TL;DR version: Money isn’t your problem — you need to make your business into a better investment and stop looking for bucks in all the wrong places. Start by getting your financial literacy upped in the comments.
I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, at all stages of business. However, there’s one great constant. Whenever I talk to entrepreneurs about what they need to grow their businesses, their answer is almost always the same:
Cash money, dollar bills, y’all.
Oh, what they could do with $50k, $100k, let alone $5,000,000!
As if the solution to every business problem ever encountered lies in a bigger bank account (PS: it doesn’t).
As if the only way to build a viable business is by risking someone else’s money before you’ve even proven what you and your team are capable of (PS: it isn’t).
Here’s the kicker: Most businesses (and especially most start ups) aren’t cut out for institutional money, like a business loan or a professional equity investor. Yet, the myth of “someone else’s money solves everything” persists.
Because I want to see more small businesses succeed (and because it’s great market research), I ask the entrepreneur why they think they can’t get any money. And it’s tragically comic how often they give me an explanation involving some version of “Mom, they’re being mean to me for no good reason!”
Having three kids of my own, I’m used to this line of reasoning, but I will tell you the same thing I tell my kids.
No one cares that much about you, so if they’re saying no, there must be another reason.*
Yep, bankers and investors may not be the warmest and fuzziest folks out there, but their mission in life is NOT to crap all over your dreams. Their mission is to make a good investment, so that they keep their clients happy and their paycheck coming.
So if you’re hearing “no” from anyone wearing a suit, chances are that the problem is YOU.
Am I suggesting that your business sucks and you’ve got no chance of succeeding? No. But is looking for money before you know why it’s a good investment holding you back? Definitely.
If I wanted to be an internet sensation, this is the point where I’d give you a bulleted list of the 3 / 47 / 101 mistakes you’re making before trying to sell you an info product.
I’ll spare us all that experience, and give you some tough love (and an offer of help) instead.
You probably already know (at least some of) the mistakes you’re making, because those folks in suits have told you. Your problem isn’t that you don’t know what’s wrong, it’s that you don’t want to look at it, understand it or fix it.
Chances are you’ve already heard something about personal guarantees, bad debt coverage ratios, low valuation, too short of a runway or being too far from break-even during one of these painful conversations. And yes, I can practically feel your eyes glazing over as you’re reading.
That eyes glazed over thing? Yeah, that’s the real problem.
Here comes the tough love.
You don’t have to tell me, but ask yourself:
When you got that “no,” did you run out and educate yourself about all those financial terms? Did you work to understand what that Suit was telling you, well enough to be able to explain the problem to your spouse or your team? And once you really understood what was keeping you from getting funded by that particular person, did you either 1) solve that problem or 2) change which investors you approached to better match your current financial situation?
I probably don’t know you, but if I had to guess, you didn’t do any of these things. You probably muttered “jerk” or something slightly stronger, and went back to your initial plan for getting funded, thinking that the problem was 100% someone else’s.
I know (boy, do I know) how hard it is to take feedback as data, and not as a personal attack. But the reality is that you have to know why your business is a good investment for anyone you’re approaching — so it is your job to figure this stuff out.
A good place to start is getting comfortable with the seemingly endless array of financial terms, and having a good grasp on your business financials. This means admitting you don’t know (ouch!) and asking someone who does.
As Financial Literacy Month comes to a close (yes, that’s actually a thing), I want to do my part. So if you’re ready to admit you need help, I’m willing to provide it.
Just add a comment below with your question or the term you’d like defined. I promise to provide you a plain English explanation and whether / why you should even care about it.
If you aren’t ready to admit that you don’t know everything, recommend this post for some good karma — or better yet, share it with someone who realizes that no one knows everything and it’s perfectly okay to say so ;-)
Fair warning: If you whine about how all VCs are jerks, or how banks don’t want to help you, or ask me to write you a check, I’ll just ignore you, so please make sure that creating your comment is a good investment of your time.
*Unless you’re a candidate for the US presidency —sorry, Donald, Hillary, Bernie, Ted and John.