Pitching investors is one of the most important tasks you'll ever face in building your business. While you may feel ready to field any question investors throw at you, you should carefully think through and practice your responses. "More often than not, it's the obvious questions people fall down on because they think them through superficially," says Martin Soorjoo, founder of San Francisco-based Investor Pitch Clinic and author of Here's the Pitch: How to Pitch Your Business to Anyone, Get Funded, and Win Clients (Wiley, 2012).
Here are 10 key questions to ask yourself before pitching investors.
1. What do your customers need and how do you know for sure?
It isn't enough to tell investors there's a need for your product; you need hard facts and real-world examples to prove it, says Danny Warshay, founder of DEW Ventures, a Providence, R.I.-based firm that provides startup coaching. Often, small-business owners skip what Warshay calls "bottom-up" research with customers. For example, Warshay worked with a pair of entrepreneurs who spent time in the prenatal vitamin section at Whole Foods, where they discovered women didn’t like the large size of vitamin pills and potential side effects of nausea and constipation. They used this bottom-up research when pitching investors on their product Premama, a prenatal vitamin drink that the company says doesn’t have digestive side effects. "When companies are pitching to me, I always look for" bottom-up research, says Warshay, who has helped start more than 15 companies.
2. What evidence can you provide of prior business success?
Often small-business owners focus on the wrong things when trying to show their track record, says Oren Klaff, founder of the Los Angeles-based website PitchAnything.com and author of Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal (McGraw Hill 2011). When discussing your background, don’t tout the names of companies you’ve worked for or schools you’ve attended. You need to pinpoint specific business achievements. What products have you developed? Which major clients did you attract to your previous employers? How much revenue did you bring in? Investors are always looking for measurable evidence.
3. Who’s on your team?
For many investors, a company's employees are as important as its product or service "That people part is often what gives the whole enterprise credibility," Warshay says. Focus on the experiences, networks and expertise your team offers. If you're a one-man-show or don't have the resources to hire anyone yet, show investors you have specific plans for attracting talent, Soorjoo says. Often, small-business owners will point out the roles that need to be filled without identifying specific candidates and estimating how much it might cost to hire them, he says.
4. How well do you know your competitors?
Don't try to make your business look unique by telling investors you have no competitors, Klaff warns. If you do, investors might conclude there isn’t really much of a market for your business. Instead, be specific about the companies you’re up against, Klaff advises. Showing how well you understand the competition will make you look not only smart, but also confident in taking on the challenges. This is also a good segue into talking about your competitive advantage.
5. What's your competitive advantage?
Too often, Klaff sees small-business owners speak in platitudes rather than specifics when talking about their competitive edge. For example, it isn’t enough to tell investors your customer service is better; you need to show what makes your business different—and special. Do you keep in touch with customers through social media? Or do you offer free shipping on online orders?
6. How do you define your target market?
Be sure you can clearly identify the market segment you're targeting and explain how you’ll reach it, Soorjoo says. For example, if you are selling coffee to young urban professionals, you should discuss your audience’s growth potential, consumer preferences based on bottom-up and other research, and the best marketing channels.
7. What is your business most sensitive to?
To show investors you really understand your company, point out potential vulnerabilities and how they might affect you, Klaff says. If the price of gasoline or a particular material goes up, what does that mean for your business? Identifying potential risks—and your planned responses to them--will show investors how well prepared you are to run your business.
8. What's your sales and distribution model?
Entrepreneurs need to drill down into the details of their sales and distribution strategy, Soorjoo says. What distribution channels and partners do you plan to use? How long does it take to close a sale? How much does it cost to acquire a new customer? What are your key pricing metrics? Such details will help to instill confidence in your investors.
9. What have you already accomplished?
Be sure to focus on your accomplishments so far, such as clients you’ve secured, distributors you’ve reached out to, new hires you are bringing on board. Small-business owners often spend too much time talking about the story behind their product and the difficulties they went through developing their business rather than homing in on their milestones and achievements. "Investment is about certainty. You want to provide certainty," Klaff says.
10. What do you need the money for?
Investors like to know their money will be used to build products, hire employees or add to the business in some other tangible way. Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of talking about more general plans for the funding, such as marketing, Klaff says. "You need to be able to show the milestones that will be achieved with this round of funding," Soorjoo says.