Thursday, October 18, 2007

Your No. 1 Business-Fixing Tip

The SOHO conference in Toronto on Tuesday (Oct. 16) seemed a raging success. Lots or people, lots of buzz, and some great comments from a panel of dynamic entrepreneurs: Ray Civello of CIVELLO Salon-Spa Group, Greg Taylor and Cam Heaps from Steam Whistle Brewing, and Kerry Knee of Flirty Girl Fitness.

(That last is a women’s fitness centre that apparently specializes in pole-dancing and similarly stripper-inspired exercises. It’s already opened a second outlet in Chicago, and more are to come – apparently.)

It’s what I've always said: there is no limit to the number of potential niches out there.

I spoke at the Visa Seminar room on “10 Ways to Fix Your Business Now.” (I’ll be doing a similar presentation at SOHO Vancouver on Oct. 30, so come on down!)

Most of the buzz afterward centred on “Fix No. 6”: Set up an advisory board.
As I said in my speech, “It’s probably the single most powerful step you can take to tune up your business and keep it running smoothly into the future.”

Most of my knowledge of this topic comes from work that I did with uber-preneur Greig Clark, founder of College Pro Painters. This summer we interviewed business owners across the country on the subject of advisory boards: who uses them, why, how they work, and how you can make them work better.

An advisory board is a group of experienced business people who meet regularly – often three or four times a year – to learn what’s going on in an entrepreneur’s business and offer their advice and feedback. The entrepreneurs we talked to pick their advisors’ brains on everything from hiring and firing people to finding new sales leads and dealing with their bank. Greig calls it “success insurance,” and indeed we have found several companies that have become major players in their industry because of the success of their advisory boards.

Your board can be as formal or informal as you want – friends who meet once in a while over coffee, or a rigorous watchdog group that advises on all aspects of operations. We found that every board is different – but we also found evidence that the more seriously you take your board, the more you work with them and the more you include them in your deliberations, the more benefit you're going to derive from their help and expertise.

What’s it cost? Some advisors work for free; some expect stock options or phantom stock, and others expect a flat fee for every meeting. But no one does it for the money. They join advisory boards if they like you and believe in your business and respect the other people on your board.

If you want more information on boards, we have distilled our research into a four-part series running in PROFIT Magazine. You can read Part 1, the advisory board primer, here. Future chapters will also be available online (or sooner on the newsstand).

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