Raising growth capital is a challenge for most businesses, but social enterprises face an extra hurdle--they have to show how they're going to maximize their positive impact and demonstrate the qualities investors generally look for, including a strong management team, a unique approach to the market or problem, and growth potential.
What does it take to succeed? Based on my experience as an entrepreneur and now a social enterprise funder, these seven strategies--a mix of fundamental business building and savvy approaches to fundraising--will put your enterprise in the best position to get the capital it needs to realize its vision.
1. Build a stellar management team. Just as real estate is about location, location, location, raising money is about management team, management team, management team. The first question funders have is "Who is running the business and what do they bring to the party?" Do a ruthless assessment as early as possible. And if you have a gap, say so. Don't force funders to hunt for weaknesses in your organization--it makes you look bad.
I recently met with a potential borrower that gave us no information about the management team other than their names. They have a couple million dollars in revenue and it's a pretty complex business for the size--and they botched their financials to us. The business was a perfect fit for us, but it made us nervous that they not only didn't seem to have a finance person, but also didn't seem to understand that it was a problem.
2. Ditch the 70-page business plan binder. Funders don't want to plow through that, and they won't. Go with a one-pager that focuses on the top questions on the funder's mind: Are you addressing a real problem? What's unique about your business? Why you? Is this a growth business or a lifestyle business?
3. Have a practical plan as well as an inspiring vision. This applies to impact growth as well as financial growth. What's your story about how you're going to get from where you are now to the next level? Be realistic: if all your graphs zoom up to the right as sharply as possible, a serious funder will think you don't have a prayer.
4. Seek the right kind of funding for your goals. Social entrepreneurs often buy into the culture of venture capital--they position their enterprise as a growth business, look for a miracle angel investor and start giving away equity. They're not thinking about how the investor gets their money back. Consider at the beginning what you ultimately want to do. Are you planning to sell this business? Do you see this as a legacy business that you're building to last?
A long-term, slow-growth plan won't destroy your chances for funding; you'll just need to look at different kinds of funding. At RSF Social Finance, for example, we don't need borrowers to be a rocket ship, as long as they can steadily pay off debt.
5. Search out specialist funders. Dedicated social enterprise funders typically specialize in one or a few areas where they have a passionate commitment and deep knowledge. Look for funders that focus on your sweet spot--they'll have a better understanding of the market opportunity, and won't expect your business to compromise its mission in order to grow.
6. Ask for advice--sincerely. Brazenly pitching everyone you meet like a madman is likely to annoy people. Figure out what value you can bring to a discussion, and ask funders for advice. People love to give advice. But as in dating, don't be desperate. If you're only pretending to earnestly want advice because you've heard this tip, people will see through that.
7. Show that you can go the distance. A funder wants to understand not only why your business is needed and why you're the one to build it, but also your level of stick-to-itiveness. You could be brawling with your partner and lots of things are going to be a disaster-- the point is to tell the funder a couple of things that demonstrate how resilient and determined you are.