by Susan Milburn

While you may not see much similarity between your own small business and Facebook, the recent initial public offering of their shares does point to a few valuable lessons for any business. As small business owners, we may not need to worry about global media, the SEC or the New York Stock Exchange, but we do need to worry about our own stakeholders.

Managing the expectations of your investors, your banker or your venture capital financier becomes job one as you grow your company. Private companies have the luxury of looking longer term than publicly traded companies, but even if you have patient capital on your side, over-communicating and constantly re-visiting expectations creates a no-surprise environment. Your forecasts become critical pieces of the communication, as do the scenarios you build to create a series of expected results. Creating a range of expected outcomes will help your investors understand the variability in your business and take their focus away from a single result.

If you want your funding partners to stay invested and committed to your venture, they need to share your vision and view of the future. The only way they can acquire that vision is to hear it from you. Marrying passion with realism creates expectations that can be managed and communicated. The Facebook IPO allowed expectations to move outside of the control of the company and when it was all over, the company’s reputation suffered. Facebook can take the set-back, but for a start-up, the damage could be irreversible.

As you make your deal with a financing partner, you need input and control over the final financing package. Facebook depended on their underwriting partners to gauge the market interest, the pricing for their shares, and the size of the offering. Both the company and the underwriter allowed greed to influence their decision making and in the end, the investors paid the price. Investors with a poor investing experience seldom return to invest more money – publicly traded companies or start-ups are no different in this regard.

Leave something in the deal for the financing partner, for the investors and for the management team and owners. Once an imbalance is created between economic interests, the company’s operational decisions are biased to the desires of the partner with the strongest interest. If your company is unable to manage the expectations of that partner, you will see the control over your company’s future begin to melt away and blend with what may be the wrong partner.

To prevent being Facebook-ed, keep your funding partners close at hand, keep their expectations in line with the reality of your business, and don’t let greed override good business decisions. If you build a successful company, there will be enough for everyone.


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