Financing a business has traditionally meant asking a few people for large sums of money. Crowdfunding – one of the most talked-about funding channels in recent years - turns this idea on its head by enabling businesses to use the Internet to ask a multitude of potential funders for defined, comparatively small amounts of money.
The question of how to fund and share profit more creatively was hotly debated at this year's Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network 2013 event. Speaking at a pre-conference workshop on accessing capital, Springboard Enterprises president Amy Millman stressed the importance of getting the right source of credit, suggesting that crowdsourcing can provide an innovative means of becoming a more social, community brand in opening a company up to a broader and younger pool of shareholders.
And with funding options drastically reduced in the wake of the global banking crisis, small businesses are jumping at the chance to get their finance from ordinary people: the crowd. But with little regulation, is this young credit market really a safe and viable option for businesses looking to meet their growth ambitions?
Crowdfunding essentially means asking a crowd of people for a fixed amount of money for a business venture or specific project in exchange for a reward. As a relatively new market, the credibility and stability of crowdfunding needs strengthening - something increased regulation will help bring about.
Currently, just a limited number of platforms are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, meaning many crowdfunding companies are handling transactions without adequate protection – even if the UK Crowdfunding Association has a practice code in place to protect those involved. Few sites can ensure an investor won't lose money in the event of the platform collapsing.
Ensuring potential investors have as much information as possible about a start-up is essential for informed decisions. That's why any business looking for funding via these channels must be totally clear about why they need the investment, how it will be used, and how much they need to reach their growth and profit targets.
Unlike traditional pitching, potential investors are unlikely to have met the start-up, so must be made to feel part of the success story. A company needs to tie-in their crowdsourcing outreach with a social and media engagement strategy. Of course, the nature of both social media and crowdfunding means that entrepreneurs must be ready to receive feedback – both the good and bad – in a very public domain.
Ultimately, any business looking to raise funding through crowdfunding must do their due diligence before diving into these still largely untested waters. Not all crowdfunding platforms will be appropriate for the business or project in hand, so research is essential.
And it's not for the faint-of-heart. It can be a lot of work to kick-start and maintain the momentum that will see a project through to its desired end. But crowdfunding can also provide a start-up with unique exposure and feedback from those who matter most – your target audience of 'ordinary' people.
Blog supplied by Sarah Shields, executive director and GM, consumer, small and medium enterprise, Dell UK.