Thursday, May 20, 2010

Advisory Boards: "Just another adventure for me"

Some stories have happy endings. This one has a happy beginning.

A few weeks ago, I met over dinner with two people who are launching a very promising service business. I was one of several people whom they met up with for startup advice and industry insights, so I congratulated them on being so creative and professional about seeking advice.

My counsel was simple. Define your target market, prepare a business plan that will focus your activities – and form an advisory board of mentors, professionals and industry experts.

As you may know from my past work, I believe that starting an advisory board is probably the most powerful single thing you can do to ensure the success of your business. What could be better than surrounding yourself with experienced people who care about your business and are willing to lend their expertise, open up their Rolodexes and warn you of speedbumps you might not expect?

In the research I have done, however, many entrepreneurs who recognized the importance of advisory boards said they didn't have one because they didn't know how to form one. Who should be on it, how do you find them, what do you pay them? So many unanswered questions…

But my two new friends didn't fret about those things – they just went ahead and did it. They asked a number of people they had known – people they knew through work or previous jobs, people they had met in service organizations, and even just friends of friends. Just starting out, they don't have any money to pay their advisors, so they just said so straight up.

They did some strategizing about the specific expertise the board needed: industry experience; a legal expert; a techie. But in the end they simply sought out smart people who would ask good questions and offer great advice.

In the end, they asked seven people to join their board. Of course, they were nervous. What was possibly in it for the advisors? I suspect you could have knocked these entrepreneurs over with a feather when all seven agreed. In fact, one apparently said, “What took you so long to ask?

Actually, I think they only asked six people. When the seventh found out they were putting together an advisory board, he said, “Why didn't you include me?” So they did.

Clearly, there are many people of great goodwill who enjoy the idea of helping startups. Partly it’s giving back; some may crave the intellectual exercise. I thought one of my new board colleagues put it best whether she explained, “It’s another adventure for me.”

We just had our first meeting. There was tremendous buzz around the business plan, the revenue model, marketing tactics, branding, and so much more. The entrepreneurs couldn't believe what great advice they were getting. Their business probably leaped ahead six months in one evening.

So what’s stopping you from building your advisory board? Owner-operators are standing by...

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