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Igniting the Crowd: How to Turn Up the Heat on Crowdfunding
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Igniting the Crowd: How to Turn Up the Heat on Crowdfunding

Editor's Note: The following comes to us from Shay Stewart, a business owner and entrepreneur who is currently raising money for a gelato shop called Leilani & Kalani on the crowdfunding platform ProHatch. Stewart is writing a series of pieces for detailing his crowdfunding journey and giving advice on how to create a solid business plan, an engaging campaign, and an appealing video to help draw the crowd to the campaign page. In this first part of the series, Stewart discusses how to prepare for the campaign, focusing on writing the business plan and choosing the appropriate funding platform. 

The race for capital seems more like tactical warfare in today’s chaotic capital markets and can be a mighty distraction to actually getting a business off the ground. As a business owner and entrepreneur, I’ve faced that battle many times, winning and losing, sometimes for no apparent reason. Now, entrepreneurs can improvise and create a high impact crowdfunding campaign, which can cause an immediate fireball to ensure their success, minus the freedom fighters, guerrilla warfare, and out­-of­-control spiraling costs.

There’s a monumental shift going on and it’s affecting the business world in a profound way. Capital raising for entrepreneurs in the new enterprise economy is changing because of crowdfunding.

Before stepping into the crowdfunding community, entrepreneurs must first understand a single basic: one of the most undervalued and underutilized tools in business and for new startups is (drum roll please)... the business plan.

I cannot stress enough of how imperative this single document is for any entrepreneur or enterprise wishing to operate in today's war-torn business climate. Without it, you are helpless and wounded well before you land onto the battlefield. Business plans are a prerequisite for running any new enterprise and starting any new crowdfunding campaign. They are designed for those with an inspired idea, who wish to translate it into a thriving enterprise and to gain access to finance – and crowdfunding is no different.

There are no hard and fast rules to a business plan’s length, but it should always be as short as possible, while meeting all of the needs of those who read it. The presentation of the final business plan is important, but, ultimately, the substance of the plan is the most crucial part. After many years of writing business plans for former clients, I decided to jump into the entrepreneurial space and journey down the yellow brick road of private enterprise. My business (Leilani & Kalani) aspires to be a top maker of artisan gelato in Honolulu, and the business plan describes the company's vision and objectives, as well as the strategy and tactics that will be employed to achieve them. This narcissist writer doesn’t mean to toot his own horn, but the Leilani & Kalani business plan nails it to the core, so feel free to use it as a guideline for very own business plan template; you can view it here.

A typical business plan takes about three months to complete (researching, writing, and the design) as it is a serious endeavor. As an entrepreneur, you can outsource the business plan for about $1,250 to $6,000, but I highly recommend that you personally conduct the research yourself (public libraries and the Internet should suffice), as this can save you thousands of dollars. I also recommend that you also put it together, as there are free online applications that offer collaborative editing on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more (Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive). Everything described above will consume a fair bit of your personal time, but not your personal income. Building any business, regardless of product or industry, is time consuming, including raising capital through crowdfunding.

Once your business plan is done, you have the option of creating a high-­end and glossy website. This may sound awfully complex, but with just a laptop in one hand, and a dash of ingenuity in the other, you can create a stunning website, or just a simple, yet beautiful landing page for your business with ease. The online service Squarespace is putting a lot of graphic designers out of work and rightfully so, as their free 14 day trial period is for everyone (no credit card required) and allows you to be a website builder extraordinaire. It is an elegant solution for “non-­techies” and makes anything and everything possible. The Leilani & Kalani website uses the “aviator” template by Squarespace and can be viewed right here. As an alternative, you can head to Edicy and Virb for customizable web themes, which also allows for easy and flawless website-building.

With your business plan and website (if you choose to create one) in place, the all-important next step is identifying the right crowdfunding platform that's right for you and your business. It pays to find the appropriate match for your business as all crowdfunding platforms are not a "one size fits all" concept. There is a vast array of business ideas out there, and the number of crowdfunding platforms available in today's marketplace is just as expansive.

After weeks of researching over five hundred platforms on, I decided on a crowdfunding platform called ProHatch. The founders of ProHatch had phoned me directly after I submitted my project summary to them (through their website). After speaking with co-founder Liz Kulik, I was overwhelmed by her business knowledge and savvy, and was convinced that Leilani & Kalani fits in sync with ProHatch’s business philosophy of transparency.

The added comfort of choosing the right platform for my business is that ProHatch is only one of two dozen or so platforms that is classified as an "accredited platform" through the Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards (CAPS) program initiated by that promotes the adoption of best practices for the operation of crowdfunding platforms globally. The accreditation program was basically designed to protect both crowdfunders (people pledging or investing capital) and fundraisers (people raising capital). As a lone entrepreneur, don't settle for any platform that is anything less than stellar, and make sure that you are more than comfortable with the joint working relationship between you and your selected platform.

Prior to starting Leilani & Kalani, Shay Stewart worked on the the foreign exchange market, which is by far the world’s most liquid financial market that trades $4 trillion a day and represents the largest asset class globally. Before working in the foreign exchange markets, Shay specialized in writing business plans for small-to-medium sized enterprises needing $1-10 million in financing; once completed, he would raise the capital needed for the enterprise to become a thriving success.

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  • Lance McNeill Lance McNeill Aug 01, 2013 01:19 pm GMT

    Excellent tips! Thank you for sharing!

  • Chas Salmore Chas Salmore Aug 01, 2013 07:27 pm GMT

    Are there any turnkey marketing, advertising and promotional companies in the crowdfunding industry who can provide other services beyond business plans? Services such as social-media, PR, fulfillment of rewards, investor relations, etc?

  • Guest Shay Stewart Aug 02, 2013 02:48 am GMT

    No problems Lance, glad that you enjoyed.

    In regards to your comments Chas, there are firms in the crowdfunding industry that provides other services, but they are consultants (mainly) and their prices do not come cheap, just to let you know. They will create a campaign for you, but you pay top dollar. Hope that helps.

  • Guest Ricardo G Aug 07, 2013 08:10 pm GMT

    Very good tips and info! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  • Guest Shay Stewart Aug 11, 2013 10:51 pm GMT

    Anytime Ricardo G.....the pleasure was all mine.

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