Starting an Advisory Board for Small Business

By: Mike Cavanaugh

Small business owners often take on an “Us against the world” mentality which fuels much of their success. However, even the best entrepreneurial leader needs someone in his/her corner. If you have not considered it, you may want to think about creating an Advisory Board to expand your expertise and overall reach. While there is little risk involved in having an Advisory Board, there are a few necessities to take into consideration so that it provides some worth and does not waste anybody’s time.

Who to Include
For an Advisory Board to be truly effective, there needs to be a strong bond of trust between the business owner and all members of the board. It is recommended that one reaches outside of their group of close friends and family in order to get the most out of the board. The other key aspect of the board is to limit the numbers to 3 to 5 people.

The council should be comprised of people from different backgrounds who can lend insight into your business’ processes. My initial recommendation for the Advisory Board is to have both your attorney and your accountant. These should be two strong relationships, and if they are not, then you need to find a different attorney and accountant! Another key cog on the board would be a Public Relations/Digital Media/Social Media specialist who can advise you on your messaging, communication and execution. An industry mentor who has goals in line with yours and can be used to leverage business will be a great addition. Finally, adding the one or two most successful people in your network will give you a range of aptitude and experience.

There is no reason to think they will say no, most successful entrepreneurs want to give back and help where they can, especially if it is with someone they respect. I can guarantee you that you will never have a successful entrepreneur on your board if you do not ask one.

What Incentives to Offer the Board
If the board has been constructed of the right people, then this should not be a group of men and women who need much in the way of salary. The people who are chosen for the board are often leaders who are excited by the opportunity to help an entrepreneur succeed or mentor a young professional. So, the creation of the board should not hit a business’ pocketbook in the same way that hiring new employees would.

However, there are still ways to give the board a sense of ownership in the company that incentivizes them to show up and give their best effort. Offering stocks or discounts to stock can get them invested in the company’s success. If that is not plausible, then at the very least you should fund their travel expenses and pay for any lunch or dinner meetings. Finally, show that they are valued by having board members at holiday parties, or inviting them to any other top level meetings within the organization.

Why Are You Starting the Board
Have a vision for the Advisory Board. To ensure that the board is as effective as possible, the business owner needs to know what they want to accomplish. Is there a current problem you are trying to work through? Are you concerned about future growth? Having an understanding for what you are looking to achieve will give the Advisory Board some initial direction with which to pursue.

Personal Experience
When I started a board a few years back it was because I finally came to the conclusion that “I don’t know what I don’t know,” and I felt stuck. I was unsure how to get my business to the next level and still have time to enjoy life away from my business. I was spending too much of my time compensating for the things I did not know how to do, rather than searching for answers from people who had success. I finally got to the end of my rope and decided to ask a few people for help. Who did I ask… My attorney, my accountant, an industry professional, an entrepreneur and a mentor. All of them said yes. I had an agenda ready and I began filling in the gaps of what I needed help with. Creating the Advisory Board quickly became one of the best business decisions I have ever made.