We'd like to put together an advisory board. Who should we invite to be on it?
A good place to start is to articulate why you want an advisory board (if you want a quick recap about advisory boards I have written about them previously).
In practice I find that there are many more purposes of an advisory board than a business initially considers. So, to help you think more widely, I recently asked a few businesses to be specific about what they get out of their advisory boards. Here is a selection of their responses:
- Strategic insight: "they help us see a different way of reaching our goals".
- Industry insight: "they provide deep, deep industry knowledge".
- Accountability: "having someone to report to helps us keep our commitments".
- Challenge us: "they ask the difficult questions which we are too close to the business to think of".
- Connections: "they have introduced us to industry influencers and potential customers".
- Gravitas: "they have added a much needed sense of seriousness to our young business".
- Technical know-how: "one of our advisory board is a finance guru and he has given our finances a little more rigour".
- Entrepreneurial wisdom: "we've had practical help from someone who has been there before".
- Risk management: "they opened our eyes to a whole gamut of things that could wrong".
- Enthusiasm: "our advisory board are among our greatest fans and are great for a jolt of enthusiasm on a bad day".
Once you have a list of purposes for your advisory board (which may look a little like the one above) you can do the following to fill it:
- Write down the names of people you know who could fill one or more of the "purposes".
- Asterisk any names that are "must haves"; that is, people who you want on the board irrespective of whoever else may join. The composition of the board is important and the presence of an asterisked name may preclude someone else joining. An asterisked name may be, for example, someone who has been fulfilling this role in an ad hoc manner to date.
- Look at the list of "purposes" for which there is no name allocated.
- Consider what sort of person (character, network, technical ability, background) could best fill that role.
- Ask your network if they know of anyone who fits the description.
- Invite your asterisked people to be part of your advisory board. Discuss the composition of the board with them and ask them for help in identifying other board members.
- When you have a good list of names for the board start to narrow it down to your dream team. This is not an easy process but think, for example, who would work well together, who wouldn't, and who can be dispensed with because they are too similar to someone else.
Of course, this is only the beginning. You then need to scope out the workings of the advisory board: (How often will the board meet? What outcomes are you looking for? How will the board be compensated?) and invite your chosen team onto it. But it's worth spending a good amount of time getting the "who" right first.
Julia Bickerstaff's expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of "How to Bake a Business" and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).