A small business advisory board can deliver a big boost to a small business.
The right combination of board members will instantly increase your company's level of expertise and industry connections. In some cases, a top-notch advisory board can even become a catalyst for a move that catapults your company to the next level and makes you a major player in your field.
But the existence of an advisory board doesn't automatically guarantee that kind of success. In fact, many small business owners never realize any meaningful benefits from their advisory boards, not because the advisory board members are inept, but because the business owner wasn't prepared to adequately manage the advisory process.
- Start early. Many business owners delay the creation of an advisory board until the company is well on its way to success. By that time, an advisory board's role is diminished, at least in comparison to the impact it could have made when the business was struggling to get on its feet.
- Clearly defined roles. It's important to clearly define roles and expectations for advisory board members. Go out of your way to clarify the fact that advisors are counselors and mentors – not decision-makers. Yet although they have no real authority and will not receive substantial compensation for their efforts, they will still be expected to actively participate in the advisory process. They should also be required to sign nondisclosure and non-compete clauses before they participate in board activities.
- Limited terms. Like any other board or sub-group, advisory boards can grow stagnant unless they are constantly infused with new ideas and fresh perspectives. An advisory board that has existed with the same members for a period of years may lack the energy and enthusiasm you need for growth. You can get around this by implementing term limits and recruiting targeted advisors for short-term projects.
- Consider individual motivations. The people on your advisory board have different motivations for participating in the life of your business. Some expect financial compensation while others are involved as a way to expand their business network. Make an effort to identify each advisor's reason for serving on the board and try to tailor your interactions to make their involvement a personally rewarding experience.
- Treat with respect. Advisors are not employees or clients. Although they should be treated with respect, you shouldn't patronize them or treat them like a sales target that needs to be impressed. Instead, treat them fairly and honestly – the same way you hope they will treat you throughout the advisory process.