Update from the author: we’ve updated the information about the stages of the investor pipeline to be current for 2023.
Getting your hands on the necessary funds to break into a market can be a bit daunting, especially when you’re at the early stages and you don’t have the traction to support your business vision. At these stages, many angel investors are just ordinary people who like to vote with their wallets and invest in things that matter to them.
At this stage, your networking skills are going to be imperative. Getting the best introduction can go a long way. But to get that far, you’ll need an organized list of all the prospects in your pipeline and a plan of what to do with them to move them along it.
We’ve got exactly what you need in this article. Coming up is a spreadsheet template you can modify to your needs. First, let’s look at why a fundraising pipeline is so useful in the first place, and what yours might involve.
Why you Need a Fundraising Pipeline and What it Might Look Like
The sources of your fundraising will determine the details of your pipeline. While this piece is specifically about investors, the pipeline for donors or customers is remarkably similar in many ways. Regardless of where you’re looking to get your funds, you’ll benefit strongly from understanding the concept of a pipeline, and how to build and map one.
A pipeline is essentially a funnel with a series of connected stages. Each stage is a means to lead investors in a single direction toward a goal. In the case of an investor pipeline, the goal is an investment, and the pipeline itself is a framework for identifying, qualifying, reaching out to, and nurturing your prospective investors to the point where your pitch will go down well and land you the perfect partner.
Organizing your efforts in this way greatly cuts down redundancy and disorganization by having a set plan and a visual overview of where people sit along the pipeline. This makes your networking efforts substantially more effective and should boost your chances not only of finding an investor, but finding the right investor and bringing them onto your side.
Many people use an investor pipeline spreadsheet to keep track of the stages of the investor pipeline, and we’re going to go into how to implement that shortly. First, let’s take a look at the basic stages of the pipeline itself. Your pipeline will begin with a research stage, and from there, it will contain prospects at any one of the following numerous stages:
- Qualifying – this is where you’re going to categorize the prospects you have lined up in your plan
- Reaching out – You’ll then have a strategy to follow when it comes to making first contact
- Follow-up – This is the stage responsible for keeping your connections warm after making them
- Nurturing – Here is where you’ll be building the relationship in preparation for your pitch
- The Ask – This is the end goal of the entire process: your pitch
From there, you’ll benefit from a review section that should help you hone your skills and improve the process.
If this doesn’t make a lot of sense just yet, don’t worry. We’re going to go over each of these stages and how to track them.
The Stages of the Investor Pipeline and the Spreadsheet Template
This framework is more or less the same for any fundraising pipeline, but the specific criteria you’ll be assessing and looking for will differ depending on the desired source of the funds. For an investor pipeline, let’s start by drafting a template for your spreadsheet.
This should have around 12 columns, with at least the following headings:
D: Primary Focus
E: Relevant Investments
F: Investment Amount (average)
G: Investments per year
J: Way in
K: Contact Details
This won’t look like much at first, but we’re going to show you how to pad it out at each stage of the pipeline as a way of using it as a template for each section. Here’s a summary of how that investor pipeline might look:
Before you go out and make first contact, it’s a good idea to have an image of the ideal investor in mind. This will depend on the stage your company. If you’re right at the start, you’ll possibly be looking for Angels, and if you’re in later rounds of funding, it’ll more likely be VC. Figure out what you need, and how much you need, and this will give you an insight into where and how to look for it.
There are many considerations to pay attention to at this stage, some of them are:
- Your geography – Angels are likely to prefer to contribute to causes closer to home
- How much you’re asking – this will tell you whether your prospects can afford to meet your needs
- How far along your business plan is – this will relate to your credibility as a company worthy of investment
You should have answers to all of these questions before you move to identify your prospects. The idea is to have an ideal investor profile, and match real-life prospects as close to that as possible.
This is another preparatory stage and will start to involve real people before they know you exist. Here’s where you begin to fill out your investor pipeline template too. Under column I: Status, you can either set yourself some categories to assign to prospects or if you only have a few contacts, you can list them individually with a note about how suitable they are.
Start filling out the other columns in the spreadsheet and rank these prospects in order of priority based on how well they match your ideal investor profile. Many of these data will come to you later, or change in response to other information you pick up along the way, so don’t worry about being too accurate yet, simply be sure to get the relevant information such as contact details, and whether you have a contact of your own who can make an introduction.
What you should be left with is an obvious shortlist of people to reach out to first. This is where the investor pipeline spreadsheet starts to show its worth, as you will automatically see the best-fit prospects float to the top of your priority list as you fill it in. Once you’ve selected your top two or three, it’s time to move to the next stage.
3. Reaching out
Your best-qualified prospects need to know that you exist, and if you’re only getting started in the industry, there’s a high chance they don’t, yet. From your research stages, you should have valuable information about what your prospects do, where they spend their time, and how you might be in with a chance at an introduction.
Your best bet is to find a contact who can introduce you. This is a powerful tool, as it immediately demonstrates to your prospect that someone they know vouches for you to some degree. Of course, this isn’t always easy, so there are other options.
Consider reaching out with a letter of intent, a request for a meeting, or a business lunch. Your approach should be tailored to your understanding of your prospective investor’s preference. Once you’ve started the ball rolling, you can fill out your status column again and bump the prospect to the next stage in your pipeline.
You should also put some comments in the final column about when and where and how you reached out. Perhaps consider assigning a timeframe to how long you’ll wait without a response before you chase them up.
If you managed to get an introduction off the bat, the next stage is to follow up after the meeting. If you’re sitting on tumbleweed and crickets waiting for a response, your follow-up stage needs to include gently pressing for a response. Let’s assume the former.
You shouldn’t leave the follow-up too long. Presumably, in your introduction, you stated who you are and what you do, and perhaps there was a request for more information or something your prospect said that you noted down to follow up later.
48h is about as long as you want to wait to return this info after the initial meeting, and this simple act is enough to strengthen the connection between your prospect and you and begin forming a relationship. If you leave it too long, you’ll lose the momentum of your first meeting, so try to avoid playing the game of ‘not looking desperate’ and leaving your prospect to lose interest.
If you don’t have a lot to say or to chase up, simply drop them a line to say thanks for the meeting and that you’d like to stay in touch. Again, this is a good time to update your spreadsheet to perhaps bump them up or down in priority, depending on how much of a match you felt they were in your introduction.
You may also have more information on their primary focus and portfolio by now. Set a reminder to reach out again when the time is right for the next stage of the pipeline.
This is the bridge stage between your introduction and your ask. You can of course go in all guns blazing and introduce yourself with a pitch. This might even be better when it comes to VC rounds, in that both you and the VC firm are likely to have a lot on their plate and might be less inclined to play the social game.
However, we’re going to assume you’re looking for individuals here, and you want a more personal relationship with your investor, and to make sure they have the expertise and inclination to share it with you in your journey.
Reaching out at the appropriate time will strengthen the relationship you’re forming with your prospective investors. The key is not to contact them only when you want something, but to at least check in occasionally just to say hi. If you can boost that check-in with some value, by all means, do that!
Value could look like introducing them to a contact who aligns with their interests, or perhaps sharing a piece of relevant information you stumbled upon, complete with your own insights. In short, you’re either connecting them with people they’d want to know or dropping knowledge they'd find valuable, along with your unique perspective on it.
You should during this stage of the pipeline, you’re cementing your priority prospects and you’re certain of the one or two you want to pitch your idea to. At this stage, your spreadsheet might not change much, only to remind you when the time comes to reach out.
6. The Ask
It’s safe to assume you know what this entails. Once you think your contact is hot enough, it’s important to find a concise and personable way to pitch your idea. You should start with the most qualified prospect and tailor your pitch to their preferences. This could be a proposal letter, or it could be a PowerPoint presentation.
Keep the message relatively short, and allow them to mull it over with the appropriate materials for them to read or view when they want to find out more. Make sure you’re ready to answer all their questions!
If you have snagged your ideal investor at this stage, you might not be very inclined to pay attention to the review part of the process. It’s worked, so you might be able to forget about it until the next round of funding.
If, however, issues arose along the way, or you failed to get a go-ahead despite your best work, it’s time to look at what went well and what didn’t and adjust the approach accordingly. Perhaps your spreadsheet needs more columns, or you need to fine-tune your categories. If you have a lot of contacts, it can be hard to keep track of them all and to remember where you left off, and a spreadsheet can only take you so far.
Dex is a personal CRM that is designed with all of this in mind. The platform consolidates your contacts into one platform, allowing you to keep tabs on where they are in your pipeline, what the nature of your last meeting was, and whether there are any upcoming significant dates that you should acknowledge for them.
Relevant email is automatically shown, and you'll also be notified when an investor changes titles. You can also set alerts based on last interaction of an investor, reminding you when it’s time to reach out and cultivate that relationship or nudge it along to the next stage.
Where to go from Here: Best Practices
You should be well on your way to grabbing and holding the attention of your perfect investor, but as a little bonus, we’re going to lay out three tips that can act as the best practices for networking with the intention of finding an investor.
Tip 1 – Don’t skip the planning phases
It can be tempting to jump in quickly, and in fact, you may even get lucky and pick up an ideal match right off the bat. Far more likely, however, is you’ll waste your time wooing the wrong people and get exhausted from all the rejections; or worse, end up financially obligated to someone who wants to take you in the wrong direction and offers no help whatsoever.
The planning stages of your pipeline save you countless wasted hours down the line and help guarantee you find the right person for you, so don’t scrimp on them!
Tip 2 – Be genuine
Throughout your journey, you’re going to be making financially-beneficial arrangements with people. Just try to remember that they are still people. Nobody likes to feel used, and if your eyes have dollar signs in them each time you reach out to someone, it’s going to be a turn-off.
Be real, be genuine, and form personal connections with the people you’ll be working with.
Tip 3 – Count your “No”s
Finally, if you’re going to lose, lose with dignity. You will be rejected, so brace for it. It can be disheartening to put in all the effort and come out with nothing, but if you consider the work you put in a valuable contribution to your skillset, you will never be left empty-handed.
Set a target for the number of rejections you expect per week, and make sure you hit it. Eventually, one of them will be a yes.
Having a robust pipeline to run a quick process in imperative to fundraising successfully for your company. Your pipeline may vary from this template, but usually, it’s unlikely to deviate from the process we outlined above. Adapt our structure to your needs, and modify it as you go, and you’ll be able to lean on it to find your ideal investor.
Remember that your prospects have their own needs, lives, and desires, and you are – at least initially – only a minute part of that. Keep this in mind, especially during the introductions, and you’ll minimize the annoyance factor.
With any luck, as you get out and work through the contacts in your pipeline, you’ll be developing a deeper understanding of how to network and a solid skillset of pitching that will prove invaluable throughout your career.