Here Is How to Build a Killer Start-up Advisory Team

As an entrepreneur, you’re only as good as the people around you. One of the common threads I see between those who are successful is that they don’t try to do everything on their own. They know when to ask for help.

The most effective way to ‘get help’ is to build a smart advisory team around you. A team of advisors can help grow your business and also make you a better small business owner by helping you see the forest from the trees.

One of the most important things to do as your business grows is to shift your focus from the tactics (day-to-day “stuff”) to strategy (where you want to take the business and how you will do it) and a great team of advisors can help you with that transition.

Building a team of advisors takes some work, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Whether you’re a one person startup building your online empire in the wee hours of the morning, or a team of fifty looking to grow your sales to $100 million, having a great team of advisors to work with will accelerate your progress more than almost anything else.

Building a killer advisory team will help you make less mistakes, get to your goal faster, improve your business and hire the best candidates.

How to build a killer startup advisory team:

First work out what you are good at.

Take some time to recognise and mark what you’re good at. Whether it’s marketing, product creation, finance, culture, hiring, customer service, public relations or strategic planning — working out where your strengths and weaknesses lie is the perfect place to start.

The three areas that you’re the least confident with will guide you to find advisors who are able to help you with your weaknesses.

Finding advisors:

The best advisors are those who are subject matter experts with proven business-building experience, not generalists.

A few good places to start:

  • Angel Investors on angel.co . These advisors will be typically entrepreneurs who have sold at least one business before
  • Expert contributors in forums about the topic that you need help with. Such as in areas like marketing or finance
  • Expert bloggers who passionately write about the topic that you need help with
  • LinkedIn searches for ‘startup advisor’, ‘startup investor’, ‘subject’ expert or job titles such as CMO, CFO etc

What to say to potential advisors:

If possible, it’s always better to get a warm introduction (from a mutual friend, etc) than to reach out cold.

If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, prepare 5-10 slides explaining your business and email it to one potential advisor, telling them a bit about yourself too. Don’t use a cookie cutter email, make it personal.

You’ll get one of three responses:

  • Yes: Great! Get on the phone and tell them about your business and what you’re hoping to learn from an advisor
  • No, too busy: You can either say thanks and move on, or reassure them that it won’t take more than a 1 hour call or a few quick emails per month
  • No reply: Leave it a week and try once more, they may just be busy

Remuneration for advisors:

If you’re just starting out, you should find advisors who will be happy to do a one-hour phone call each month or exchange a few emails with you for free. Assure them that you’re serious about learning and implementing what they teach you and that you won’t waste their time with silly questions.

If your business is already well established and/or you’re trying to win over a big time advisor, you might want to think about giving away a small amount of equity in your business (2% or less) or a salary (anywhere up to $50K per year if your revenue is $5M or above). In exchange, you can ask them to meet with you on a regular, more predictable basis such as an ongoing one-hour meeting per week or month.

What to talk about:

You’ll want an advisor to help you with one of two things. Either to improve on a specific skill set yourself (such as hiring), or that you want their help, and their network, to help you hire someone (such as a marketing manager, if you’re not good at marketing). Choosing between the two will depend on the stage of your business. The smaller you are, the more likely you will chose the first option for each of the advisors that you bring on.

Know the gaps you’re trying to fill. If you want an advisor’s help improving on a specific skill set, make sure you know exactly what you want to improve. Ask the right questions and take as many notes as you can.

How many advisors do I need?

Start with one advisor to help with whichever part of the business that you rated yourself the lowest on. Once you get into a regular phone/meeting rhythm with that advisor, that’s when you can think about bringing on another advisor. If you really need help on a single area (like strategic planning) you could find two advisors to help you with the same thing, as the saying goes, “two heads are better than one.”

How will I know if I chose the right advisor?

The part of the business that you used to struggle with should start to become easier the more you work with the advisor. The better you are at learning, the quicker you’ll outgrow your existing/advisory team, which is a good thing as it means that you’re ready to move on and find another advisor who can help you get to the next level.

The best entrepreneurs have mentors and advisors, and most have more than one. Your goal should be to spend more time doing what you’re good at and less time on what you’re not.

And if your business supports it, hire someone to work on what you’re not good at (use your advisors network to help find the right person). It might take 20 emails or 15 phone calls to find your first mentor, but the right person can make the difference between having a good and a great business.

Mitchell Harper is the Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Bigcommerce.com

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