The Power of Advisory Boards

For years, I have advocated for my clients to formulate and utilize an advisory board of their peers, customers, suppliers, and key employees. A diverse team dedicated to the success of the company that could provide insights that you (the CEO) never saw coming.

Well, last Thursday night I finally ate my words and hosted the first Small Business Matters advisory board for the 2015 conference. It was a diverse group indeed. There was the numbers guy who meticulously reviewed my budget with a fine-tooth comb. There was the marketing guru, loaded with exciting and innovative ideas about brand awareness, positioning, and messaging. There was the retired entrepreneur, the communications expert, the event manager, and the distribution specialist. Young and old… male and female… seasoned and green, they were all there.

The meeting began as expected with the group being relatively quiet and unassuming. I started by giving my mission and vision for the conference as well as a status update with information about potential speakers, sponsors, and table facilitators. I then ran through the budget and explained my thought-process with regard to projected revenues and expenses. Finally, I reviewed the marketing and communications plan, describing what we had done in the past, what worked and what didn’t, and the various tactics we had thought of for this year.

That’s when things took a turn.

The group began conversing honestly about their thoughts and feelings toward past conferences. What they liked about the event. Why they think small business owners are attracted to it. New ideas sprung up. Passionate discussions quickly followed. The numbers guy and marketing guru began debating ROI vs. brand value. Before I knew it, I had a list of 20+ questions that I had not previously thought of; everything from website design and functionality to business models and pricing.

And then, before I knew it, it was 9:00pm. The advisory board had met for over two hours, and I had a laundry list of action items to follow-up on.

 As we began to pack-up and collect our belongings, one of the advisory board members looked at me and sarcastically said, “Still think this advisory board was a good idea?”

Without a second thought, I responded, “Absolutely.”

Because that’s the beauty of an advisory board. It makes you think about your business from a different perspective. Insights arise that you had never before thought of. The SWOT analysis that you had previously created may now look completely different. What seemed like a good strategy last week now has more flaws than you can count.

With all that said it’s important to remember that the advisory board is never more than just that… an advisor. Their mission is to provide you with an alternative outlook and to challenge you as an entrepreneur. As the owner, founder, or CEO of the business, you know your company better than anybody. All final decisions rest with you.