Eloquent Numbers

A pro explains how a well-done financial statement can help turn a potential investor into your biggest backer

Raising money from outside investors is fundamentally an act of financial communication. Ultimately, success is a function of financial presentation skills. Here’s how to develop both historical financial statements and projections that speak to the needs of equity investors.

Entrepreneurs must first work through each line of the income statement and present a credible picture of the company’s future performance. Each line, of course, must be consistent in the context of all the others.

Estimating sales.

Given all of the importance laid upon earnings, it’s amazing how much attention is paid to revenue. After all, a company with $100 million in revenues and $101 million in expenses doesn’t have an ounce of value. Still, revenue is the starting point from which everything flows, so it’s got to be right.

Established companies have it all over upstarts because they have some historically proven algorithm to predict future sales. Even if they’ve never thought about it, it’s there. For instance, “historically, each salesperson generated 15 sales per month”; or, “each 30-minute infomercial generated 7,000 inquiries and 400 sales.”

If it’s historical and well-documented, it’s credible. However, where entrepreneurs go wrong in projected revenues is in suggesting a future performance that deviates significantly from the past record, a malaise that undermines the presentation. If your projected revenues are going to depart substantially from past experience, there needs to be a good reason why. Without a good reason, the projections aren’t credible.

For example, Dermaceutical Labs Inc. (DLI) of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was selling a line of skin-care products through direct-response television commercials. Historically, the company’s sales were 1.25 times its expenditures on media–a lot, but within industry norms. The name of the game was media buying. The more commercials the company could run, the more sales it could make. However, DLI’s projections made the assumption that the ratio going forward would be 1.50. Why? According to DLI founder and president Marvin Taylor, “Once the company was funded, we would develop a new series of infomercials with better production values that would feature a celebrity spokesperson. We were confident that with these improvements, our TV infomercials would pull much better.” Fair enough. At least 85% of Taylor’s assumed future performance was based on past experience.

Estimating sales for pre-revenue stage companies.

For companies that don’t have revenues, the act of projecting future sales is far more speculative than for companies with a track record. Fred Beste, a venture capitalist with NEPA Venture Funds, says, “It’s naive to simply start with baseline sales and apply a formula that increases them by 20% per year. It’s probably even more naive to suggest that the market is a certain size and that the penetration will increase a certain number of percentage points each year. The fact is, there’s nothing formulaic whatsoever about projecting future sales.”

The most effective sales projections for pre-revenue stage companies, he suggests, rely on some original market research or trial sales conducted by the founders. By doing so, the sales projections moves out of the realm of fantasy and starts moving

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