Raising money for an emerging or expanding small business is usually a necessity and “bootstrapping” (pulling yourself up from your personal resources only) is often not possible after the initial launch stage. Finding money has typically meant visiting banks, knocking on every friendly door you can think of, and asking your family for help.
In a recent post I mentioned some local funding resources and a couple of online tools for raising capital. These days, using internet tools to solicit funds from the community or find potential investors is a popular (and often quite successful) alternative to the traditional means of raising small business capital. New business owners can now secure start-up or expansion capital with a little bit of support from a lot of people. “Crowdfunding” is really a strength in numbers strategy.
There are many online crowdfunding platforms to choose from and sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are just the tip of the iceberg. Each one is different and some may only be a good fit if you meet certain criteria.
Many of these platforms can’t be used to solicit loans or offer financial returns or equity to supporters. They are essentially tools to get “grants” from friends, family and your wider community. You can offer small thank you gifts or perks in exchange for their financial support (such as a t-shirt branded with your company logo or an invite to a “members-only” event related to your business). These little offerings can inspire people to give, even in small amounts.
With the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), which President Obama signed into law last year, there may soon be changes to the crowd-funding landscape. The Securities and Exchange Commission is in the process of finalizing and implementing rules on a provision of the Act that could make it possible for people to use crowd-funding platforms to raise investment capital from “Main Street” investors.
In the meantime, there are a number of online sites that can be used to target accredited investors or to secure a loan. Fundable is geared toward small business start-ups who can choose to offer rewards to their backers or equity to accredited investors in exchange for funding. CircleUp is an equity-based crowd-funding platform that focuses on angel investments in consumer product and retail companies. EquityNet, which calls itself “the original crowd-funding platform,” is specifically designed for entrepreneurs seeking equity capital or who are looking for loans, grants and access to a network of business supporters. Prosper and more recently, Kiva Zip, make it possible for entrepreneurs and small business owners to secure peer-to-peer loans.
Pay-in-advance is another strategy for raising a little capital from a lot of people. Similar to the CSA concept where eaters pay a farmer in the spring for a season of vegetables, Slow Money has created a service called Credibles, specifically designed for small, sustainable food-related businesses, which enables supporters to pre-pay for goods and services.
With all of the crowdfunding sites out there (according to industry estimates there are currently over 500 active crowdfunding platforms!), how do you figure out the right option for you? To start, Inc Magazine has a great flow chart to help you find the best fit among 22 crowdfunding platforms and this Forbes.com blog post gives a quick break-down on the pros and cons of the top six crowdfunding sites.
A crowd-funding campaign is not only about getting the money you need for a small business start-up or expansion, it’s about the opportunity to grow your customer or client base. Through the crowd-funding process you are developing a community of ambassadors for your business—people who like your business or business idea, who support your campaign, and who will spread the word to their friends. The crowd-funding approach can strengthen your business in more ways than just your bottom line.
photo credit: Arkansas Community Foundation (http://www.arcf.org)