A few years ago I wrote about how setting up an advisory board was an excellent strategy for growing my solo business. I was a great technician in my market-research business, Tribe Research, but I needed to develop business skills and focus more on strategy. For soloists, being objective about the business is often hard because you’re too ‘inside’ it.
As I discovered, regular meetings with an advisory board forced me to keep on track and ultimately helped my business to grow. But how is it done?
Here’s how I set up and maintained an advisory board for my business.
Define the skills needed for strategic development of your business. Mine were:
- Accounting: I could run basic reports, but having someone who had real strategic accounting experience would be an asset.
- Staffing insights: As I’d not been employed full time by someone else, my recruitment and management was very gut-feel, which was a strength in many ways, but I lacked experience.
- Marketing strategies: Market research isn’t marketing. I needed development and rollout insights.
Fortunately, I had family and friends with the skills needed. I formally invited them to be on the advisory board, outlining needs and expectations.
Most of those invited were honoured I considered their skills relevant and trusted them to share business details. One declined. A friend asked to join after it had been in place for a year.
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Create a confidentiality agreement, as it provides a basis for your expectations. I drafted mine so doubt it covered all aspects legally.
The meetings were via Skype, as members were dispersed, and were at a fixed New York time, generally on a particular day each even month.
If I couldn’t prepare properly I’d have to cancel the meeting. This made me more disciplined, as I didn’t want to let down people volunteering their time.
Before each meeting I set an agenda, which included:
- Current active projects and opportunities
- Profit and loss
- Strategic issues requiring insights
A member of the advisory board chaired the meeting; I was the general manager reporting to them, and I wrote minutes and distributed them afterwards.
Where it’s at now
In 2012, Tribe Research’s needs changed to requiring guidance about online strategy – not the skill set of the existing board – so I wound up the advisory board rather than replace it with new members. Tribe Research is still growing with the insights and templates set up during that period.
Last year I started a new online business, classikON, which promotes classical music concerts in Australia and requires a different professional network and skill set. It has an informal advisory board. Meetings take place at a quarterly dinner, where I present business information and seek guidance. A lateral benefit from this is gaining online marketing strategy advice for Tribe Research.
Tips for success
As your advisory board is voluntary, you need to keep its members motivated by being motivated yourself. When I was poor at distributing minutes/agendas, they were less likely to have read them or attend the meeting. Also, implement their suggestions or explain your rationality for not doing so. Provide board members with feedback and report results.
Be clear about what you need from them and you’ll receive more insightful outcomes.
Do you have an advisory board for your solo business, or have you thought about setting one up? Share your experiences below.