Be Prepared When Business Investors Look Beyond Your Business Plan

You have spent considerable time pulling your business plan together, contacting potential business investors, making management presentations and pitching your business plan to prospective business investors. Now you finally have a serious investor who wants to conduct “due diligence” before investing real cash into your business.

Great! What’s “due diligence?

Due diligence is a thorough examination of available facts, references, books, records, etc. of your business and business plan.

And, what exactly should you expect during due diligence?

Skepticism…

Business investors want to be sure there are no skeletons in the closet and that your venture is not the next Madison Priest “black box technology” — a revolutionary technology that claimed to allow ordinary phone lines to transmit data into people’s homes at rates faster than fiber optics. By staging impressive demonstrations, Priest convinced private business investors and seasoned companies, such as Blockbuster and Intel, to invest money in his venture. In the end, Priest’s ‘magic box’ was nothing but a high-tech hoax.

In addition to a detailed analysis of your financial statements, business investors will hone in on four key areas: finance, management, manufacturing, and marketing. Specific concerns in each area are as follows:

Finance

Cash. Cash is king. It’s the lifeblood of all businesses – start-up or on-going businesses. Business investors know this. They will spend the time understanding your cash flow assumptions and, if you’re an existing business, they’ll analyze your cash management practices. Poor cash management or shaky cash flow projections are immediate red flags.

Profitability. Expect investors to compare your actual or projected gross margins from year to year. This provides a quick indicator of your historical or projected manufacturing efficiencies and pricing environment. It can also highlight potential control issues, excessive overhead, or under pricing strategies to capture market share.

Bank problems. Out of compliance financial ratios, scrutiny from banks, or suspect bank relations – personal or business – are all red flags to business investors about how you manage your financial affairs.

Outdated financials. The lack of monthly financial statements or detailed cash flow projections or, for an on-going business, statements that are not prepared on time are all indications of a loosely run operation or a lack of planning.

Management

Continual crisis. Business investors watch closely for signs of weakness in you or your management team. Constant interruptions by emergency phone calls and demands for immediate decisions are signs of disorganization and lack of management.

Substantial changes in key personal. Unusual turnover in key management positions can be viewed as a lack of leadership.

No changes in senior management for many years. An established company with little or no changes in the management team can indicate a stagnant business, not current in new methods or processes, or a very autocratic management style.

Lack of pride or enthusiasm. Seasoned business investors can just sense the true tempo and spirit of an operation and its management team. Ask them how they do it and they’ll tell you it’s a sixth sense or gut feel. Nonetheless, it is something they are looking for and expect to see and feel.

Manufacturing

Outdate methods and processes. Your manufacturing and service methods and processes provide a quick indication of your ability to compete in the markets you serve and shift gears if the business doesn’t go as planned. Even if you’re a start-up, business investors will want to know the methods and processes you plan to use to manufacture your product or provide the services you plan to offer.

Rejects. If you are already in production, investors expect you to know your reject rates, the problems causing them, and the quality controls you have in place. How you handle rejects is an important issue to business investors. Remember, rejects are not limited to only production rejects. They also include missed service calls, late deliveries, and other process failures.

Just in time (JIT). Inventory is often the first place business owners and entrepreneurs get into trouble. Too much of it and you can quickly run out of cash; too little and you’ll quickly start missing deliveries and losing customers. How well you manage inventory and understand it is a key strength business investors are looking for in the management team.

Sales per employee. The measure of overall productivity is a good, simple benchmark investors can use to measure your historical or projected performance against other companies in your industry. Questions like: What is it that you plan to do differently than your competitors to allow you to use the number of employees you use or plan to use? Why do you think you can earn more or less per employee than the average for your industry?

Marketing

Market share. Be ready to compare your expected market share or changes in it to your competitors. Remember to only measure the relevant markets you serve. Also, avoid justifying your market share by taking small percentages of extremely large markets. “Our projections only assume we get 1% of this billion dollar market” is one of the most meaningless statements a business owner or entrepreneur can say.

Trade shows. Investors will be interested in the activity and interest your company’s booth generates at trade shows compared to your competition. Some may even want to attend and observe the next trade show you attend. Be sure to take pictures, videos and conduct customer surveys to demonstrate and support the interest and activity surrounding your booth.

New products. What is the percentage of new products or services that generate future sales? How often will new products or services need to be introduced to maintain your market position? What is your success rate with new products and services?

Business investors are constantly trying to sniff out symptoms of trouble. It’s important that you never mislead or deceive them. Most investors have extensive business experience and regularly see or have seen many different businesses and industries. The questions they ask often stem from their real world experiences. That’s why it is important not to get defensive by their questioning.

Be prepared when potential investors want to get behind your business plan. Use this list to conduct your own review of your business. Then, like many successful business owners and entrepreneurs, take the time to tap into the knowledge and questioning business investors have to offer to improve your business and prepare for future investor meetings.

Two Types Of Business Plan Cover Pages – Which One Are You Using?

This is the tale of two business plans with very different cover pages. They both contain a unique and exciting business opportunity with the potential for high investment returns. Arriving in the morning mail, each neatly bound plan lands on the desk of the same potential business investor. Both plans are competing with hundreds of other documents, worksheets, phone calls, and articles for the investor’s attention. And, they compete in time, because each one, seen for a few seconds, is either heeded or passed up and seldom returned to by the investor.

The first plan is tightly bound. It has a cover page made from thick paper stock. The cover page resembles the cover page to a term paper. The company’s name in the center of the page and the owner’s contact information in the bottom left corner provide the first bits of information about the business to the investor. Not being familiar with the company name or the owner, the investor must now open the plan in order to learn anything meaningful about the business venture.

However, the stiff cover page complicates this simple task by preventing the document from easily flipping open and laying flat. Aggravating the investor who suddenly has to divert one hand from the uncooperative business plan to answer the phone as it rings for attention, leaving the remaining free hand to wrestle with the cover and hold the plan’s pages flat.

After wrestling with the business plan, the quick-handed investor gets a glimpse of the first page of the plan: a standard confidentiality agreement. So the battle to find some meaningful information continues. This time, after some contorted efforts, the investor arrives at the next page, which is…the table of contents.

At this point, the investor is reminded of the caller on the phone. Not wanting to be rude, the investor apologizes to the caller and returns to the business plan challenge at hand. Eventually the investor reaches a page titled “Executive Summary.” Anxiously the investor scans the page only to see an endless ocean of words and “information-less” headings like “The Company,” “The Market and Industry,” “Business Model/Strategy” and so on. Not wanting to be rude to the caller any longer, the investor decides its best to put this document aside…

The second business plan is also neatly bound. However, the binding on this plan allows the cover and pages to flip open and lay flat. In addition, the cover page is divided into two columns.

The left column is about five inches in width. It contains a brief headline at the top of the column that captures the essence of the business. The headline is followed by an outline of the business plan with concise single-paragraphs that summarize the company, its management team, its products/services, the funds being requested, available collateral, the use of proceeds, and a likely exit. The column ends with a small table of financial projections.

The right hand column, about two inches wide, begins by identifying the stage the business is in and its primary industry or market. This information is followed by the owners contact information and ends with a table of contents. The layout is not crowded and has plenty of white space to make it easy to read and easy on the eyes.

As the investor attempts to read this business plan, he receives another phone call. This time the investor doesn’t have to wrestle with the business plan to read it. With one hand on the receiver, the other simply holds the plan or takes notes.

More importantly, the investor never has to actually open the business plan to find out basic information about the business venture. A quick scan of this business plan’s cover page tells whether or not this business venture meets the investor’s investment criteria in terms of market focus, business stage, and deal size. By simply highlighting a few key elements on the cover page of the business plan, the investor can pass along meaningful information to a colleague for further review and follow-up.

But let’s say that this business plan doesn’t fit this investor’s investment criteria. What would happen then? Well, instead of just being passed up and never returned to, this investor, who was able to quickly glean some good insight into the business plan straight from the plan’s cover page, is now in a position to forward the information to another investor who might be looking for this type of investment opportunity.

Remember, investors are typically very busy people; often juggling more than one major project or deal at a time. To separate your business plan from other plans and increase your chances for getting the funding you need, lay out and package your plan to fit their busy schedules and work styles. Start with an effective business plan cover page. Click here for an example.

Age Old Marketing Technique Improves Business Plan Executive Summaries

Every business plan book tells you how the Executive Summary is your opportunity to provide a brief overview of your business plan; capture your readers’ attention and imagination; and, summarize the plan’s highlights and key selling points.

So, why am I telling you these 3 things when you probably already know them?

Because it’s useless advice unless you employ one, not so obvious, age old marketing technique to make these points come alive.

This one technique is the key to the ultimate success of your business plan and its ability to attract potential investors. More importantly, it will help you raise money for your business…potentially a lot of it.

Best of all, it costs nothing to “do” and can save time finding serious investors.

The not so great news is it’s rarely found in “business plan” books or on most business plan websites.

It’s one thing David Galdstone doesn’t tell you how to do in his popular “Venture Capital Handbook.”

You won’t find it in David E. Gumpert’s book, “Burn Your Business Plan.”

In fact, the Small Business Administration, Business Plan Pro, and other popular business plan web sites never mention it.

A Wall Street Favorite

This ONE marketing technique is used by the most prestigious investment bankers on Wall Street to raise millions of dollars in equity and debt financing for their clients.

It’s how major newspaper publishers trigger the public’s curiosity and sell newspapers.

So, what exactly is this powerful marketing technique that single handily can unleash the value in your business plan? It’s writing interrupting and engaging headlines.

See, I told you it was simple.

Marketers and news people have always understood how effective, well-written headlines make it easier for readers to scan for information. Through experience and testing, they’ve learned that the public reads little else when deciding whether or not they are interested. And, I’m telling you that busy investors are no different.

Why Isn’t Everybody Using It?

Good question… see, most people providing advice about business plans are lawyers and accountants. People who get marred in legalese and make their money by making things complicated. They also tend to confuse headlines with hype.

The truth is that you can use headlines to provide a more powerful overview of your business plan, capture your readers’ attention and imagination, and better summarize the plan’s highlights and key selling points — all the things they say your Executive Summary must do, without resorting to hype.

Moreover, well thought out headlines, when taken collectively, succinctly tell your business plan story. Just by scanning the headlines in your Executive Summary, your readers will be able to know exactly what your business plan is all about and whether or not it fits their investment strategy.

The success of your entire business plan may stand or fall on what is said in the headlines of the plan’s individual sections. These headlines must arouse the investor’s curiosity and self-interest.

I have seen time and again, cases where business plan writers, both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, struggle writing content for hours, for days–fixing it, polishing it, rearranging it. Yet, when it comes to headlines, they put in no thought or effort, often resorting to the same old “information-less” sub-headings used in every sample business plan or template.

So let me ask you this: What good is all the painstaking work on content if there are no headlines to first stop investors and make them want to read your plan?

How To Give Investors A Reason To Want To Read!

Absent any previous knowledge of your business venture or plan, investors have little else to spark their curiosity and self-interest. In the absence of headlines or the presence of poor ones, the best writers in the world can’t write content that will sell the venture. They haven’t a chance. Because if the headlines are poor or lacking, the business plan will not be read. And business plans that are not read do not get funded.

Before starting on possible headlines, review the content in your Executive Summary. Somewhere in this content you are likely to find the four or five key selling points of your plan on which to base your headlines — not the exact words for the headline, but the concept on which your headlines will be based. Now spend all the time you need to get the best headlines possible, then rewrite and polish your content till it flows naturally from headline to headline.

Remember, headlines decide whether or not investors stop a moment and look at your business plan, or even read a little of it. And, headlines that appeal to investors’ self-interest, give news, or arouse curiosity in this order are often the most successful headlines.

Go take a look at the Executive Summary in your business plan. Do you use headlines to capture your readers’ attention and imagination and better summarize your plan’s highlights and key selling points? If not, you’re missing a great opportunity. Go ahead, step away from crowd and write headlines that offer investors something they want. When you do, they will take time to read the content in your business plan.