An old adage says, “Two heads are always better than one.” Many large corporations have used this principle to their advantage by handpicking board members who add to the intellectual wealth of the company. These corporations have benefited from the guidance, expertise, experience, contacts, and advice of carefully selected board members.
Many small and solo businesses are taking advantage of this same principle by using a similar concept—called an advisory team. An advisory team is a panel of experts convened to serve as a sounding board for a business. An advisory team can be particularly beneficial if you are don’t already have an extensive network of business contacts or if you lack management experience—traits that are common among many new entrepreneurs with disabilities. Effective advisory team members can help you recognize opportunities, address barriers, establish important contacts, find financing, plan for growth, and even identify new markets.
The following tips and suggestions will help you establish an effective advisory team:
- Choose advisory members carefully, and look for people whose contacts and expertise are different from your own. Identify advisors who can help you “shore up” weaknesses. If you are least confident in your financial management skills, for example, seek someone with expertise in that area.
- Identify advisors from both inside and outside your industry. Potential advisory team members may include entrepreneurs, business managers, customers, university or business school faculty, economic development professionals, chamber of commerce representatives, manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and vendors.
- Identify advisors for what they can and will contribute—not for show.
- Start your advisory team small and grow it as your business grows.
- Establish a relationship whereby you seek advice on key issues, but reserve the right to make your own decisions.
- Avoid burning out your advisors by being respectful of their time. Don’t meet just for the sake of meeting. Call them together only when you have a specific purpose, and keep the meetings brief.
- Use the phone and email to tap the expertise of individual advisors on specific issues.
- Listen more than you talk.