5 Ways an Advisory Board can help your business

Photo by sea turtle 

Good advice can be hard to come by sometimes, especially when you’re a busy business owner.

That’s why the concept of an Advisory Board works so well, especially if you are in a business that tends to isolate you from working with peers.  Unfortunately most people aren’t really familiar with the idea or why they might be helpful – if that describes you, read on!

The latest issue of Inc. magazine actually has an article on Advisory boards, but they kind of miss the mark in my opinion.

It’s a pull out guide on How to assemble a Board of Advisors.  As defined here, this is a formal group of advisors that the business owner convenes  a suggested 3 or 4 times a year to help steer their business.

The links in the article don’t seem to be working, so here are some of the key points:

Keep the group small – ideally 3 to 5 people

Try to select other business owners that are in a similar business to yours (i.e. service industry) but that have recently grown to where you want to be going next.

You may need to pay the advisors for their time – but you want to avoid using someone that’s just doing it for money.

Run the meetings formally, but keep them on point and only spend time on legitimate issues and concerns – try to keep them to 3 hours or so.

They make some good points, but this kind of Advisory Board is not easy to pull off well and it can be a real challenge for the average business owner.  As your business gets more established and larger – this is a great idea, but it has to be limited and focused to work.

By contrast, I think business owners should participate in Peer Group Advisory Boards – they share some of the same ideas as mentioned above, but there’s a two way obligation for all th members.  They are participating to both give and receive feedback and advice among other things.

Why join an Peer Group Advisory Board?

Actually this is the question I asked a few weeks ago from the participants in the groups that I run.  There weren’t quite as many answers as people, but it’s clear that different people will find different benefits and reasons that are unique to their situations.

These don’t work for everyone, but I strongly believe that most business owners would benefit from participating in a group like this.

So what’s the big deal?  What are the big benefits and why would anyone consider paying to belong to a group like this?

Reason #1 – Relationships

It’s lonely at the top, and ultimately most business owners don’t really have anyone to talk to.  I had a couple of people candidly tell me that their spouse was sick of hearing and talking about their business.

My observation is that this type of group develops an interesting mix – not necessarily close friends (although some of that happens) but definitely more intense than just a business associate.  One participant described it as the other members moving to his inner circle of connections – the people that are top of mind. 

You may not need another friend, but I bet you could use someone that you trust to give you straight feedback on what you’re doing!

Reason #2 – Perspectives

People are hardwired to look at things a certain way and it’s often very difficult to get a different view point.  What will your customers think about your latest ad campaign?  Will your employees be upset at your new hiring policies? 

Whatever it may be, if you created it, then it’s extremely difficult to candidly review yourself and your business.

However in a peer group advisory board, the other business owners in the room don’t have that emotional attachment (and neither does the coach).  Also there’s a good chance that a couple of them might be in your target market – how valuable is honest, candid unbiased feedback from a potential prospect?

Reason #3 – Learning by Real World Examples

Some people will tell you that the best way to learn is by doing something, I would say that it’s even better to learn from someone else’s mistakes (or victories) as well as your own.

The beautiful thing about small business is that they all have prospects that need to turn into customers that will pay money for a product or a service that the business provides, hopefully creating a profit.  If your business doesn’t fit this model in some way, then you may have some bigger problems.  However if you do fit this model, there’s a good chance that someone else in the room has some experience with what you’re trying to do.

Here are some typical examples:  Direct Mail marketing, hiring extra help, pricing issues, customer return policies, managing employees – the list goes on and on.

Reason #4 – Accountability

How many people either belong to a gym or have belonged to a gym in the past but don’t actually GO to the gym? 

I don’t have exact numbers, but I’m sure it’s a lot.  Why don’t they go?  They know they’re supposed to – they probably even know how to use the machines and what to do.  In fact, they are paying for the privilege of NOT going!  How crazy is that?

The reality is that just like going to the gym, there are a lot things involved in running a business that people don’t like to do.  It might bookkeeping or marketing or (and this happens a lot) strategic planning.  If it’s not urgent or directly impacting a customer, it can probably wait.  They know they need to do it…and someday they will.

Right after they go to the gym.

However that picture changes when other people know what you said you were going to do and you don’t do it.  You start to feel guilty, you start making yourself follow through even when you don’t want to – and pretty soon you establish some new habits and it’s not a big deal.

Reason #5 – Business Therapy

I thought of leaving this off the list, but it was strongly mentioned by several people and the reality is that it’s a pretty accurate description of what some people need and want out of the group.

I’ve never been to a therapist, but my understanding is that a big part of the process is just having someone that can listen to you without tuning you out or passing judgement.  Just knowing that someone understand you or has shared your problem, even if you can’t solve it easily, makes it easier to deal with.

Along the same lines, talking through an issue – actually describing it aloud, will often change how you look it.  When you explain something to someone else, it’s generally impossible to make the huge leap of doom that can sometimes be easy to do in your head  (eg.  “…and if that shipment doesn’t come in, then I guess I’ll just be homeless, living in a van down by the river!”).  It becomes a great way to really challenge your fears in a safe environment.

And if that’s not enough to convince you…

There are a lot of other reasons why this type of Advisory Board works for business owners – I didn’t mention Focus, Personal Development, Forced Reflection and just a way to enjoy what you do for starters.

Here’s a testimonial from Oliver Truog – owner of Truog Construction on his participation in the Advisory Board meetings I run (BANG stands for Brainstorming, Accountability and Networking Group):

My BANG group meeting every week is my opportunity to take a step back from the daily life of my business and to focus on the long term goals for my business. 

I enjoy the feedback from others who are in the same boat.  The camaraderie in my group leads to an honest discussion of the challenges facing our businesses each week. 

Shawn is great at leading our discussion and helping us all to continuously improve our businesses.

Oliver – thanks for the thoughts.  What are your thoughts on Advisory Boards – do you know of anyone that would benefit from being in one?  Drop me a line or comment here!

Shawn Kinkade  www.aspirekc.com