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Using Advisory Boards

.Many of us were lucky in our early years to have someone special to guide us along the right path- a favorite teacher, coach, scout leader, or, in our professional lives, an insightful boss, or senior co-worker, to show us the ropes.  

The mentoring relationship is so important that some occupations formalize the practice. In the legal profession for example  we undergo a full year "under articles " carrying the briefcase and taking notes for our Principal, before being unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. Most of the building  trades also insist upon a formal apprenticeship to a senior tradesman, to make sure that time honored knowledge is passed on. 

But what's one to do if you are sitting alone in your home office , as president and CEO , not to mention secretary and chief bottle washer of your own proprietorship, with no-one to turn to for wisdom or advice ? 

Well, what some forward thinking companies do is to custom build  a mentoring relationship, through the creation of an Advisory Board of Directors for their business. Contrasted with the formal board of directors, which is elected by the shareholders of a company, and actually runs the business, an Advisory Board can be an ad hoc, informal group of interested persons who are willing to provide the benefit of their advice to the business. 

Some Advisory Boards meet on a fairly regular basis, and become quite involved with, and knowledgeable about, the business, whereas other companies will convene an Advisory Board only when significant change is afoot.  

Where to start ? Consider making a list of people in business who already have some involvement with your business- your accountant, lawyer , insurance broker, banker, major supplier, or significant client. 

Next- pick a topic; what burning issues ae you facing in your business right now ? Cash flow? expansion?, staffing?  marketing ? 

Choose a venue - catered sandwiches in a rented meeting room at a hotel, or lunch or dinner at a restaurant with a quiet corner, or maybe burgers and beer on your back deck. Then, take a deep breath, pick up the phone and invite some folks to join your Advisory Board. 

Explain to them that you are looking to pick the brains of a few people whose opinion you respect and trust, and could they help ? The results may surprise you. Everyone likes to think that their opinion is sought after, and without exception the professionals you invite would far rather spend an hour giving pro-active advice for tree, than earning a fee trying to bail you out after you've made a completely avoidable dumb ass mistake. 

Lastly, when you meet, leave your ego at home, listen, take notes, and be prepared to take action on the advice you are given. It goes without saying that you are going to have to be honest with  your Advisory Board about your business problems, and you might want to consider having them sign a confidentiality agreement , to make sure it all stays in the room.   

When it comes to Advisory Boards, there is no right or wrong. Some businesses gravitate towards retired persons with relevant experience, while some adventurous souls will  even reach out to their competitors. Even amongst competitors their can be a degree of camaraderie, and a brainstorming session can sometimes be of benefit to all.  

 Involving your customers intuitively makes a lot of sense, since they are the consumers of your product, and without them, you have no business. Nothing honors’ a significant customer more than inviting them to help shape your business to serve them better. 

At the small business level Advisory Boards are typically volunteer affairs, with the board members receiving nothing more than the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being nice, and a free meal, but large businesses often have formal Advisory Boards, with written terms of engagement , and stock options and bags of swag to compensate the advisors. 

Never underestimate the tremendous amount of goodwill that is lurking close by, ready to be tapped., and how many knowledgeable and insightful people are standing by ready to help you and your business  All you have to do is ask -  and provide the burgers & beer !