The Impact of Advisory Boards

by | April 5, 2016

After a few years of growing and moving my business forward, I remember a point where I felt I didn’t have the knowledge to make smart growth decisions for my business on my own.  As a sole owner, I didn’t have anyone who could help me understand what I could or should do differently to move it forward more quickly or more strategically.  As someone who knew what I wanted to the business to be and had a relatively clear view of the “dream”, I was frustrated by the slowness of our progress but not necessarily by the fact that I didn’t know the answers.  In this blog, I’ll share some of the ways I’ve found advisors, both professionals and peers, over the years and what benefit they have provided.

The first obvious solution for me was to hire a business coach, someone who had more experience than I did in framing strategic planning and understanding options to tactically execute on the plan.  I hired a business coach and found that it was a great help to me in thinking through ideas and considering broader options that I might not have otherwise considered.  Because it was one-on-one, I got to really dive into key issues, usually the bigger more strategic plans and sometimes more tactical challenges.  From this relationship, I gained a lot of excellent tools to help me manage the firm.  Business coaches are great at providing structure and tools for business management since they have seen similar problems in the past.  I learned a lot and believe this was a great first step for me to get some key management tools in place for our growth.

What I really began to find valuable, though, is the connection with some of my business clients that I saw doing things “right”.  These were business owners who were working through or had worked through similar issues.  We could relate to one another and even the little bits of advice or support made a huge difference for me.  Based on this insight, I joined a peer leadership or CEO group.  My group provided amazing growth for me and Equinox.  I was able to interact regularly at the meetings and in between meetings with like-minded CEOs who often had experienced the same issues I found in my business.  In addition to the opportunities to share and learn from one another, the group provided regular presentations on key topics of interest and value to companies of our size.  This structure provided a mix of the “tools” needed to provide structure and growth as well as the insights and real-world experience that made me feel less alone.  It created an extended team of advisors who knew me and my business well enough to provide valuable advice for moving forward in all aspects of my business including marketing, financial, and leadership.  Probably the biggest value was to see that even larger companies and more savvy and experienced CEOs were dealing with similar issues.  The recognition that there’s always a new challenge and that even though your challenge is unique, others have seen similar things before was reassuring and also enlightening.

Finally, I have found my CEO friends to be an amazing set of advisors.  I have about 4 women CEOs who are friends and clients.  They know my business, my passion and what I’m working to achieve.  From them, I can get honest feedback as well as great insight as to what they’ve done to solve challenges.  These are very informal relationships – usually lunch a few times a year – but are some of the most valuable lunches I have because they provide me with motivation, energy and reassurance.

I do not as yet have a formal “Advisory Board” but feel it is the next step in the evolution of my business advisory needs.  The formal Advisory Board is a group of individuals you find who can, collectively or individually, help your business to achieve its goals.  These individuals are selected because of their influence, industry knowledge or other benefit they bring to your company   It’s important to set clear expectations of the parties because often the individuals you are asking to serve are committed to their own businesses and many other causes.  It’s critical for the Advisor to understand what he or she is committing to and it makes you seem more professional because you’re able to articulate it.  How these relationships are structured depends on the people and needs.  Sometimes they are really strictly informal mentoring on an as-needed basis.  In other cases, they serve as an outside Board of Directors with regular meetings as a group.  Often a combination of the two models works.  To set an Advisory Board up for success, you must know what you want to accomplish with the Board, what role they will play and specifically how each member will help your business.  With this information, you can talk with potential members and begin to formalize the structure. 

There is no “right” answer for finding and leveraging advisors for your business.  Each CEO will have different needs at different times.  Don’t be afraid to try new models and find what really inspires you for success.  Then do more of that!