Dragons’ Den has done a disservice to many budding entrepreneurs. The programme’s premise, that a well-presented idea and some encouraging figures will be enough to loosen the purse-strings of potential investors, just doesn’t represent of the world that most startups find themselves in.
When your savings, and the money that friends and family have trusted to you, have taken your business through its baby steps, getting in front of a potential investor can be hard. No matter how great your idea, to persuade people to consider handing cash over to you, you need them to notice you, understand your idea, and believe that you’ve got what it takes to build your business. A good PR strategy will help with all three.
1. Getting noticed
There is sometimes an understandable reluctance among founders to discuss their big idea publicly. If patents are involved, you may feel that it’s best to wait until these are secured before you risk talking about your business in the mainstream media – or even on social media. There are cases – particularly in the early stages of tech products – where it really is best to keep quiet, but mostly, our advice would be to get out there and talk about it. Patents can take months, and sometimes years, to be granted, and in the meantime, another business with a similar idea may be out there grabbing the limelight – and the investment.
The process of getting your company noticed doesn’t just mean media attention. There are many channels which help you reach the right audience. When win your first major customer, make a significant appointment or finally secure that patent, telling your stakeholders about it is important, even if it isn’t chosen as the FT’s article of the week. You can still tell your team, your customers, and your potential investors about it, whether you deliver the information in an email, a social media post or in the local or trade media. The important thing at this stage is just getting the word out.
2. Communicating your idea
It’s surprising how many websites leave the casual visitor none the wiser about what the company actually does. Before you start any outbound communication, take a step back and look at what it is you want to say. We’d always recommend engaging a third party to help with this – when you are too close to your subject it’s impossible to understand how someone else may not instantly grasp what you’re offering! Analyse each of your audiences – what problem are you solving from them? Why should they want to hear from you rather than someone else? What will their doubts be? How will you overcome these? Only when you’ve sorted out all of your messages for each audience should you write your web copy, marketing email, social media post or news release.
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And the language you use matters enormously. Every area of business has its own jargon but you need to be able to speak in a way that can be understood by all. Your potential investors may not be experts in the intricacies of your product, so explain why your idea is so great in simple language that actually describes what you do. Variations on the phrase “passionate about creating value” just won’t do the trick.
3. Building credibility
This is where the media relations part of PR really comes into its own. However cynical we may feel about the media, we still take an individual more seriously if we see them quoted in print or hear them interviewed on the radio. It’s not an entirely logical response, but it’s true. One of the most important factors for investors is the team of people who will be responsible for a startup’s success, so ensuring that your key people have a media profile can be fundamental in reassuring them that you know what you’re doing.
Investors will also believe in a company’s success far more if they see a journalist taking it seriously – the simple fact that this information is coming from a third party, who is perceived to be at least relatively neutral, rather than from the company itself, has a direct impact on people’s inclination to believe it. And when a Google search on your company name brings up a host of positive articles about you, that won’t do you any harm either.
And finally, you may be a shy and retiring individual in spite of being an entrepreneur, but our advice is to find ways to put yourself forward nonetheless. If you enjoy public speaking, look for opportunities to present at conferences and events. If you prefer writing, make sure you are offering your valuable opinions or useful tips for customers on your LinkedIn profile or your blog. Building a profile for yourself and your business can be time-consuming, but if you want investors to believe in you, it’s well worth the effort.