How to find investors that will help your startup soar

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As a business owner, you do a lot on your own. You've likely come up with your own ideas, bootstrapped many aspects of your business, and have gotten to where you are with little outside help. But there comes a time when more funding is necessary. In times like these, it's crucial to know how to find investors.

The right investors can help your small business scale. And for those still in the ideation stages, an investor can mean the difference between your idea leaving the ground or never leaving your head. Let's look at how to find investors and ensure your business is poised for financing.

How to find investors: 8 options for funding

Potential funding investors are available in many places. But not all investors are interested in the same business models. Before you start reaching out for funding, it's essential to understand what each type of investor offers and what they're looking for. Here are eight options to get the financial boost you need:

1. Friends and family

Many investors come with strings attached: interest rates, partial ownership, or even a role as a board member. Friends and family can be one of the rare investor groups that don't always have any criteria or cost attached.

To request funding from friends and family, you can reach out to them with a phone call, text, or email and invite them over for a presentation. You know your family better than anyone, so tailor your methods to fit their personalities. If they're informal and relaxed, a simple get-together over drinks or dinner could be just the ticket.

Where to find: Just because you have a personal relationship with your friends and family members doesn’t mean you should abandon your professionalism. Explain the details of your plan and create a contract that lays out any terms and conditions attached to the funding. Unless you have a mysterious rich aunt who’s willing to hand you money, you'll likely be expected to pay the money back at some point. Clarify repayment terms in the contract, including any interest rates, partial ownership, or other stipulations. Be as upfront as you can about expectations for all involved parties.

2. Equity financing

If your company's still a startup but past the ideation stage, equity financing is a popular route to funding. Equity financing is the practice of receiving funding from outside parties in exchange for shares of your company. This approach can help you raise money quickly, which can be especially useful if there's a large-cost hurdle you're struggling to get over — for example, a new product you're trying to develop, an expansion, or even a costly campaign.

Where to find: Equity financing is available from many sources, including friends and family. You can also search for equity financing groups online. There are equity financing investment firms and equity crowdfunding sites that will help put your business in front of potential investors to get the money you need.

3. Venture capitalists

Venture capitalists (VCs) are private investors who use their own money to fund businesses. Because venture capitalists are individuals who often aren’t affiliated with a group, they can impose a variety of requirements that come with the funding. Some VCs will require equity or a board role, while others may only be interested in collecting interest or another form of payout.

There are also venture capital firms, which are professional groups of individual investors that fund businesses. Venture capital firms are generally more standardized than individual venture capitalists, meaning they also have more standard requirements and payout expectations. A venture capital firm is less likely to want equity or ownership, but it will probably attach an interest rate to the money you borrow and want to see a profit.

VCs typically look for businesses with a ton of growth potential. If you're running a humble startup and plan on staying that way, a venture capitalist likely won’t be interested. But if your business is quickly growing and in a high-dollar market, a venture capitalist or firm could be a great way to raise money.

Where to find: You can find venture capital firms and individuals online. Some sites will even present your business in front of potential investors and standalone firms. From there, firms or investors can contact you, giving you the chance to reply if you’re interested. Do some digging, ask around on LinkedIn for recommendations, and hone in on the investors that look best for you.

4. Angel investors

Angel investors are one of the most sought-after funding options. An angel investor is someone who invests their own money in an early-stage business to help it grow. Unlike venture capitalists who focus on profits, angel investors want to see a company succeed. They’re also not usually interested in owning parts of your company or playing a role in its functions.

Even if your startup is in its earliest stages, angel investors can provide funding that entails little risk to you. Angel investors know they're putting their money on the line. If your business falls through, you're less likely on the hook with an angel investor than with a venture capitalist.

Where to find: Like venture capitalists, angel investors can also be associated with groups. For example, the Angel Capital Association is an angel investment network of accredited investors that fund promising businesses. There are also sites like Angellist, where you can find individual investors or groups.

5. Incubator

If you have a new business idea but have yet to get it completely off the ground, an incubator could be just the thing.

An incubator is a program, either private or non-profit, targeting small business owners with big ideas and little to no funding. Incubators will help you gain access to the information and resources necessary to get your business idea off the ground and find the seed funding you need. But not all incubators provide actual funding — they'll simply point you in the right direction or match you with potential partners.

Where to find: There are numerous incubators available online — Ycombinator is one of the most popular options. Research your local area to see if there are any nearby incubator programs. If you can't find any local options, focus on online platforms and see if your business fits their criteria.

6. Accelerator programs

An accelerator program is similar to an incubator in that they provide a wide variety of resources. Unlike incubators, accelerators are concerned with existing companies, not those with only an idea. 

Accelerator programs can be private, sponsored by investment firms, or even attached to companies or colleges. While accelerators can vary, most offer funding to help businesses grow. Along with money, they might offer training, access to experts, and additional resources to keep business owners on the track to success.

Where to find: Accelerator programs are available locally and online via platforms like Gust. Again, see if you can find a local group first. These can be less competitive and come with the advantage of more personalized help. If nothing comes up, check online and find a program that looks like the right fit.

7. Crowdfunding platforms

Crowdfunding is a type of funding in which people "invest" in your company in exchange for a deliverable. Instead of interest or ownership, crowdfunding generally involves delivering an early access version of your product or service in exchange for funding.

Crowdfunding is an especially effective way to fund products that are past ideation and in the midst of prototyping. This means both new and established businesses can be a good fit for crowdfunding. Keep in mind that if you fail to deliver the promised rewards after a crowdfunding campaign, your business and its reputation can both take a serious hit.

Where to find: Crowdfunding is traditionally done online via sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, making it easy to put your product in front of a massive audience.

8. Traditional business loans

Last but certainly not least, you can opt for a traditional business loan. A business loan, or bank loan, is offered by a financial institution and typically comes with a set interest rate.

Bank loans can be used for a variety of reasons, and are suited for virtually any business. Unlike other types of investors and funding on this list, loans come with the strictest requirements. Your business will need some kind of established credit history or proof of income, or a cosigner if you don't have any credit history.

Where to find: Bank loans are available from virtually any financial institution, be it local, national, or online. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great resource to help you find suitable loans through partnering financial institutions.

Quick tips for being investor-ready

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Before you find an investor, your business must check all the right boxes. Here are a few tips to help increase your chances of wowing investors.

Make sure you have a business plan

Investors want to avoid bad investments. A business plan can go a long way toward instilling faith in investors and showing them you're a serious professional with growth potential.

A business plan should outline your business model, any business owners and their role in the company, and your company’s financial goals. Having a business plan is part of due diligence for investing and running a business in the first place, so if you don't have a plan yet, that’s step one.

You can create your own business plan, but a business planning company can offer more depth and increase the chances your plan checks all the right boxes for a potential investor. A business planning company will also be able to assist you with a pitch deck. A pitch deck will contain information about your company, and present it in a way to persuade potential investors.

Keep your finances in order

Neat and tidy finances are a good thing to have, investor or no investor. Just like a business plan can inspire confidence in investors, clean finances can give investors a clearer picture of your company and show them that you've got it together.

Be sure you have a profit and loss statement ready to go, as this will give investors a quick overview of your company's profitability. You'll also want to work on having a healthy cash flow if you can, along with working on keeping your operating costs low. All of these elements will signal to investors that your company is a safe investment.

Be ready to say "no" if you have to

Not all investors will be genuine or have your best interest at heart. You know your business better than anyone else. If an investor seems as if they're offering you a bad deal or trying to take advantage of your business, don't be afraid to say "no" to funding.

Yes, you want investors and funding. But the wrong investor can result in a major headache, excessive interest, or even disastrous legal matters. Being prepared to say no to a bad investor is really being prepared to say yes to your business.

Pad your funds using credit

It takes time to find an investor. Even without one, a business credit card is great to have in your financial arsenal.

Business credit cards enable you to spread out purchases and pay over time, extending your existing funds. They also protect your personal funds in the event of fraud, and can help you purchase necessary equipment and other necessities to keep your company going.

The best business credit card allows you to earn rewards for the money you spend, giving you the chance to take your money even further. For example, the Brex 30 Card rewards you for every purchase made, giving you even more points for things like remote technology or food delivery. These perks keep on giving, even after you’ve secured an investor.

Know how to find investors that work for you

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No two businesses are the same, and neither are any two types of investors. Carefully research each type of investor, noting who's looking for what, and what they're offering in return for their funding.

If you want to retain total control of your company, consider an angel investor and avoid equity financing or venture capitalist looking for partial ownership. Remember that some investors, like incubators and accelerators, only work with businesses at early stages. 

No matter what type of investor you seek, a business plan and accurate financial records are crucial to help take your company into the next phase.

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