Friday, April 19, 2013

Speed Dating for Business: Meet the Lenders!

Creative commons licensed image from Flickr user 401(K) 2013.

Call it speed dating for lenders and business owners. These events are popping up around the country, and one will be held in the Bangor, Maine area April 30.

The format of the event is similar to speed dating in that you get to meet with several vendors one-on-one. The goal is to spark relationships among entrepreneurs and financial organizations. Entrepreneurs have a chance to move from table to table to pitch a business idea, receive information about technology research funds, or meet with people who have expertise in business planning. Each meeting will last about 15-20 minutes and will give entrepreneurs a chance to pitch an idea and receive feedback.

If you plan to attend this event, you need to prepare your strategy.

Before you go… 

Keep in mind that each session is limited, so you want to spend the most time listening to feedback about your idea or what the lender has to offer, not explaining your idea.

If you have an idea, but not a fully developed business plan… 

If you have an idea, but have not developed a business plan yet, this event is perfect for testing your idea without a lot of up-front work. You might plan to visit 1-2 lenders, a group that helps with business plan writing, and if your idea includes technology or research, you might visit a tech-investment start-up initiative.

If you have a business plan… 

If you have a business plan already, still make sure your short pitch is up to speed. Everyone needs an “elevator pitch.” You can read more about how to develop this pitch, but generally, you want the pitch to be short, memorable, and repeatable. You want people to understand what you say the first time they hear it. This is more difficult than it seems when working with emerging ideas or technologies. Bring copies of your business plan to leave with interested vendors, who won’t have time to go over the details at that time, but can take the plan and look it over later.

Strategize as the event...

In regular speed dating, participants get to secretly identify the people they would like to meet again. Meet the Lenders attendees do not get this opportunity. Instead, you will receive one of three messages from each vendor you meet: a green light, yellow light, or red light message. Watch for these messages so you can strategize your next move while you’re still at the event.

Green Light: If you get a good vibe from the lender, try to set up a follow-up meeting and find out what you need to do before that meeting. If you need to add detail your business plan, pick up some materials or make an appointment with helper agencies before you leave the event.

Yellow Light: If the vendor gives you a sense that your idea or business plan needs more development, be sure to stop by the tables of organizations that help develop these plans, such as SCORE or SBDC.

Red Light: If the lenders give immediate feedback that your idea is not viable, decide how to use that feedback: Move on to the next lender, rethink your idea, or decide to work with SCORE or SBDC to develop your idea.

What to Bring… 

Bring several copies of your business plan and your business card. Consider writing on your business card what you hope to achieve: “Want to hire six more employees and expand my service area," to help you stand out.

Good luck!

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