The next time you’re watching a TV movie, instead of hitting the off button as it fades to black, take a few minutes as the credits roll by to reflect on how many people it takes to make such a production. There may be only two or three well known actors, but behind them stands a hundred or more professionals in everything from lighting and sound through to costumes, transport and catering.
By the same token you might think of yourself as a one-man or one-woman business but you really couldn’t do it without the many services and resources that support you, such as your bank, insurance company, suppliers, cell phone provider, Internet Service Provider (ISP) – the list goes on.
These are all obvious, almost automatic, services that exist, but over and above these essential resources there is a further level of support you can build specifically for your business.
Consider the resources that the owner of a large business has to hand: business partners, directors, employees, consultants, specialists and more. No wonder many one-person businesses feel they are at a disadvantage. But it doesn’t need to be that way if you take the initiative to pull together an advisory board for your business.
An advisory board sounds very official, in reality it’s simply several experienced business people who agree to come together occasionally (maybe four times a year) to mentor you by sharing their experience.
Sometimes it’s because they admire you or your business idea. In other cases, they may feel that down the road they might like to invest in your company and want to use the advisory board route to check you out. It’s often easier to put together a board than to just get a single mentor, since three or four of business people often enjoy the camaraderie of sitting around a table and telling war stories.
In finding and approaching likely mentors look to people who are recently retired – either as entrepreneurs, or former corporate executives.
The recently retired execs are a good target since they may have become a little bored and would enjoy brainstorming with you. In some cases, they may have specialty experience in your field and be happy to share their knowledge.
Make sure you point out to your would-be advisors that they will have no legal or financial obligations to you or your company, and offer to have a lawyer draw up a document that makes that clear.
Their mission is to listen to your progress and the challenges you face on specific aspects of your business and draw upon their own experience to suggest new opportunities for your company, or recommend strategies to get you out of a difficult situation. It might be a personnel issue, dealing with your landlord, or finding a better way to reach your market.
It might come as a shock, but you can’t know everything, nor are you expected to! Older and wiser heads that have been around the block, with decades of experience, can help you – all you need to do is ask.