Crowdfunding!

Among the many small business CEO requests for help in finding funding for their business, the question of “crowdfunding” continues to be raised for information help.  Our network of SCORE mentors has given some good help.  I share some of their suggestions in this column.

There are multiple ways for a small start-up business to secure the funding it needs to get off the ground. Crowdfunding has shifted the funding landscape and allowed businesses to secure start-up costs from a community of supporters rather than from a single lender. Here are the dos and don’ts of crowdfunding with tips for how you can successfully crowdfund your way to launch day.

Securing startup funding can be a barrier for entrepreneurs trying to get a new business off the ground

For many owners, the idea of asking a bank or single lender for thousands or even millions of dollars adds an entirely new layer of stress on top of the already overwhelming task of launching a business. It’s also not an easy process. Proving to a lender that your idea is worth his or her investment is rarely an easy sell. For all these reasons, more and more entrepreneurs in recent years have shifted from traditional funding to crowdfunding to get the money they need to bring their product or service to market.

Crowdfunding has changed the rules of startup financing and opened up a new pool of capital for entrepreneurs.  Crowdfunding has shifted startup fundraising from a single lender model to a collective virtual effort, giving a startup financial support while instantly introducing the business to potential customers.

According to SCORE mentor and Portland Maine business attorney Chris Dargie, crowdfunding has rapidly become an accepted way to raise capital for small businesses.

“Traditionally, companies raised capital by issuing debt or equity,” said Dargie. “Rewards-based crowdfunding introduced a completely new alternative. The model has shown that the public is willing to contribute capital to worthy projects without any expectation of future profit, which is quite revolutionary.”

There’s a right way and a wrong way to crowdfund

While crowdfunding is a great way to finance your startup, it’s not a silver bullet. According to Dargie, there is a right way to approach this type of funding. Here are his suggested Dos and Don’ts of crowdfunding.

Do:

  • Understand the Different Types of Funding.  There are three primary types of crowdfunding, each with different goals and risks.

  • Rewards-Based Crowdfunding.  Asking your backers for capital in return for an incentive.
  • Equity Crowdfunding.  Giving away equity in exchange for capital.
  • Peer-to-Peer Lending.  Taking on debt that you’re legally obligated to pay back.

Before you get started, you need to have a full understanding of the type of funding you’re looking for and the amount of risk you’re willing to assume.

  • Select the Right Crowdfunding Platform. 

Don’t automatically select the platform you’re most familiar with. Each crowdfunding platform is set up to serve a different purpose and audience, so choose the one that fits best with your business type and goal.

Some of the most commonly-used crowdfunding platforms out there include:

  • Kickstarter – the big name in crowdfunding for tech and creative entrepreneurs
  • GoFundMe – the best for personal fundraising
  • Indiegogo – great for tech startups and community projects
  • Causes – built for non-profits
  • Patreon – great for creatives and designers
  • CircleUp – ideal for equity funding for consumer brands
  • LendingClub – a go-to for business loans
  • Fulfill Your Obligation to Crowdfunding Lenders After Your Launch. 

As crowdfunding has grown as a serious startup funding option, so has the attention of government consumer protection bureaus towards these platforms. Deceptive crowdfunding campaigns are quickly shut down and fined. Know the rules and play by them so you don’t find yourself fighting a legal battle while trying to get your business off the ground.

Don’t:

  • Fail to Manage Expectations.  Delays in business are inevitable, especially for a startup. When you’re promising a product by a certain timeframe during a crowdfunding campaign, don’t overpromise. Manage the expectations of your backers by keeping them in the loop as your business progresses and set realistic timelines along the way.
  • Launch a Crowdfunding Campaign Before You’ve Formed an Entity.  You need to legally form your business entity before you begin your crowdfunding campaign. Dargie added, “You don’t want to be left holding the bag personally if your business has spent all the money on development and has nothing to show for it at the end, and the backers want their money back.”
  • Forget to Pay Taxes on Funds Raised.  Rewards-based campaigns bring in cash typically viewed by the IRS as taxable business income. For this reason, Dargie advises businesses to consult with their tax advisors before beginning any crowdfunding campaign so you know you’re covered before you begin.

Crowdfunding is a great way for entrepreneurs to get their businesses launched fast without relying on a bank or single lender. Like any means of fundraising, though, it comes with its own risks and hurdles. Do your research and consult other professionals who have been through the process, like a SCORE mentor.

About the Author(s)

Dean Swanson

Dean is a Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE Chapter Chair, District Director, and Regional Vice President for the North West Region, and has developed and managed many businesses. The Rochester Post Bulletin publishes his weekly article on a topic geared toward the small business community. The articles here are printed in their entirety.

Certified SCORE Mentor for the Southeast Minnesota Chapter
Crowdfunding Dos and Don’ts for Small Businesses