Board meeting

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What to Consider When Forming a Board of Advisors

By Jennifer Ehlen

May 29, 2018 - 11:30 am

No matter how supportive your family and friends are, they might not always be the best people to go to for the advice or skills you need to grow your business. And if you’re a solo entrepreneur you might not even realize that you’re missing out on the experiences, feedback, and skills others can bring to the table. Entrepreneurs can get stuck in an “I can do it all” mentality, but we all need outside opinions to help us grow. A great way to do this is by seeking the help of a board of advisors.

Cultivating a board of advisors can provide the outside perspective and counsel you need to learn, grow, and succeed.  Advisors connect you with resources and help you gather information, which will lower your risk as you’re making important decisions. They help you broaden your perspective and lend an unbiased eye to what you’re facing (which is tough for friends and family!)  An additional perk is the mental and even emotional support a board of advisors can offer.  They’ve been there and done that when it comes to entrepreneurial challenges and will understand your journey in a way that your social circle might not be able to.

There are formal programs that offer advisory groups for entrepreneurs, but you can also cultivate your own board of advisors based on the type of support you are seeking.  And if you realize that you must stretch your network a bit to find the experts you need, that’s never a bad thing.

Consider the following when building and managing your board of advisors:

Think about expertise. You should recruit and select advisors based on their skills and experience. To do this well, you must identify your weaknesses and know what you need.  If you find you are confused about using technology to scale your business, look for someone who has that skill set specifically.  If you’re struggling with manufacturing and distribution, seek out someone with that expertise.  Early entrepreneurs might be tempted to accept help just because it is offered.  Knowing what you need and targeting your search will allow you to bring the right people on board.

Ask around. The knowledge you need might not be in your immediate network.  Don’t be afraid to ask around, an ideal advisor might be one connection away.  Reaching outside your own network has the important benefit of adding diversity to your board of advisors – seek counsel from people who don’t look like you, think like you, or have the same experiences that you do.

Set clear expectations. Think about what you’d like your advisors to bring to the table and let them know from the get-go. Be clear about how often you’ll meet, for how long and what you’ll discuss. Setting expectations early will help everyone feel useful and productive.

Build trust. The best advisors should challenge you. Yes, you’ll be sharing business information with them, so confidentiality is important.  But you’ll also be asking them to speak to your business in a way that is not always be comfortable. They might offer negative feedback on a product you’ve fallen in love with.  Or, they might push you to grow faster than you thought you could. 

Solicit real feedback. How often have you heard “that sounds exciting, great job!” from a kind friend or family member regarding your business? Advisors are there to offer real feedback, even if it’s not always what you want to hear.  Create a situation where all feedback is welcome, and don’t bristle or act defensively when your advisors offer it.  After all, that’s what you asked them to do.

Maintain the relationship. Like any good relationship, proper maintenance is key! Make sure you’re meeting regularly, offering frequent updates, and showing gratitude for their help.  Some advisors will be with you for a single challenge and some for much longer.  Open communication is key for a fruitful relationship, and you are in charge of setting the tone.

A board of advisors can help you overcome obstacles, connect with resources, and scale your business.  They can also offer a sounding board during tough times, normalize your experiences as an entrepreneur, and help you celebrate your hard-earned successes.  And once you gather a team of advisors around you, you’ll realize that you can do it all, but are better and stronger with a solid support system.

Content sponsored by PNC Bank