There is no book, manual, or class that can fully prepare you for being an entrepreneur. Even if you read a lot, there is not one correct way to build a business and you will always encounter something you didn’t expect. That’s just the reality with startups.
So what do you do if you’re a first time entrepreneur? My recommendation: surround yourself with smart people and ask lots of questions. So how do you find people to answer the questions? Where do you find experts on the business you’re building? How do you get them involved?
Advisory boards are a good way for startup companies to get a broader network of people engaged in the business. Advisors can help you think through business challenges, make key introductions and/or offer personal/management advice. They also help build credibility for your startup. Venture Hacks wrote a great post about the nuts and bolts of advisors here.
To create an advisory board, start by identifying your key business challenges based on the current stage of your business. Are you focused on building a world-class consumer experience? Do you need to sell your product into key partners? Are you looking to learn how to market your product to consumers in a certain vertical? Do you need to figure out how to scale your business?
Once you’ve determined your key business needs, make a list of the people in your direct network and beyond that could help with your problems. Take consumer experience, for example. Who do you know that’s good at building consumer products? Who do you know that may know other people that built leading consumer products? Who are the industry experts on consumer experiences? A month ago I probably wouldn’t have included the last question, but I’m reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” on vacation this week and I’m inspired by Tim Ferriss.
Start reaching out to the people you know and set up meetings (preferably face to face). For people you don’t know, do a little research. Find out who in your network may know the person, research their work and personal interests and ask for introductions. People generally like being helpful, and most people will take a meeting with an ambitious entrepreneur working on a good idea if they get a personal introduction.
When you have the meeting, be clear about the advice you’re seeking: “I recently started X business. I’m currently facing a challenge doing Y. Given your experience with A, B and C, I wanted to ask you how you’ve solved this type of problem in the past.” Based on this first interaction, you can gauge whether the person will be helpful and whether you have good personal chemistry. If you think they are good fit, ask them to be an advisor. Most people are flattered by this request and enjoy sharing their personal experiences. Even if they cannot do it, they will be glad that you asked. If they say “no”, ask them to recommend someone else who may be a better fit.
Building your advisory board should be an ongoing part of your business planning. At each stage of your business, always think about whom else you should bring on board to help you with specific business needs. I would recommend doing this monthly and each time you face a new business challenge.
With inSparq, we currently have almost a dozen advisors helping us with different aspects of our business. We could not do what we’re doing without our advisory board. They have been incredibly supportive and I’m grateful to have them engaged with our company.
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