5 top tips for setting up an advisory board

Starting a business can certainly feel lonely at times. But does it make sense to implement an advisory board for your business?

You may have a few key people you rely on for external advice, such as former colleagues, mentors, family members or even your accountant.

But there comes a time in every entrepreneur’s business journey when casual advice isn’t enough.

This is when an advisory board can help.

With the right mix of skills, experience and talent, an advisory board can give you the edge you need to get your business to the next level.

When you think about it, it’s logical that in order to grow and learn, you need to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better connected, and have already made mistakes that you can learn from.

In my business, I have sought out advisers who are the ‘best of the best’ to be on my advisory board, including two high-profile experts in my industry.

To access this calibre of adviser, I have paid as much as I could afford in order to attract wealthy and successful business people who don’t necessarily need the work, but are prepared to share their insights with me.

These board members have opened new doors for me, given me great advice on where to take my business and helped me avoid many costly mistakes.

So how can you do the same for your business?

Here are my top five tips to assemble the best advisory board for your growing business.

  1. Believe in your business

Before you start thinking about asking anyone to join your advisory board, you need to be building a business that you genuinely believe in.

Don’t hedge your bets with side plans of other potential business ideas. An adviser wants to see that you’re committed to your business – otherwise why should they be?

Advisers want to be involved with entrepreneurs that are 100 per cent focused on their venture.

  1. Experience is everything

Industry veterans and leading influencers are not as inaccessible as you might think, so don’t be afraid to reach out to these leaders if you believe they can assist you.

However, don’t expect them to work for free.

Also, many may only engage with you if their involvement remains private and, being very busy, they will only be involved if they genuinely like you and your business.

Be respectful of their time and demonstrate a willingness to take their advice on board.

Also, find people with skills and expertise in areas where you are lacking. This will give help fill any knowledge gaps and give you a well-rounded foundation of expertise.

  1. Size doesn’t always matter

It is completely fine to initially work with just one or two advisers.

To test things out, start with a trial period to see how you work together, and don’t commit to any long-term engagements.

As you grow and your business requirements change, you can add more board members.

The adage ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ applies to your advisory board – you cannot expect top-level advice to come cheaply.

Set a budget for your advisory board and go about finding the very best talent you can afford.

Also, don’t be afraid to part ways if an advisory board member is not adding value.

  1. Broad knowledge is better

It is better to hire someone who has board commercial acumen, understands the numbers, has good business contacts and can assist in practical ways to help grow the business, rather than a specialist accountant or lawyer.

There are definite advantages of accessing advice from a proven entrepreneur who has successfully grown a business that is similar to yours.

They will have useful insights into how to grow your business, review your strategy and avoid mistakes that are critical to your success, as they’ve been there before.

  1. Meet monthly

Regular monthly meetings are recommended, but one-on-one meetings can also be beneficial when you want to delve more deeply into specific issues.

When it comes to how formal or structured your meetings are, there are no set rules, so find what fits best for you and your board.

Be prepared for your advisers to say things you may not want to hear.

Remember, the collective wisdom of the board is usually given with the best interests of the business at heart.

The important thing is to ensure you keep having regular meetings, to build successful relationships with your board and also to stay focused on the business’ performance.

The right mix of advisers can make a significant difference to how successful a business is and how fast it grows.

Don’t be afraid to change your board as your business changes and takes on new challenges; however, there are some advisers who I have worked with for more than a decade.

For my business, my advisory board has opened new doors, prevented costly mistakes and errors in judgement, kept me optimistic when I wanted to throw in the towel and helped me to raise precious capital.

They have kept me accountable and helped me to stay on track with my business strategy.

An advisory board is certainly a competitive advantage for any growing small business.

Kylie Hammond is the CEO of Director Institute, a board and executive search and board talent management consultant.

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