Step 2: Leverage your advisors correctly and efficiently
Building your advisory board is only half that battle. Once you’ve put together the best set of individuals you can find, you need to learn how to leverage them effectively in order to get the most benefit for your business. For those who have worked within a board of directors dynamic, a key thing to remember is that your advisory board is less like a board and more like an extension of your executive offsites.
- Schedule meetings far in advance: This is important! Your advisors are likely much, much busier than you – perhaps growing their own businesses to the next phase. Remember to work with their assistants weeks / months in advance so they don’t have to dread your “Can I get some feedback?” text message.
- Bring them well-structured problems: A benefit of having specific types of advisors is that you can do a lot of work ahead of time to segment specific problems into key areas that your advisors can tackle independently. Not only will your advisors be more effective if you bring them clearly articulated problems and desired objectives to discuss, but you will also find benefit in working to put structure on your business issues as your organization grows.
- Consider hosting an advisory board meeting: While I do not advise trying to restrict advisory board meetings to a strict schedule; it can be helpful on occasion to get several of your advisors together for a broader, cross-discipline discussion. They also might appreciate the chance to meet and network with the other thought leaders you’ve worked so diligently to assemble.
Step 3: Empower advisors to help you both win
Inherently, your advisors have relatively low incentive to dedicate time to you and your business’ problems. The hour they spend with you undoubtedly has a high opportunity cost as they forego customers issues, sales calls, or product brainstorms to help you break through the mental barrier. Thus, it is absolutely pivotal that you learn how to create incentives that make them excited to get to that hour you’ve scheduled together on a Friday afternoon.
- Align their incentives with yours (financial and emotional): Aside from providing equity-based incentives (make sure you do proper contracts and everything), many entrepreneurs forget the emotional motivations that most advisors have for wanting to spend time with you. For many of your industry veterans who have already built successful businesses, they will never have the same early experiences building companies again as their networks will already be in place; however, they often love sharing in your emotional ride (think of them like grandparents who get to share in the joy of helping you raise your children). Remember to capitalize on this and make every email, meeting, or text full of energy and excitement – even if it’s not good news – because great entrepreneurs love rising to the occasion and want nothing more than to share in the excitement of overcoming challenges together.
- Make it easy for advisors to connect you to their network: A lot of what you will ask your advisors for is often email introductions to people within their network on your behalf. While this can sometimes feel like asking for handouts, you can turn this around by thinking of ways to turn the introduction into a chance for your advisor to strengthen that particular connection as well. It doesn’t take more than a strategically crafted email and an understanding of your advisor’s own goals to allow them the chance to kick off an email correspondence with an old former client by introducing them to your business while also creating a new lead / opportunity for his own sales team.
It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to build a great business; however, I think the old adage “it takes a village” seems more apt to describe the entrepreneurial process. As an entrepreneur, you will always be focused on building the right team around you, and that process can start from day one and zero employees by focusing on building the right advisor support team around your idea.