Every business starts with an idea. Whether you have an idea for a great new product or a service that will revolutionize an industry, your inspiration is a great start. But how are you going to bring your idea to life? Building a successful business takes more than a great idea and a vision—it takes planning, discipline, research, and a whole lot of money.
Before you can get funding, there are several steps to making sure your idea is solid and marketable. While it’s true that not all startups will make it, you don’t want to set yourself up to fail! If you have a great idea but no funding yet, here are five steps you’ll need to take on the road to wooing investors.
Step 1: Find a mentor and ask for advice
When you ask for money, people will automatically be skeptical and want proof that your idea is viable. But is it, really? Have you gotten the objective opinion of someone who has been in your shoes?
Finding a mentor is an important step in the entrepreneur’s journey, and a good, experienced mentor will give you the honest truth about your concept. After all, you don’t want to waste your time on a bad idea—there’s always another opportunity around the corner.
Start attending networking events and leverage people in your network to connect with a mentor. Many cities have innovation labs or mentoring programs that can help you get your idea off the ground. You never know—you may just get a potential investor out of it like Michael Litt, co-founder of Vidyard. Litt says he’s never made a formal pitch—he’s gotten all his funding out of asking for advice and building relationships. Many seasoned entrepreneurs are happy to share their knowledge and opinions—you just have to ask!
Step 2: Perform market research
Finding your target market might be the most challenging step of making an idea into a business, but it’s also one of the most important.
Your second step is doing market research, and this process should begin by asking yourself a couple of questions:
- Who are you targeting with your product or service? Age, gender, education level, and other traits should be included—be as specific as possible.
- Are people interested in your product? Many entrepreneurs waste a lot of time and resources on their idea, only to find no one wants to buy.
To conduct your research, you should use a variety of different sources to examine the opportunities and pitfalls of the market. You will also need to gather direct data from your target audience. This can easily be accomplished by surveying current and potential business customers, testing focus groups, conducting one-on-one interviews, utilizing social media polls, and observing data through platforms like Google Analytics.
Some great secondary data sources include:
- Industry associations
- Government statistics
- D&B financial and business services
- Local chamber of commerce
- Business development agencies
- Online business databases
One of the best ways to conduct live market research these days is to try crowdfunding. Many startups have launched Kickstarters to do market research and prove there is interest in their product. Oculus VR was able to secure their initial funding from a crowdfunding campaign, and later sold to Facebook for over $2 billion!
Step 3: Determine your capital needs and write a business plan
Throughout the course of your research, you’ll get a more realistic idea of how much funding you’ll need. Even if you manage to get a crowdfunding campaign off the ground or find a way to fund your startup yourself, the costs of running every aspect of the business can go way beyond your initial capital needs for launch.
Before you look for investors, it’s important to have a solid idea of how much money you actually need to start and grow a business. There are many different factors to consider, including increased inventory buildup prior to the Christmas season, experiential marketing budget, and much more. Your mentor may be able to help you come up with a ballpark number you can use when seeking funding.
In addition to knowing how much money you’ll need to get your business off the ground, you’ll also need to show potential investors how you intend to use it. You can do that by creating a business plan. Writing a business plan may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as it contains the most important components, such as your target market, product information, financial plan, and the metrics you’ll use, the plan doesn’t have to be long—in fact, the more concise you can be, the better.
Step 4: Enter a contest
Major corporations know there are entrepreneurs out there with fantastic ideas who need funding. To find the best of the best, many of these are offering contests for entrepreneurs. The competition may be fierce, but hey, someone has to win!
Each contest has its own requirements, so read them thoroughly and follow all the steps carefully. You don’t want to waste your (or the judges’) time on entering a contest that doesn’t apply to your idea.
Step 5: Consider outside investments
Now that you’ve done your market research, created your business plan, and discussed your idea with an honest, objective mentor, you can start thinking about funding. After following the steps above, you might be ready to seek outside investors to generate more capital and grow your business.
There are a number of ways to generate funding, with some of the most popular including:
- Small business loans
- VC funding
- Angel investment
Each of these options has its pros and cons. For example, loans allow you to retain the most control over your company, but the requirements and repayment terms can be difficult for some entrepreneurs to manage.
Venture capital firms have funded some of the most successful startups, but can be difficult to attract and may have terms you’re not comfortable with. Seeking angel investing may seem like an intimidating concept, but it’s actually very simple and approachable once you understand it.
An angel investor is someone who invests in startups because they believe in the entrepreneur and the project—though of course, they’re also interested in making money off their investments. The relationships are usually more personal and hands-on than a venture capital firm, and can even be friends or family members of the entrepreneur.
Generally, you will need to offer equity in your company to people who are interested in investing—which can mean you end up with less control over your company in the long run. This is one of the tradeoffs of getting outside funding. However, most entrepreneurs do eventually need investments from external sources, and can’t rely on bootstrapping forever.
So how do you attract investors? Start by talking about your business with everyone you know. Leverage your network, see who’s interested (or has connections to those who might be interested), and have a formal pitch prepared before you have any meetings with potential investors.
Investors want assurance that your company has a good chance of giving them a healthy return on investment, and won’t be interested in funding you unless you can prove you have the product and the plan to make your business a success.
Don’t waste your time—take the steps in order
If you have an idea for a new business, don’t jump ahead from step one to step five. You’re just likely to waste everyone’s time. A mentor who will be honest with you and help you make your dream a reality is worth their weight in gold.
Really take the time to test whether or not your idea is a good one and do the research before you seek investment. To set yourself up for success, don’t jump straight to funding, prove your idea. After that, it’s time to get everyone else excited and find the perfect funding source for your first round.