Running a company entails a broad range of skills. You no doubt already bring many of these to the table as the boss. For others, you probably rely on capable employees or engage professional advisors. There is, however, another source of leadership assistance that many business owners draw on: an advisory board made up of outside experts. Here’s how to get started.
The right people
When forming an outside advisory board, you need to first look internally. That is, consider your own leadership strengths and weaknesses to help you determine what you most need from the board.
Adding someone with marketing expertise could help you differentiate your business from the competition. Or maybe you need help separating the signal from the noise when it comes to technology. You might look for an IT expert who would enjoy the challenge of assessing the latest hardware and software.
Above all, you want advisors who’ll tell you the truth as they see it — even if you might initially disagree. At the same time, you want trustworthy advisors you can work with comfortably. Think twice before calling on close friends or family members. Invite them to serve only if you’re sure your relationship can withstand honest disagreements.
It’s a good idea to start small, with a group of three to five advisors. Once you’ve identified an adequate number of candidates, spend some time with each to gauge their interest and commitment.
Ask them to commit to a specified term of service, so that you both can reassess participation at regular intervals. In addition, request that members sign nondisclosure agreements, as you’ll likely be sharing confidential information about your current projects, backlog, strategic plans, intellectual property and even trade secrets. Last, spell out the duties and responsibilities you want advisors to fulfill, so expectations are clear.
When the board is up and running, respect everyone’s time and attention. Set up a reasonable meeting schedule: maybe bimonthly to start and less frequently once the board is well established. Be prepared to compensate your advisors by covering travel costs, if necessary, and providing snacks or meals and beverages. In some cases, you may need to pay a small stipend for their service.
Before each meeting, email members an agenda and any useful briefing materials to help them prepare. Run the session itself as you would any professional meeting, following it up with an action plan on the items discussed. When meeting in person isn’t practical, hold a conference call or Web-based meeting. For continuity’s sake, it’s important to gather regularly.
Between meetings, keep members informed of pertinent company developments. Also feel free to communicate with advisors individually on issues specifically related to each one’s field of expertise. Finally, remember that it’s your prerogative to immediately fire an ineffective or disruptive board member.
Time and resources
A well-built advisory board can help companies solve problems, explore opportunities and minimize risk. But, should you decide to assemble one, make sure you’re ready to dedicate the time and resources to form it and meaningfully participate in its activities.
For more information contact Brandi DiGiorgio at 816-743-7700.