My company Cissé Trading makes brownie mixes, cocoa and other chocolate products, all ethically sourced from Fair Trade farms in the Dominican Republic. In just a few years, the company’s products landed on the shelves of more than 1,000 stores—but I couldn’t have done it alone. The advisory board I created for my business has been a big help. Here’s how to find a superstar advisory board of your own—and how to make the most of them to help your business grow.
1. Identify your needs.
Right now we have a nine-person advisory board, which is large, but the way I came up with it was by sitting down and asking, “What are the areas where I want advice and where do we have questions we need help answering?” So we came up with functional categories, such as legal, marketing, media and operations. My legal adviser, a corporate lawyer, read 600 pages of our Series A document. I told her, “You deserve a medal!”
2. Create a structure and stick to it.
My advisory board meets four times a year, and I ask for a year commitment. They don’t have fiduciary responsibilities, but the more structure you can put around meeting with your board, the better. Structure is better for them and for me. I ask for to two to five hours a month and attendance at the quarterly advisory meeting, either in person or on the phone. All of them exceed that.
3. Don’t forget your investors.
If you’re not using the expertise of your investors, you’re missing an opportunity. They’re people who care about your business and they want you to be successful—and they’re usually people who have had success in business or are entrepreneurs themselves. I’ve had investors help pack samples for trade shows, make introductions and look at multiple rounds of packaging.
4. Be efficient.
One secret to getting and keeping good advisers is to ask people for stuff they’re going to know the answer to. People want to be helpful. Don’t ask your press person to look at your legal documents. I like to ask my advisers questions that they can answer on their smartphone. I spell it out so it’s really clear, and they can write back yes or no, so you’re being efficient with their time.
5. Share their expertise.
I look at advisers as a way of supporting my team as well. My team feels 100 percent comfortable reaching out to them with their own questions.
Most of all, listen to them! I don’t think you’re going to get good advisers if you don’t take their advice.
Read more about Cissé Trading.
Photos: Christopher Lane
DIANA LOVETT / CISSÉ TRADING / MEMBER SINCE '11