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7 Things that every investor looks for in a winning proposal

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Prepping for your big pitch

There’s an unfortunate reality about getting a startup off the ground: having a promising idea simply isn’t enough to get you funded. If you want to gather the capital necessary to get your business operational, you need to have a good idea as well as a solid bank of statistics, plans, outlines, and documentation to support that idea. Though it would seem like many ideas simply “sell themselves,” this is almost never the case.

The prudence of investors

You’re going to be pitching to potential investors, so remember that investors aren’t looking to give money away for free; they need to get something out of this. This is a risky endeavor, and they need to be assured that this isn’t just a good idea, but that it’s also a practical one with a genuine potential return. That’s the entire reason behind the standard formatting of a “pitch deck,” which theoretically tells investors everything they want to know.

So what is it that investors want to see in a successful proposal?

Ingredients for success

These are the things investors want to see in a winning proposal:

  1. A unique value proposition (UVP). First and foremost, your idea needs a unique value proposition; something that explains exactly what the company does and why it’s valuable, not to mention why it’s different than everything else on the market. This is a strong lead-in for any investor, as most prospective investors will only give ideas a cursory glance before dismissing them or probing for more information. Your UVP will also be useful later down the line, when you’re convincing clients instead of investors to do business with you.
  2. A detailed financial model. Ideas are powerful conceptually, but investors are going to be putting real, countable money into your startup. You need to be able to quantify everything in a detailed financial model; explain how you came up with the exact figure you need to get started, and how that money’s going to be used. Figure out and explain your cost basis, your potential for profits, and how you expect to grow over the coming years. The more detailed you are, the better.
  3. Thorough market research. It’s easy to form a hypothesis about how your idea might sell in a specific target audience, but again, investors like to see numbers here. What is it about your demographics that make your business so necessary? What hard evidence do you have to support your hypothesis? Thorough market research shows you’ve done your homework, and adds a layer of validation to your idea.
  4. Acknowledgment of the competition. You aren’t the only business doing this; chances are, even if your specific niche is unfilled, there are related businesses doing something similar already in play. Ignoring these competitors is a glaring flaw investors will see in your pitch deck immediately, so be sure to list at least a handful of your toughest competitors and explain why your business has an advantage over them.
  5. A reputable leader. Companies may be based on ideas, but they’re built and supported by people. All businesses, no matter how good they are in theory, target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”need strong leadership if they’re going to survive. If you’re the one who’s going to make the decisions, you need to justify your acumen and experience, proving that you have what it takes to lead the business. Otherwise, you’ll need to find partners and employees with niche expertise who can compensate for your weaknesses.
  6. An expectation of return. This should be a part of your financial projections already, but make sure you have a specific callout for how you expect to return on your investors’ contributions. You’re asking them for a hefty sum of money, but what are you going to give back to them when you’re successful?
  7. Challenges and risks. Finally, your pitch deck shouldn’t all be blind optimism and pep talking. Be sure you include a section on the significant risks, challenges, and obstacles your business is going to face. This isn’t pretty, and it may not be fun to think about, but it’s a necessary admission for an all-around strong business plan.

If you can put together a pitch deck that addresses all seven of these items satisfactorily, you’ll be in a good position to convince any investor that your business is worth investing in. These are basic and practical factors that, when presented, show that you’re a competent entrepreneur and that your idea has real merit. The other benefit in including these factors is that they’ll force you to confront the weaknesses of your business early on—when you have time to correct them.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he’s not consulting, glued to a headset, he’s working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Finance

Easy tax calculator for freelancers that tend to wing it

(FINANCE NEWS) This tax calculator gives you an idea of what you should be holding back so tax day isn’t such a big surprise this time.

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The freelance checks are rolling and your income is adding up fast. Score!

Not so fast.

Your freelance checks are not taxed individually, but that doesn’t mean your income is tax-free. Whether you’re a full-time freelancer, part-timer, or just work on contract projects here and there, it’s important to know how much of your freelance income needs to go towards your tax bill.

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s a great time to review your project income and get an idea of what you may owe once taxes come due. Better to get a general idea now and start saving (if you haven’t already), than be blindsided when you fill out your tax forms.

To get a general idea of what you’ll owe, free tools such as The Freelance Project Tax Calculator can be helpful. This calculator, which is a collaboration between CPAs at Atribus Solutions and Sail, can be downloaded via email after submitting a request on the Sail website.

It’s compatible with Google Sheets and Excel, too, so use whichever spreadsheet program you prefer.

Whether you are completely self-employed or freelancing on the side, the Freelance Project Tax Calculator can help you determine the amount you should be saving for taxes. You’ll just have to share some general information about your filing status, location and projected income. It can also take project costs into account, allowing you to more accurately calculate net profit after deductions – and a good way to keep every aspect of each project organized.

If you are a freelancing newbie, toying with this calculator can also help you establish rates that allow your net income to be at the level you want (or need) it to be.

Now, keep in mind that this calculator provides rough estimates to get you started. If you want a more concrete number or in-depth financial advice, it’s time to find an accountant. But it never hurts to start planning ahead for tax expenses, and this tool can help you do just that.

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Business Finance

Should research papers remain behind a paywall or be fully accessible?

(FINANCE) Paywalls restrict 65% of research papers, but some argue it’s for good reasons. Others say the walls should come down.

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Paywalled research papers might be the current business model, but scientific research should be available to all, not just those who can pay for it.

In academia, published papers are part of the tenure process. You not only have to do research, publish papers, and hope that your work is cited in other research to get promoted.

Despite the notion that this research needs to be available to everyone, much of it is still behind a paywall. Josh Nicholson and Alberto Pepe estimated that about 65 percent of all cited papers are behind a paywall. Why is this important? They say it is because “some of the world’s most important scientific research is inaccessible from the majority of the world.”

A case for paywalls:
Publishing is big business. It takes a staff to manage a journal that publishes research. Essentially, someone has to pay. Most journals have chosen to charge the reader, because the alternative, charging the scientist for publication, is not a viable business model.

Publications that charge for access are generally considered more prestigious in academic circles. Thus, it’s safe to assume that the best research is published in paywalled journals. In my research for this article, I did learn that taxpayer-funded research through the NIH was supposed to be accessible to the public one year after it was published.

A case for open access:
Nicholson and Pepe averaged the cost of the paywalls at $32.33 for one access point. That is way too costly for a graduate student or an average individual (or journalist whose boss refuses to pay).

One key reason the internet was developed was to share research between scientists. Although universities often buy subscriptions to paywalled journals, most research is not accessible to the average person some four decades later. It’s been argued that research should be made public to hold scientists and the government accountable. Published research should be promptly and broadly disseminated, according to a policy statement made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Can the business model hold up?
The tide is slowly changing, but most say that it’s not quick enough. Some experts believe that the scientific publishing process is not a business model that can withstand the changing culture. I’m sympathetic to the publishers, but I’d like to see more scientific research available to individuals at a price point that makes sense.

It’s going to take a shift in attitude at many levels to see change. Scientists need to utilize open access journals. Universities need to change policies. Publishing journals need to look at their business model. The generation that wants change is not in a position to make that change, but in a few years, they may be.

We can only hope that they find a new process to allow everyone access.

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Business Finance

Square tests buying and selling bitcoin inside its payment app

(FINANCE NEWS) Cryptocurrency lovers rejoice, you can now buy, sell, and store bitcoin in your Square wallet.

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Recently, Square rolled out a special new feature to select users, allowing them to store bitcoin in-app. Square Cash started moving away from immediate transactions when the company released Cash Drawer in February of 2016, allowing users to stash currency in a digital wallet for later use.

Now, Square has dubbed some of its Cash users chosen ones, giving them the ability to buy, sell, and store bitcoin. Unlike Cash Drawer, users do not yet have the option to send bitcoin to others.

Those with the new feature can simply swipe right from the Cash Card page to buy and sell bitcoin – the screen also compares the current price of bitcoin against the U.S. dollar with a handy graph.

A Square spokesperson noted, “We’re exploring how Square can make this experience faster and easier, and have rolled out this feature to a small number of Cash app customers. We believe cryptocurrency can greatly impact the ability of individuals to participate in the global financial system and we’re excited to learn more here.”

Bitcoin is the most popular kid in school right now when it comes to rise in popularity. In January, the currency was valued at $1000 per unit, but is now flirting with the $10,000 milestone. Users that opted in to the new feature rejoiced on Twitter, making this a marketing plus for CEO Jack Dorsey who also heads Square.

However, not everyone is so optimistic.

This Monday, BTIG analyst Mark Palmer expressed concerns about Square Cash adding the bitcoin feature, noting it adds an unnecessary risk to users. Palmer downgraded Square from Neutral to Sell, setting a $30 target for the stock.

Other investors aren’t so keen on the volatile cryptocurrency making its way into Square. Mark Tepper, CEO of Strategic Wealth Partners, said in the long run, Square won’t be able to support bitcoin. “Square has a good track record of losing money, and there’s just no clear path to profitability in the near future,” Tepper noted on CNBC.

Despite these concerns, this cryptocurrency remains wildly popular. And Jack Dorsey has just made it significantly easier to people to purchase the cryptocurrency. Of course, investing in an unregulated market is risky, so if you’re one of the few with Square’s new bitcoin feature, proceed with caution. But also feel free to brag that you’re a chosen one.

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