Any business with ambition will find itself talking to an investment bank sooner or later. But while your business is like a child to you, to the bankers, it may as well be a one-night stand. That's the stereotype, anyway. So how should you approach an i-bank in a way that protects your interests and avoids the counterproductive paranoia?
1. Bring backup. Investment banks are supposed to advise you on big deals, so it may seem redundant to hire an adviser to work with them. Still, it's a good idea. In the last decade, Paul Rich, a New York City-based CPA and business adviser for the accounting firm Rothstein Kass, has served as a liaison between 50 small businesses and their bankers. He bills up to $400 an hour for his advice, which is a lot. On the other hand, getting fleeced can be so much worse.
2. Present a united front. All it takes is one dissident to ruin a deal. Before you go to a bank, make sure all the stakeholders are in agreement on the amount of capital the company is looking to raise and what percentage of the company they are willing to give up. This is especially key for family businesses, Rich says.
3. Don't let a deal take on a life of its own. Capital is expensive, and yet companies often overindulge without a good spending plan in place. Investment banks have little incentive to persuade clients to hold off. For that very reason, Rich advises many clients to refrain from hiring an investment banker until they've exhausted all the resources of their conventional bank first. The best time to talk to an i-banker is when you've decided to sell, Rich adds: "That's what they do best."