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Last time we looked at how bartering can turn unused assets into cash. This time, we’ll look at a prospective investor you likely never have considered.

How to turn your customers into investors

Will your customers invest in your expansion? If they appreciate your service and they get a good deal, why not?

Here’s an example. An East Coast bakery needed money for new kitchen equipment, but her bank — surprise, surprise — was no help. So she turned to her customers and got them to loan her the money. She called it Sweet Bonds.

Sweet Bonds were simply coupon booklets or gift certificates. In each booklet, a customer received $125 dollars worth of certificates which were good for a full year They cost $100, and they were a great deal for everyone. Think about it. Customers saved 20 percent. But the business owner was paid ahead of time.

True enough, you could say she was paying 25 percent interest. But the coupons were all based on regular, marked-up prices, so you could also say she was offering a promotional discount. Like other promotions, if the coupons brought customers into the store, they would actually increase business.

The cost of generating this investment was minimal: printing the booklets and preparing a simple sign at the counter which explained what Sweet Bonds were and how they worked.

TIP: If you’re intrigued by this idea, consider restricting the time of use. Have a number of coupons good for February, a bunch good for May, and so on. That way, they won’t all be redeemed at once.

The new product buy-in

Here’s another way to get customers to help finance your business.

A U.S. manufacturer financed a new product by approaching key customers during the development stage. The company identified customers who were influential in their various industries and approached top-level decision-makers at the companies with the product concept.

Before the product was even introduced, they had customers excited about the product, and they were set to bring in pre-production orders.

But the manufacturer took it even further. If a customer was ready to order, the manufacturer offered them a lower first time price if they paid 50 percent cash with the order.

It worked. Companies began buying in to get dibs on the product at a good price.

More ways to get your customers to invest

Offer customers paid memberships in a club, getting money up-front in return for perks down the road.

If you work in repairs or service, offer a service contract. Customers pay up-front for discounted service calls throughout the year. Parts are extra.

Getting customers involved at this level also helps strengthen your relationships with them.

The Small Business Funding Center grants permission to reproduce this article in its entirety only, with credit given to the Small Business Funding Center at

 For information on grants & loans for your new or existing business call 1-800-658-9792 . Or write us at Small Business Funding Centre 1500 Bank Street, Room 425, Ottawa Canada K1H 1B8 or e-mail us.

This Business article was written by The Small Business Funding Centre on 1/13/2006

The SBFC’s mandate is to help new and existing Canadian small businesses gain access to government funding: helping young entrepreneurs gain the knowledge and tools to get funding to help start-up their own practice. Coincidently, they also have an interesting and educational monthly newsletter/online database containing hundreds of articles related to various business topics and related issues.