Top 10 tips for securing investment if you’ve never done it before – part 1

  • by Julia Elliott Brown
  • 15 Sep, 2014

When I was CEO of Upper Street, I spent a good proportion of my time thinking about finance, and in particular making sure that we were sufficiently funded to grow the business in the future. When I started the business with my sister in 2010, I had absolutely no idea this would be such an important part of my role.

Upper Street closed our first round of external investment in early 2014, which was really exciting for us. It was a far more involved process than I ever imagined it would be, and was hard to navigate, as I had no experience of doing this before. So with that in mind, I though I’d share my top 10 tips for securing investment with you. Hopefully you can draw something useful if this is something you’re contemplating. This is far from being a universally applicable list, but probably more relevant for a business that’s already been going for a while and is looking for their first serious round of investment.

1) Know your personal goals

When my sister and business partner Katy Chandler and I wrote our business plan in 2008, the first thing we defined was our goals. For us, it was always first and foremost about building a brand, product, team and working environment that we were fiercely proud of, and that we enjoyed a good work life balance and had lots of fun in the process. But of course, financial goals were also important to us because we wanted to get a good return from our investment, both in terms of the money we put in (not insignificant!), the time we'd devoted, the enormous sacrifices we'd made and risks we'd taken. I think our initial goal was to become ‘millionaires’! Quite a loose one that, and we  further defined that over the years. But when it comes to making decisions about funding, we always went back to our original list of goals, and made sure that everything is aligned.

2) Explore all your funding options

Giving up equity isn’t the only route. Firstly, we put in a lot of our own money, as we totally believed in the principle of ‘backing yourself’. We turned down initial approaches by VCs quite early on in the journey, because we didn't feel ready for the significant and rapid growth they were looking for - we had more to learn about our business, and were concerned about our work life balance when our children were quite small. We then took a bank loan to help fund some growth (a massive personal risk as this had to be secured against my house, but this meant we kept 100% ownership). But three years into the business, we knew the time was right to start ramping things up more significantly. You can’t build a global consumer brand on a shoestring (excuse the pun), and it was a natural progression then to look for outside funding to fuel that given the amount we were looking to raise (£500k-£1m)

3) Network from the get-go

I can’t stress enough how important it is to build your networks when you’re on the path to investment, and the sooner you do this the better. Of course, you’re probably already networking to build your brand through connections in your industry and with potential partners. Developing relationships with other entrepreneurs is key, as you can share experiences on funding – I personally found  The Sorority , The Industry  and  The Next Women  to be very valuable networks to belong to, but you’ll find the ones that work for you. Every time you meet someone new, it’s a chance to practice your ‘elevator pitch’ about the business, and get feedback on what people are excited by in your story. And when it comes to the time when you’re ready to get investment, you should already have a great black book of people to speak to. Have initial meetings with investors NOT to ask them for funding, but to get their advice on your business.

4) Get as much support as you can

Navigating the investment ecosystem is tricky when you’re a first timer, so learn as much about it as you can. I bought a few books, but have to admit they’re still gathering dust on my shelf. There is of course a wealth of information online, and there are some great  organisations that hothouse entrepreneurs . In 2012 we were lucky enough to get onto the  ASTIA programme , set up to help female run high growth potential businesses. As part of this I went on an entrepreneurial ‘boot-camp’, learning about all the possible routes to investment, the different players in the industry, how to put together a pitch, and giving the tyres of my business a good kicking in the process. I made some fantastic contacts here, including lawyers, marketing specialists, financial advisors and investors. And at the end, I was given a team of advisors to work with me for a few months, who were instrumental in putting me on the right path to getting investment. I must say though, at times it felt like I had too many advisors and I spent a long time in the planning stages rather than cracking on with it, but on balance ASTIA was a good thing.

5) Demonstrate you have a good business

Demonstrate  being the operative word here. You know your business is fantastic, but you have to articulate that well, and you have to prove it as much as you can. Know your numbers inside out; build a financial model that shows your historic and projected Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), especially the top 5-7 that you know are the ones that press investors’ buttons – top line revenue growth, spend per customer growth, cost per acquisition improvements, gross margin improvements – whatever is key for your business. If you’re not a numbers person I’d highly recommend you become one fast – get a part-time FD to help you, it’s worth paying for, but don’t just outsource this job to them, work alongside them to build your model. Investors want to know that you’re on top of your numbers or they’ll lose confidence in you fast. If your numbers don’t look as good as you need them to, park investment discussions for a while and get back to working in the business to get results. We first started talking to investors back in March 13, but quickly realised we didn’t have the right KPI story. So we went back underground, streamlined our costs, squeezed every last bit of return out of marketing spend, and frankly worked our butts off to improve performance. Only then did we return to investment discussions in Sept 13, and then fairly quickly we were able to secure investment with our demonstrable results.

Read Tips 6-10

by Julia Elliott Brown 05 Sep, 2017

Many entrepreneurs struggle with this question. It's really important that you give this question of TIMING proper consideration, so that you can make the right decision for YOU and YOUR business.

Securing equity finance is not a business goal in it's own right; it's a tool to help you ACHIEVE your goals.

So the first thing you need to look at is WHY you are Fundraising?

  1. What do you need the money for?
  2. How much are you going to need?
  3. Where is this going to enable you to take your business?

Funding is all about getting you from one key milestone, to the next key milestone. From one set of achievements, to the next set of achievements. So the funding you raise NOW, needs to get you from that A to B.

So how do you know when you're at optimum point A to be in a good position to raise equity finance?

A GOOD time to raise equity finance...

It's challenging to raise significant amounts of cash through equity finance when you're at idea stage only. There is a caveat to this. IF you're a serial successful entrepreneur, investors may well be prepared to back you on an idea only. Usually, at idea stage, you need to bootstrap your business at the start. Use your own funds, or borrow from friends and family. You might even get a start-up loan, which are available for up to £25k.

Raising equity investment is much easier at a point in time when you have TRACTION in your business. Traction is all about proving that the market wants what you are offering, and that your business has potential. If you try to raise finance when you have zero traction, it's going to be an uphill struggle, because most investors will feel that there is too much risk in backing you.

The more you can show that you have paying customers, great customer feedback, returning clients, and accelerating growth, the better. The further you are along with proving your business model, the better. These things help DEMONSTRATE to an investor that your business has great potential and they can expect a good return on their investment if they back you.

When you have just completed a key milestone that PROVES traction, you have a strong story to tell investors. This is a really good time to raise money.

A BAD time to raise equity finance...

Do NOT leave it to the point when you are out of cash. This puts you in a much weaker position because you'll be at the point of desperation. Make sure you have a good 6 months worth of cash in the bank. A well run fundraising campaign, if you know what you're doing and have experience in equity fundraising, will take 3 months or sometimes a little longer to actually complete the legals and get the cash in the bank.

If you've never raised finance before, and you don't really know how to do this, the chances are it's going to take you 12-18 months to get your funding. Or worst case, you will fail at fundraising.

Raise money BEFORE you need it.

And if you want to fund your business FAST, without wasting time and effort along the way making all the mistakes in the book, and burning through investors who all say NO, then get professional support to help you.

Getting the support you need

If you feel that NOW is a good time for you to be raising equity finance, and you're ready to get going and make this happen for you, then reach out. Because if you have a great business that is already proving traction and is ready to scale, I would love nothing more than to help you raise the finance you need... so that you can achieve all your business and personal goals that this funding will unlock for you.

by Julia Elliott Brown 18 Aug, 2017

So how do you figure this out when you're out there seeking your first investment round?

Of course, you want to make sure that your valuation is attractive for investors. Because otherwise, you may end up with no investment, and no business. It's better to have a slightly smaller piece of what will be a much bigger pie down the line once you have that investment, rather than no pie at all.

But you also need to make sure that the valuation is right for YOU. That YOU get a fair deal out of this.

Now, you can search online about how to value a business. There are lots of different calculations you can do.

  • The asset approach - where you look at what it has cost to build the business so far
  • The market approach - where you look at similar businesses and value yourself against them
  • The income approach - where you calculate the value based on a multiple of revenue or profit

But the truth is, when it comes to valuing a start-up, absolutely none of this is relevant . You cannot use simple maths to work it out. In fact, there is no right answer on how to value your business.

Some people get a bit greedy. Have an overinflated opinion of what their company is worth, when they haven't really got much traction yet. Valuing your company at £10m+ when you're only just out of the blocks is not going to wash. You might think you're going to be the next unicorn, but quite frankly it's unlikely. You’ll lose any integrity you had with investors, nobody will invest, and your dreams of making a real difference in the world will never be realised

Others are nervous and go in too low. Maybe because their revenues are small or profits are negligible or negative. Maybe because they don't have any experience in fundraising, and don't know what they're doing. Maybe because they feel desperate. They end up giving away too much equity, and massively reduce the potential that they can make down the line when their company is successful.

Somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios works. But how to do you make sure that you get the best deal?

Here are some things you need to think about FIRST...

  • How much finance do you need to raise to get to your next milestone?
  • Based on your proposed valuation, how much of your company will you need to give away?
  • How much control will investors expect to have?
  • How much control do YOU want to have?
  • Do you think you will need to raise money again in the future, and how much of your company would you need to give away then?

Ultimately at this stage, your business is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it

The most important factor in determining your valuation is what you and your investors believe your business will be worth in the future, and whether you can give them a great return on the investment that is put in

What will influence your valuation MOST, are these things:

  • The strength of your investment proposal
  • The strength of your pitch
  • The kind of investors you speak with
  • How YOU the entrepreneur come across when you meet with them
  • And how well you can negotiate your deal

These are the things you need to focus on, rather than sitting down with a calculator and trying to do the maths to work out your valuation.

If you're not sure about how you would value your business, and you want to have a chat about it, just reach out.

by Julia Elliott Brown 08 Aug, 2017

The latest research on Equity Investment in the UK* shows that there there’s plenty of cash available IF you have the right investment opportunity AND know how to navigate your way to investors.

But don't let the headline figures fool you...because it's getting tougher. Deal numbers overall are actually down 3.54% compared to H1 2016.

In the first half of this year, a record £3.03bn was invested in the UK, showing a 74.7% increase on the second half of 2016.

46% of this money is going into Seed Funding, which is the earliest stage of investment.

HOWEVER it’s important to note that although more is being invested, the deal sizes are getting larger and fewer deals are actually being done. There were two huge deals done this half of the year (Improbable £389m and FarFetch £313m) which have massively skewed the numbers. Deal numbers overall are down 3.54% compared to H1 2016.

This means that the market is becoming even more competitive. If you’re an early stage business seeking your first round of investment, it’s not easy to secure the funding you need.

by Julia Elliott Brown 07 Jun, 2017

When you're out raising investment for your business, FORGET producing a 40 page Business Plan. Don't even THINK about sending a Business Plan out to people. Why? Because NOBODY has time to plough through this beast of a document!

Don't get me wrong. You need a Business Plan. Your Business Plan is a document for YOU, to guide you in how you are going to implement your business strategy.

But....when you're out raising investment, the document you REALLY need is a Pitch Deck. And this document needs to be STELLAR.

Your Pitch Deck is THE main tool you'll be using when you have conversations with prospective investors.

And you know what? Professional investors see HUNDREDS of Pitch Decks each year. So the truth is, you MUST make sure that YOUR deck does an outstanding job for you.

A great Pitch Deck can make ALL the difference in enabling you to be successful at raising finance.... so that you can take your business to the next level and stop treading water.

A great Pitch Deck enables you to do these 4 key things:

1) Build rapport with your investor

2) Show your investor how you can solve their problem

3) Qualify potential investors to make sure there's a good fit

4) Close their commitment to invest in your business

But guess what? Most entrepreneurs FAIL to address all 4 of these things in their pitch deck, and so they FAIL to secure investment.

Here are the 5 things I see that are wrong with most Pitch Decks:

1) They're overcomplicated

2) They don't tell a good story

3) They aren't honest and authentic

4) They're full of jargon

5) They don't look professional

And honestly, it makes me weep when I see what is a fantastic business, with a smart entrepreneur behind it, with great potential to secure investment for growth..... that is simply being LET DOWN with a poor Pitch Deck.

Have you produced your Pitch Deck yet? Is it good enough? Are you SURE it's good enough?! Want some help with it? Reach out and let's have a chat.

by Julia Elliott Brown 24 Feb, 2017

Do your eyes glaze over when you think about preparing your FINANCE stuff for fundraising?

Trust me, you are not alone!

But without having a strong handle on your numbers, and understanding how your business is performing, you don't have a chance in hell of getting investment.

Here's what you're going to need as a minimum:

1) Management accounts

Professionally produced and up to date. So if you've been putting all those receipts in a big box, or just tracking things on Excel, now's the time to get this sorted. You can do it yourself (I'd really recommend Xero). Or if you outsource, then for goodness sake make sure you really understand the numbers and what your book-keeper / accountant is doing.

2) Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

These should include not only the critical financial indicators like Revenue, Margins and Profit, but also other indicators that are pivotal measures of how well your business is doing. This will depend on the nature of your business, but can include things like Cost Per Acquisition (CPA), repeat business, marketing effectiveness broken down by channel, customer service measures, production delivery times and quality measures just to name a few.

3) Financial forecast for the next 3 to 5 years.

This needs to be professionally produced, and should show not only your profit and loss, but also your balance sheet, and most importantly your cash flow. You will need to show what your funding requirements are, not only now, but also for any potential future investment rounds.

Once you've got your key information and forecasts, you're going to really need to understand how investors will interpret them, and the kind of financial questions they're likely to ask you.

At  Enter The Arena , we help clients every single day to figure out what they need to do attract and close investors and secure finance in the fastest possible time, whilst also growing your army of brand ambassadors.

If you have a business that is solving a real and painful problem for your customers, that is getting great traction, and has great potential for growth...

If you're getting TIRED of not being able to move your business forward, because you don't have the funding you need...

If you want to secure at least £150k in equity finance...

Schedule some time in my diary, and let me help:

by Julia Elliott Brown 17 Feb, 2017

Let's do the MATHS on how you can achieve and surpass a crowdfunding target of £150k....

1) Ahead of your public crowdfunding campaign, reach out to your network of friends, family, business associates, customers, fans and followers. Let's assume you have 1,000 in your network, and you can get 5% of them interested enough to talk to you, with 30% of these making an average investment of £5k, then you have £75k in the bag. This gets you to 50% of your target, which is perfect ahead of a crowdfunding launch.

2) Create a fantastic pitch on a leading crowdfunding platform; let's assume 5% of the 300,000+ investors on the platform view your video, and 0.5% of these convert to an average investment of £1k. This gets you a further £150k investment

Total investment secured = £225k and you've smashed your target by 150%.

And all this is possible within 90 days. In just 90 days time, you could have those kind of funds, or way more, sitting in your bank account..

So the MATHS are SIMPLE.

Doesn't mean any of this is EASY!

It's up to YOU to make sure you have a really fantastic investment proposition.

It's up to YOU to reach out to your network, and position the opportunity in a really appealing way

It's up to YOU to close the interest from people.

It's up to YOU to create a stellar pitch deck, financial forecasts and pitch video.

It's up to YOU to keep the momentum going throughout your crowdfunding campaign.

It's up to YOU to get those people viewing your pitch to make an investment commitment.

If you have a business that is already getting great traction, and has huge potential, and you need the funds to help you grow it to the next level..... but you're just not sure how to approach the crowdfunding process...reach out and I can help.

For more tips and tricks for Equity Crowdfunding Success, join my free Facebook Group for entrepreneurs:


by Julia Elliott Brown 12 Jan, 2017

If you're an entrepreneur, how much of your own money (+blood, sweat and tears of course!) have you put into your venture so far?

The answer should be,   as much as you can possibly afford to.

Why is this?

1) The longer you can go with your own personal funding, the more progress you can make without having to give away equity – so you should then get a higher valuation and   give away less   when you do raise externally.

2)   Investors love it   when you have skin in the game. It means you share the risk with them.

3) If you have your own money on the line, it   drives you to achieve more, and be extremely mindful of costs along the way

4) When you make your business a great success, the   financial rewards   to you will therefore be   greater.

5) If you don’t   back yourself, then frankly, how can you expect anyone else to?!

For more strategy tips, tricks and advice on how to successfully crowdfund, then do come along and join my FREE Facebook Group for entrepreneurs:

by Julia Elliott Brown 02 Nov, 2016

If you're an entrepreneur with a reasonably early stage business, you're probably thinking about raising investment for growth at some point in your journey.

You're might already be talking to angels and wealthy individuals about the investment opportunity, or thinking about   crowdfunding .

The thing is though, unlike VCs, those people you're talking to have absolutely no mandate or imperative to invest. This means that they’re usually looking for a reason to say ‘NO’ whenever an investment proposition comes before them.

So it's absolutely critical for you to understand where an investor might see risk in your business, and address their concerns up-front. There are at least   99 questions about your business that an investor might have in their head , and I am astounded on a daily basis how many entrepreneurs don't know the answers!

So get ahead of the pack and make sure you're well prepared. Here's a summary of the key areas that most investors will consider:

  1. Vision   - what your personal vision for what you want to achieve, and why?
  2. Problem   - how large and acute is the problem you're trying to solve?
  3. Solution   - how does your offering solve the problem and why is it the best way?
  4. Market   - is this an identifiable, large and growing market?
  5. Competitive Advantage   - what's your unique selling proposition and how will you maintain this?
  6. Customers   - who specifically are your early adopters, and which customers will then follow?
  7. Business Model   - how will you make money and what's the lifetime value of a customer?
  8. Route To Market   - how will you reach your customer, and what are the costs and timescales involved?
  9. Traction   - what proof do you already have of product to market fit?
  10. Intellectual Property   - what patents, trademarks, copyrights, domains and trade secrets do you have that give you an advantage?
  11. Team   - does your core and extended team have the right skills, experience and drive to take this idea forward?
  12. Finance   - what are your historic and future projections on revenue, costs, profit and cashflow?
  13. Risks   - what are the social, environmental, political, operational, technical and competitive risks that you might face, and how will you mitigate against them?
  14. Investment Proposition   - what is your planned funding journey, how much do you need to raise now and at what valuation, what will you do with the money?

For a really comprehensive list of what you need to prepare, download this   free report   "99 Questions To Answer Before You're Ready For Investment" . And if we can be of any support to you as you prepare to go out to fundraise, or in running a crowdfunding campaign, then do   get in touch .

by Julia Elliott Brown 08 Sep, 2016

Equity crowdfunding is an exciting and rapidly growing alternative way of raising money for business growth, and something that many entrepreneurs are considering for their next funding round. Crowdfunding is certainly an attractive route if you’re looking not only to raise finance, but also get the marketing halo that comes with putting your campaign in the public domain and attracting new investors that become your greatest brand ambassadors.

But let me warn you folks, a crowdfunding campaign is not EASY! Far from it.

Here’s a quick reality check on what’s involved, and how long it's likely to take:

by Julia Elliott Brown 18 Mar, 2016
Starting and growing a high growth potential business is one of the most exciting things in the world. But being an entrepreneur is also incredibly challenging as you try to navigate your way along the journey, often on your own, with very limited resources.

I have personally found having a business coach to be transformational for me over the years, and so worth investing in. For me, the value add is really clear:

  1. Challenge your thinking
  2. Give you perspective
  3. Help you set goals
  4. Keep you on track
  5. Give you an honest viewpoint
  6. Help you focus on priorities
  7. Work through specific problems
  8. Give you ideas
  9. Help with connections
  10. Keep you sane

  Every time I come out of a coaching session I feel refreshed, focused, and ready to take on the world!

Having a business coach doesn't need to cost the earth. You can see someone for a few hours every month, more intensively when you have a pressing need - for example when you're getting your business ready to raise investment - or just when you feel the need to. It's important to find someone who you like and can work well with.

At Enter The Arena , we help busy entrepreneurs successfully crowdfund, as well as getting them investment ready. As part of this, I work with many dynamic entrepreneurs as their business coach - the fact that I've been a successful entrepreneur myself over many years means I often know how they feel and can help give guidance and perspective. But that doesn't stop me needing my own business coach too!

If you're thinking about getting a business coach, particularly if you're at the stage where you need to get your business ready for investment, then do drop me a line and let's have a chat.

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