While we’ve previously outlined why “special situation mentors or advisors” may be better than an advisory board, some small businesses see the benefits of having a permanent board of advisors — for example, the continuity of service gives advisors more context and understanding of the small business. An informal group of professionals can provide strategic direction during periods of change, add to skills and expertise that may be lacking in house, and even be a source of referrals. Here’s how to get started putting together an advisory board for you small business.
Identify your specific needs
Focus on the challenges your business is facing that seasoned advisers can help you navigate. At different phases in your business’ life, your needs will change. A period of growth? Facing a new competitive challenge? Different opportunities or challenges can mean different types of advisors.
There’s no right or wrong number of advisers to have, but it’s more manageable to start small. A good place to start? Three advisers at first, and then add to the board as it gets off the ground.
Find the right people
To staff your advisory board, talk to mentors, former colleagues or local business leaders. Even if they’re not willing to be on the advisory board, they might know someone who is. Interview candidates as you would a job applicant, making sure they understand and agree with the overall direction of your company and have the experience needed to help you navigate whatever challenge you’re facing.
While you may find friends who will volunteer their time, if possible provide some form of compensation for service. Start up companies sometime set aside a small amount of stock options for advisors, for example. As they say, you pay for what you get.
Your advisory board members are providing valuable time, so make sure you’re not wasting it. Plan on meeting no more than quarterly. Before meeting, communicate with your advisers what the objectives of the meeting are and make sure they have all of the supporting information or documentation beforehand.
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