1. Be strategic. With an understanding that they needed to cast a wide net of potential donors for a round of funding, engineers and Georgia Tech grads Candace Mitchell, 26, Jess Watson, 23, Joy Buolamwini, 24, and Chanel Martin, 29, cultivated an e-mail list of about 3,000 names from all the people they met at hair shows and other industry events to raise $25,000 in a successful crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com. It helped them launch their Atlanta-based start-up, Techturized, to provide a high-tech way for Black women to purchase hair products, share reviews and offer advice in one place.
2. Build social media clout. Solicit Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn connections and e-mail list subscribers for donations to get supporters to spread the word.
3. Tell an engaging story. Share facts and figures as well as highlights about your business, products and vision. Use a video presentation to engage your audience and elicit an emotional connection.
4. Polish your pitch. Be succinct and to the point, advises Mitchell. "Offer core facts that prove your business model. Part of pitching is understanding what makes your audience interested. It's also about key business objectives like how much money you can make in this market."
5. Test your business concept. "We interviewed more than 1,000 women to understand the root cause behind their frustrating hair experiences and why they spent so much money on their hair," notes Mitchell, referring to developing their business as part of the start-up accelerator program called Flashpoint at Georgia Tech. Mentors guide the sessions and participants showcase their ideas to investors in Atlanta, New York City and the Bay Area. As a result of their success in the program, the tech stars won $35,000 in seed money.
6. Highlight testimonials. Ask clients to refer influencers who can endorse your company through a short video testimonial or brief message.
7. Create marketing buzz. Rally people around your crowdfunding campaign by hosting a launch party. There, you can show a prototype, explain how it works and share why it's the next big thing.
8. Offer something valuable. Provide a variety of products, rewards and perks valued at $5 to $1,000 that are worth something to your audience. It keeps them excited and coming back for more.
9. Let them invest. Consider investment-based crowdfunding sites like bolstr.com, which lets individuals make actual investments in a business in return for regular payouts over a set period of time based upon a small percentage of that business's revenues.
10. Stay in touch. Interact with your audience and supporters through frequent updates, thank-you e-mails, and social media commentary. Make people feel as if they are part of the experience.
This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of ESSENCE magazine.