By now I bet there's not a single business person in North America who doesn't know that creating an advisory board for your small business is a good idea; having a group of experienced, knowledgeable business people help manage your business can be the difference between success and failure.
But like a lot of things that are a good idea, the implementation is a different story. Just how, people ask me, am I supposed to get people to be on my advisory board?
First, what not to do when you’re looking for board members; don't advertise in your local newspaper. One local small business person I know did this and then was aghast at who applied. "They were practically all loonies," the woman told me, "and not a single one of them had the kind of experience I was looking for."
So assuming that you want a competent advisory board for your small business, where should you look for people who might be willing to serve?
1. Industry-specific organizations.
As you're looking for people with knowledge of your particular industry, this is the logical first place to look. Hopefully you are already a member of one or more. Organizations devoted to your industry have rosters of members (sometimes even conveniently online) that you can browse through.
Joining Industry Organizations outlines the general benefits of belonging, but one benefit that’s not mentioned is the opportunity to meet and get to know potential advisory board members at the organization’s real life and online events.
2. Business organizations.
And then there are general business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, local Business In Action Committees and local networking groups - another potentially rich source of people who might meet your requirements for advisory board members and be interested in serving.
Don't forget business-related organizations such as the Rotary Club when you're looking. Read Join Business Organizations to learn more about different groups you could join and the benefits of joining.
3. Organizations for retired professionals.Many professions have separate organizations or branches of their organization for retired folk, and these can be a great source of experienced people who may be interested in serving on your advisory board.
World Probus is of special note here because, being a worldwide social club for retired business and professional people of all kinds, the group could be an incredible source of business expertise.
4. Your daily business dealings.Sometimes during the courses of our daily activities, we meet people that stand out because they impress us in one way or another. Take the time to have the conversation and do a little gentle probing to find out if that person might be someone who'd be suitable for your small business advisory board.
5. Other boards.Ever hear the cliché, if you want someone to get something done, ask someone who's busy? Well, it's true. Busy people tend to be organized types who know something about efficiency. And people who serve on other boards, whether they be business advisory boards or not, also are familiar with governance rules, another big plus in an advisory board member.
That's not to say you should "steal" people from other established governance or advisory boards, but if you know of someone who is on a board, doing a good job, and is enjoying the experience, there’s no harm in asking – he or she may be interested in taking on another project.
How many people do you need for your small business advisory board?
For a small business, three is often enough. Board of over seven people become unwieldy. Judge the size of your board on the size of your business and its scope of operations. It would be silly to have a small business advisory board of seven people for a one person operation with no employees.
The next steps
Once you've found someone you'd like to be an advisory board member, the next step is persuading them to be on your advisory board. As well as the persuasive strategy in the article just linked, I've prepared a sample advisory board invitation letter that you can use.
And when your advisory board is set up and ready to go, An Agenda for Your First Advisory Board Meeting provides a sample agenda and advice for getting your advisory board meetings off to the right start.