Small Business Advisory Boards: How To
Create One And How To Use It

by Tom Egelhoff

Author Tom Egelhoff

When I finished writing my marketing book, the next step was — what to do with it. So I sat down and started a marketing plan for the book.

I thought of some good marketing ideas and set some goals and thought I was on my way. But, something was missing.

I teach marketing classes for adult education and just happened to run into one of my adult education friends at the local post office.

I told her about the book and how it was being sold on the net and also on CD.

She said, "Oh, so you have the CD in a shrink wrapped package and sell it in computer stores?" It was a great idea I had not thought of.

My response? "I am now!" I ran right home to design the package and put it into production.

What I learned from this little exchange was, as good as I think I am, I can't think of everything.

When I related the story to my wife she said, "Sounds like you need an advisory board." So, I set out to create a board.

How To Create A Small Business Advisory Board

There are two main stumbling blocks in creating an advisory board.

1.) Finding people who will take an hour or two out of their lives to help you for free.

2.) Finding a meeting time that all these people can agree on.

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Assembling The Board

In finding the right people, I started with people who had a vested interest in my success. My banker, my accountant, and my financial advisor.

The benefit to me for having these people on my board was two-fold.

One, they would have a more complete understanding of what my vision for the future is.

Two, this understanding would help them advise me in things like loans, taxes and future investments.

Notice the absence of family members, friends, co-workers, drinkin' buddies, and others who aren't knowledgeable about the information I need. It's not personal, it's business.

Next, I added my Internet Service Provider. He could provide information about my web site, and the Internet in general, for board members who are not on the net.

I also asked a Kiwanis buddy who teaches Internet Security classes to companies all over the world.

He could advise everyone on the credit card security situation and more E-Commerce information.

I needed someone to answer any questions that might come up regarding book publishing and distribution.

Two years ago I helped a local author design the layout and "look" of one of his self-published books and asked him to join.

I also contacted a local publisher who had given me quotes and also has printed books for other local authors.

Since the book is for small business owners, I asked some of the business owners I knew who had bought the book.

I also wanted someone experienced in business resources and small business government agencies. I had a friend at the Small Business Development Office and a research director from the library.

By this time I had about 10 core people. I knew it would be unrealistic to believe I could find a night when I could get all of them together.

So, I added a couple of back-up people in some of the categories. Another financial planner, another bank officer, and another Internet person.

The most important thing to remember as you make your list. Make sure each person knows who all the others are. T

here is nothing worse than having two members on your board who hate each other. It can make for a long evening of strained relations.

The board was now about 15-20 people. Try to shoot for at least 10 at each meeting you hold and see if you can set the next meeting at the current one.

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What To Cover At Your First Meeting

You should plan on at least two meetings. The first will be an orientation meeting where the members meet each other and get a copy or your business and marketing plan outlines.

If you are starting a new business or have some secret or sensitive product, you might need to prepare a non-compete agreement or something to insure your secrecy.

If you are a home based business, and there are things at your home the board should see, then have the meeting at your home.

In general, it's better to have the business in a meeting room at a hotel or some other business setting. You are a professional business. Act like it.

You can ask each person to introduce themselves and tell a little about what they do. I prefer to introduce each person myself and give a brief description of why I asked them to participate.

I feel this gives them more of a sense of value to the total board.

Be sure to make a timed agenda and stick to it. You can't ask these people to spend four hours at your meeting. Be prepared and run the meeting on time.

Give yourself about 20 minutes to tell your story.

If you need longer something is wrong. Keep it short and focused.

Tell where you are now and where you want to be in one year, two years, five years and ten years.

Next explain what help you need from them. Is it brainstorming for ideas, sources of money, grants, specialized advice or all of the above.

Reserve at least an hour for questions and a round table discussions of "first impressions" about your business.

Go around the table and ask each person for their "honest" first impression and if there is additional information they need about you or your business.

If there are specific questions you would like the board to consider, print a sheet of these and have them presented at the next meeting.

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What To Cover At The Second Meeting

At the second meeting, follow-up on the information presented at the first meeting. A second brief orientation for any members who may have missed the first session.

Time is of the essence. This is probably your last chance to get these people together for a while.

Most advisory boards are brainstorming sessions. If this is the case there are some rules to keep in mind.

Start with a single subject and cover it completely before moving to the next one. Write down all ideas presented without comment. "I've tried that", or "That won't work because..." will stifle the creative process.

You want ideas, no matter how outlandish, to flow freely. You can examine all the ideas later.

If the whole idea won't work, maybe part of it will.

Go from person to person for ideas but also give them the option of "passing" by the time you come back to them, they will have heard nine other ideas that may give them inspiration.

When more than half the group start "passing" it's time to move to the next topic.

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The Final Disaster To Avoid

Let's suppose that I've asked you to be on my board. I want to open a "slide rule" shop.

Remember slide rules? They were eliminated by the hand held calculator. What would you tell me?

Sounds great to me, go for it. Or would you tell me the truth?

The point here is, you may not like everything your board tells you.

You need to be thick skinned and take all their information and make an informed decision.

Their job as board members are to find ways and means of profitability and to eliminate loss or potential loss.

Remember, it's not personal, it's strictly business.

Good luck with your board.

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