
Businesses that are a lifestyle plan for the entrepreneur often find it difficult to attract investors. One example is a business that will provide the entrepreneur with long-term employment and remuneration but which they will want to continue with until retirement. However, in these instances, a secured loan may still be viable. Having a well thought through exit plan is therefore a key element of obtaining investment. Exit strategies can take several forms, the most common of which are:

· A trade sale, which is arguably the most common
· A listing on a stock exchange, such as PLUS, AIM or London Stock exchange
· A management buyout.

It may be difficult for an entrepreneur to imagine selling their business when they are just starting it. However, most investors are looking for capital gains rather than a dividend stream so will want to know how they will make their profit. In many ways, the actual form of exit is less important than the principal that there will be an exit at some point - generally within three to seven years.

Remember to:

· Always have an exit plan in mind
· Ensure that the route to exit is front of mind when speaking to any potential investor

10) Find an investor
Arranging investments is a category of regulated activity which can only be carried out by firms authorised to do so by the Financial Services Authority (FSA). This must also be done with information authorised by a FSA-approved firm. It amounts to acting for a business with the expectation that they will be introduced to an investor. Direct approaches to potential investors by individuals can be a criminal act and result in the individual making the approach becoming personally liable for any losses incurred by an investor. This is unless the individual has received certain certifications from the investor before seeking investment.

The FSA aims to protect consumers; both companies and investors. It does this by regulating the way in which financial service providers operate, paying particular attention to the integrity, skill, care and diligence with which they are run and to the competence of those people delivering services.

Regulations under the FSA lay down, in some detail, the framework within which approaches to investors must operate in order to comply with the Financial Services and Markets laws.

Remember to:

· Take heed of the legal requirements when seeking investment
· Find a reputable business angel network or corporate finance house that has a proven track record
· Ask the right questions

To find business finance or investment in South Africa visit the SA Investors Network.

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