Running a small business requires a constant and considerable flow of capital; and getting a small business idea off the ground requires just as much (if not more). While there are several kinds of financing geared toward sustaining and expanding small businesses, another option to consider when looking for capital is taking on private investors. Private investors can come in many forms but most frequently operate as venture capital firms or seed funds, also known as angel funds. But not all private funding falls into those two categories. In truth, private funding encompasses all non-bank and non-financing routes for getting capital into your business from a third party. Today, we are specifically addressing the potential pros and cons of accepting investments from private persons into an existing business.
Pro: Let Your Business (Not Your Credit) Speak for Itself
Convincing a private investor to support your business is a completely different process than if you were to seek funding at a bank or online financing company. While banks and all secured financial institutions blanketly require seeing your credit score, and frequently your entire financial history, private investors are often interested in different elements of your business. Specifically, private investors want to be certain their money will make them (and you) more money and that you, the business owner, are a reliable mast with which they can knot their sail.
Working with investors gives you the freedom to sell yourself and your business on the merits which truly excite you; the best investors will match your excitement and see that as a reason to trust your business. Private investors are a great source of capital, then, for newer businesses with a shorter credit history or businesses that can meaningly convey their plans to expand and make investors’ money expand as well; banks and financial institutions don’t get excited for your business’s growth in the same way an investor might.
Con: Investors Expect Influence in Your Business
A private investor, especially one making a major contribution, can want a decision-making seat at the table of your business. This is something all publicly traded companies deal with regularly; but in the case of small businesses the investor and business owner relationship can play out in many ways. At the very least, investors will anticipate that their input and ideas will be genuinely considered and that they will have a legitimate outlet to voice them.
As a small business transfers into the space of equity and investment, it can feel unnatural to become beholden to investors after having truly been your own boss, as many small business owners will attest that the freedom of making your business’s decisions is one of the high points of running your own operation. Taking on investors is both a structural and emotional changing for a business and a business owner
Pro: Private Investments aren’t Always Paid Back Like a Loan
When a private investor puts money out on your business, they are the one taking in the risk. Very often, an investor’s capital is paid back to them in the same way you would pay back a loan. While there are examples of “investment loans” in which the business owner pays back private investors their principal plus interest, those are much less common compared to equity investments. In cases of equity investments, the business owner exchanges the investor’s capital for a negotiated stake in your company with which they then receive a proportional amount of your company’s profits as you earn them.
Consider as well that if your business fails or is bought out, you can’t default on an investment. That investor’s bet on your business has no protection; as the equity value of your business fluctuates, as does the value of that investor’s initial capital.
Con: Unlikely to Benefit Smaller, Local Businesses
Private investors and venture capital firms are large, capital-heavy forces. Private investors also have an understandable interest in making money. They are most frequently attracted to businesses with a wide reach and near-certain potential to grow in a significant way. If you are, for example, a construction firm servicing the greater New England area with no interest in expansion or going national, it is unlikely you will find private investors lining up at your door. This isn’t because our hypothetical business isn’t successful, it’s because that business’s success and continued revenue doesn’t offer extraordinary growth for investors’ capital. Investors want a bomb primed to blow, or more specifically, a bomb primed to blow their investment sky-high. Private investors prize ambition and potential above all else, and it is essential to understand that not all small businesses are likely the right partner for private investors.
Every small business can’t reinvent the wheel, nor does every small business have massive or international ambitions for expansion. But this borders on common sense; businesses who are actively seeking investors likely already have a firm list of reasons why. Private investors aren’t backing every one-location pizzeria and bodega in America, but those pizzerias and bodega who see bigger, equity-based futures for their business may have a different story.
Pro: Trusted Investors Can Become Valuable Partners
A private investor willing to take equity in your company likely both believes in your mission and has existing industry expertise with which they found your business a suitable partner. Your investors have just as much interest in the success of your business as you do; being that your financial success also means financial success for them. You and your investors (especially in the small business space) are likely to become close partners in managing big-picture projects. Adding experienced and educated voices to the large decisions in your business can only be a good thing.
What this section and others before it has hinted at is that taking on investors is as much your decision as it is the decision of the investor. Being that your investors will – in a way – represent your business, you have every right to decide who will become your partner through private investment. Being that your small business likely isn’t on the open market, you have the final say as to whose venture capital funding you want to take on. If an investor or team doesn’t seem like the right fit, you have every right to keep looking.
Invest in Your Business. One Way, or Another
Private investors likely aren’t the right match for many true small businesses but in those cases where small businesses see themselves becoming medium-to-large companies in the future, convincing private investors that your plans are feasible may just be the next step in your business journey. No matter if your business is right for private investors or not, the mentality and presentability that attracts investors is attractive and healthy for any and all businesses. Show your ambition and make detailed plans for the future of your business if not for private investors, perhaps for yourself and your most trusted staff. The good practices that come with attracting investors are in no way restricted to businesses on that certain path. Invest in your business’s future, one way or another.