Free 800 Numbers for Entrepreneurs: Techniques to Hit the Venture Capital Circuit with Panache
According to Forbes, approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month in the United States. Numbers from the Texas Technology Development Center indicate that of those new companies, a mere 50,000 per year qualify for investment capital.
Entrepreneurs who don’t understand what investors are looking for will get shut out of the race for funding. But those who know how to position their startup to meet investor criteria will be far more likely to attract venture capital.
So what can entrepreneurs do to make their startups appealing to investors?
Begin By Branding
When you present to VCs, it’s important to have a firm grasp on what you are and are not selling. You are not simply selling your product or your assets. You are, however, selling your vision for your company, your plan for the future, and a business partnership. Your pitch isn’t only about what you produce. It’s about your team, your customers, and how you plan on growing and serving the marketplace.
Startups often believe the strength of their product will be enough to make them successful. But when you’re the new kid on the block, nobody knows you. If people don’t know you they won’t trust you. It’s critical to position your company so that you can outshine your competition. Branding may not feel like a priority in the early stages of your startup, but even if you don’t have competitors and imitators now, you will. Just ask the founders of Groupon.
Branding isn’t about a logo, a slogan, or a slick marketing campaign. Branding is about conveying the message and personality of your company. What makes your business tick? What motivates the company to succeed? What problem does the brand solve for customers? Why will customers choose you over your competitors?
If you develop a strong brand message and your products and customer experience hold up to your messaging, you give people a reason to come back for more. If you can communicate your brand identity, not just the features and benefits of your products to VCs, you’ll put yourself in a class above most entrepreneurs who don’t put time and energy into branding.
Develop a Wide Reach, Even if You Work Out of Starbucks
The idea ofthe “lean” startup has taken off over the last several years. Most new businesses aren’t made up of teams of 50 or 100 people. A startup can get going with an idea, a little bit of cash, and just one or two team members.
Lean startups don’t broadcast to the world that they are small. In order to compete with well-established brands, small startups have to convey the image that they, too, have national or international reach. One way to create this image is through the strategic use of 800 numbers.
You don’t need a landline in order to have an 800 number, and you don’t have to go through a large carrier to get great service. Tech companies purchase blocks of numbers that they connect to hard lines. They are then able to issue those numbers to their customers over data lines for a reasonable fee.
It is vitally important for entrepreneurs to create the appearance — at least to customers and to competitors — that they are a large, stable firm. Virtual 800 numbers can be customized with add-on technology that does just that. Custom greetings can be recorded, and call queues can be set up for customer service lines, even if your CEO is your only customer service rep.
And 800 numbers can even help you create an international presence for your business. If you live and work in Chicago, but you wish to build a customer base in London, you can set up an 800 number for residents of Great Britain. This allows prospective customers to reach out to you free of charge from across the ocean.
With an 800 number you can achieve a high level of customer service, tending to calls whether you are at your desk or not. And customer service is a critical piece of the branding puzzle. Staying on top of small details can make a big difference when pitching to VCs. Some entrepreneurs are so focused on developing their product that they don’t think about how a simple telephone number can change their business for the better. When a startup has the foresight to focus on serving their customers, VCs will be more likely to sit up and take notice.
Keep Lean With the Cloud
A single, central office space has become optional for entrepreneurs. Many startup CEOs and their partners work from different cities or even different states. There was a time when separate locations could only connect through expensive networking systems, but cloud computing has made it possible for an entrepreneur in New York to work closely with partners in California without adding to the bottom line.
Your startup doesn’t need to purchase massive servers or expensive cloud computing packages to get started. In order to keep costs down, many entrepreneurs make use of Google Drive, which is free for regular Gmail accounts and $50 a year for Google Apps customers. Dropbox is another cloud program which is accessible from any computer or mobile device and offers free storage for up to 16 gigabytes. Pro and business accounts are available on Dropbox for $10 and $15 per month. Microsoft Office has even hopped on the cloud. Office 365 allows companies to connect and store data on the cloud for $99 a year.
These affordable cloud services help keep costs down in the early stages of the business. By connecting through the cloud, a startup can remain lean yet profitable, even in its infancy. VCs don’t want to invest in companies that come to the table with massive debt, and integrating custom networks can be a huge expense. By staying efficient in your startup phase, your balance sheet won’t be red when it’s time to pitch investors.
Start Small, Look BIG
Vying for venture capital isn’t for the unprepared entrepreneur. When presenting to potential investors, it is not enough to have a great product. Your company must be positioned to survive in the long run, or your pitch will fall on deaf ears. By creating a strong and consistent brand, keeping overhead and expenses lean, and utilizing the cloud and 800 numbers to create the image of national or global reach, your startup will be in a much better position to attract investment capital.