Advisory boards are an incredibly useful tool that are often overlooked. BRENDAN LEWIS
By Brendan Lewis
The other week I sat down with my technology advisory board and felt myself lucky. Here I was with a group of industry leaders that I barely knew, talking about great ideas for my business. The cost to me was close to zero – but their ideas were invaluable.
But getting to the point where I have an effective external advisory board was laborious. I have studied business at the undergraduate and postgraduate level, but never heard the words “advisory board” spoken at university, because it’s not a legal structure.
So when we first decided to implement the idea, it took a while to get things right as I couldn’t find much information around about how to organise one. Questions arose such as: Should we keep minutes? How big should it be? What’s the objective? When should we meet? How many should we have? Who should be on it? Wikipedia didn’t have much to say.
Two years downstream and the Churchill Club now has: A board of directors that focuses on strategy and governance, a technology advisory board that focuses on event ideas around emerging technologies, and an entrepreneurship advisory board that focuses on event ideas around entrepreneurship skills/knowledge that appear to be weak or missing in the community.
I think that putting together our advisory boards was one of the most important things I have done, but you’re probably asking what are they good for? Well the answer is:
- Engaging high quality people whom may be wary of a legal relationship. (Really, who’d want to be a director of a small business that can provide little in the way of remuneration but a lot in the way of risk.)
- You get an impartial sounding board that can help you with advice, ideas and networks (120+ years of technology business experience on tap for $70 worth of wine and cheese!)
- You can get to know people (and they you) before inviting them to get further involved with your company.
So, some tips for putting together an advisory board.
You can have as many advisory boards as you want (check out Melba Recordings) and call them whatever you like, but don’t make them too big or too small. I think 10 people around a table is a great maximum number as you can have plenty of voices but only one conversation.
Also, make membership of the advisory board an annual thing so you don’t have an uncomfortable moment when you want to “retire” a member.
The advisory board gives you a great chance to get to know new people and see whether they are aligned with your values and goals before offering them a directorship. Therefore shoot as high as possible when selecting people you would love to have involved in your business.
It’s also great to have a variety of perspectives, or pick someone you want to do business with.
Have an agenda and simple specific goals, because it’s irritating to the members if the advisory board seems ineffective or pointless. For instance, my technology advisory board has the job of discussing potential event ideas by picking emerging technologies and suggesting appropriate speakers from their networks. A simple agenda, therefore we get an outcome. You can of course have advisory boards on any topic. What about a product development advisory board made up of customers?
Only meet a handful of times a year at a convenient time with plenty of notice. This creates a relationship that isn’t onerous. I meet my advisory boards twice a year with at least six months notice of the date. We normally meet on a Tuesday afternoon between 4:30 and 6:30pm. This “easy” relationship means I can access people who are incredibly busy.
Advisory board meetings needs to be interesting for the members and not a chore. I limit meetings to two hours as a roundtable conversation with an agenda. Not too strict, not to sloppy. I make sure I put on interesting cheeses and wines so the meetings are enjoyable at a number of levels. I send out short notes (not minutes) afterwards.
Advisory boards are an incredibly useful tool that are often overlooked.
Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.
To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.