Finding smart ways to finance your business startup is the first challenge for budding entrepreneurs with great ideas. Once you’ve got things up and running, you might start to direct your efforts towards getting yourself in a room with potential investors who can take your business to the next level. Landing this first big meeting can take an extraordinary amount of effort, and sometimes a bit of luck. It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of this moment: if you play your cards right, your business could be transformed overnight.
So if you’ve managed to secure a meeting with investors for your business, how do you make the most of this opportunity? These tips will help you put your best foot forward.
Show Concrete Detail
When you’re preparing your presentation, it’s important to remember that your high-powered audience probably won’t be interested in broad generalizations about your performance thus far or your future prospects. Whether you’re giving them a sense of how far your business has come or where you see things going in the future, investors will want you to support your narrative with concrete detail and provide relevant data to evidence every key statement you make. When you want to impress your audience, it’s natural to make sweeping statements that might exaggerate the promise of your business model or downplay the threat of potential competitors. This is an urge that you need to keep in check, as it will damage your chances, rather than help them.
Potential investors could write you off completely if you fail to demonstrate that you know what it takes to run a business. Now is the time to mention concrete aspects of your strategy. Don’t say that your customer service is ‘excellent’. Rather, impress them with your FCR. Don’t tell them that you plan to have the ‘most sophisticated data management system on the market’. Tell them you run the same database comparison tool as the power-house brand, Nike. Remember, investors are less impressed by big dreams than by realism when it comes to what’s possible under current market conditions based on sound evidence. If you don’t have hard facts at your fingertips to back up your predictions, rather don’t predict anything at all.
Do Not Run Overtime
The old mantra never gets tired in the startup world: time is money. Anyone who has been in the hot-seat knows first hand that if you’re lucky enough to get yourself in a room with investors, there is always a risk that they will grow impatient or even cut the meeting short. In your meeting, you’re not only trying to show that your business idea is worth the financial backing that’s on the table, but that you are a worthy business leader in your own right. One of the most impressive ways to show that you embody the traits required to run a business is to demonstrate the utmost respect for other parties’ time. You do this by planning your pitch down to the minute, arriving on time (which means early) and delivering your presentation on schedule.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Here are a couple of points to help you ensure that your presentation runs like clockwork. First, consider a short presentation. While you might think you’d be shooting yourself in the foot by using less time than you have been allocated, a compact presentation means the content of your pitch will be more memorable, which ultimately improves the likelihood that you leave your audience with a lasting impression. Think about it this way: have you ever watched an infomercial? Despite being long, repetitive and extremely thorough, watching an infomercial is not how a busy person wants to spend their time, even if they’re interested in the product. And if one definitive thing can be said about investors, it’s that they are really busy.
When it comes time to deliver your presentation, always be true to your word in terms of how long the meeting is going to take. Don’t let your presentation go on for twenty minutes if you’ve advised the investors beforehand that you need no more than ten minutes of their time. But when exactly should you finish? There is a ‘golden rule’ to help you manage this delicate business. If you were the one who proposed the meeting timeframe, make it your goal to finish one minute ahead of schedule. If the investors have allocated you a time, aim to round things up five minutes early if you can. And don’t worry that they will interpret your unrushed approach to timekeeping as a sign that you aren’t hungry. It’s far more likely that your relaxed approach will create an atmosphere of calm and ease, potential investors can find immensely reassuring.
If your presentation involves slides, be mindful of the effect that using slides can have on your timekeeping. Plan in advance how long you will spend on each slide, and stick to your schedule. (Nobody’s suggesting that you set a timer—you’ll need to practice your presentation enough times that you internalize a strong sense of how much time has elapsed on each slide.) There’s really nothing more off-putting than watching someone rush through a seemingly endless succession of slides nearing the end of a presentation when they’ve let time get away from them.
Be Slick in Every Way Possible
When you’re prepping for the meeting of a lifetime, there is a temptation to devote all of your time and energy on working out what you should say. Of course, the content of your pitch matters most of all, but don’t underestimate the importance of smaller cues that give your audience telling information about who you are. Professionalism is important, but it’s not everything. On top of seeming super professional, you also want to seem trustworthy and reliable, but not at the expense of the forward-thinking and innovative impression you need to create as the ‘new kid on the block’.
There are a few key things that can help you do this. Master your business handshake, and remember to make decent (but not weird) eye contact with all the investors in the room. Charge your laptop before you arrive—fumbling with cables and plug sockets is not a good look. Dress appropriately. Acing your outfit for any potentially life-changing meeting can seem like a minefield, but it doesn’t have to be. One way to approach it is to dress for the role you deserve. In this situation, that means dressing like a person who has scored investor backing for their promising business. With this in mind, don’t skimp on the suit or the shoes.
Practice Makes Perfect
Planning the perfect presentation is only step one. But if you’ve worked hard on your plan, you’d be selling yourself short if you fail to deliver it perfectly. The only way to avoid that ‘if only I’d done things differently’ feeling is to rehearse your presentation over and over, beyond the point when you feel confident. Practice how you’re going to deliver your pitch as well as what you’re going to say. Develop an air of confidence, avoiding seeming over-confident, as this can make you seem reckless and put investors off. (Remember, you’re not a cowboy—you’re a realist who has done their homework.) Bear in mind that it’s always more difficult under match conditions. Don’t rely on lines you’ve learned by heart. To stick this landing, you’ll need to think on your feet and field whatever questions come your way. Preparation is key.
If you’ve secured an important investor meeting, don’t let the pressure get to you. These tips will help you come across as the ultimate ambassador for your amazing company.