It's not easy being an entrepreneur these days. There are simply too many hats to wear and too many balls in the air to be successful on your own. If you're a business owner reading this post, I can see you silently tipping one of your many hats in agreement.
You could probably use several extra pairs of hands. Undoubtedly, you would exponentially increase your chances of success by having other people assist you along the way. Whether it’s a board of advisors that you meet with on a regular basis or someone you turn to for mentoring, it’s important to have some kind of outlet to ask questions and get answers.
If you decide to put together a board of advisors, make sure the members complement your particular set of skills—your weaknesses should be their strengths. Additionally, share with them the vision for your company, your goals for the current and/or upcoming year, and how you plan to achieve your goals. You should also address the area of compensating them for their time. If you meet on a regular basis (e.g. monthly or quarterly), work out a deal that makes sense for them to commit their time, knowledge and resources to helping you grow your company.
7 Areas to Address
There are seven major areas of business you should address with your board of advisors. In most cases, one person will be an expert in more than one area. Try to have at least five to seven members of the board (assuming that not everyone will be able to make every meeting). Don’t worry if some of the less important areas aren’t included in your board’s area of expertise. If necessary, you can always contact an outside expert for advice on those topics.
1. Finance. This is arguably the most critical area of need for business owners. The financial landscape for businesses has changed dramatically since 2007. Traditional loans are much tougher to get, credit-card limits have been reduced considerably, and the "friends and family" lifeline has all but dried up. Your objective is to find someone who understands crowdfunding as well as other alternative forms of financing, in addition to traditional paths.
2. Legal. There seems to be no shortage of lawsuits in our country these days. Having access to a good lawyer who understands where the landmines are buried on your road to success is just as important as having the right financial advisor.
3. Technology. The majority of small businesses use approximately 30 to 35 percent of their existing technology’s capabilities. Today’s computers, servers, tablets, and smartphones are well-equipped to handle the technology needs of your business. Instead of looking to see what’s new in technology, find an advisor who can help you maximize the technology that you currently have in your company. Be more efficient!
4. Marketing. Social media has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate in business. These days, customers are in control. They post pictures, write reviews, search for the best deals, and complain loudly when things go wrong. You also have competitors talking about their wins and losses, clients posting important information about their business, and people in the media looking for experts to interview. Social media is not a fad and it’s not a trend. It’s also not too late to join the conversation. I know you “don’t have time” to learn social media. As you put together your board of advisors, find someone who understands how social media can help you achieve your objectives in business. They can help you greatly reduce the learning curve and have you speaking the language of social media in no time (#hashtaganyone?).
5. Sales. There are millions of small-business owners who hate sales. They are very good at making products or providing over-the-top service, but when it comes to sales, they stink. If this is you, find an advisor who can help you and your team become better salespeople. In a small business, everyone sells. Face your fears, climb the mountain and become a salesperson.
6. HR. If you have employees, it’s important to keep abreast of the legislative changes taking place in Washington and at your state level—2014 is going to be a big year for change. For example, in the area of healthcare reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires small businesses with 50+ full-time employees to offer their employees affordable health coverage or pay a penalty. Which path makes more sense to you and your employees? A separate option is the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). SHOPs are exchanges that will allow small businesses with 100 or fewer employees to offer several health plan choices. Given the considerable expense of providing healthcare to your employees, and the extensive (and still undetermined) changes to the system, it behooves you to seek advice from experts in this area.
7. Business Development. This area can include procurement, exporting, partnerships, and other avenues to grow your business. It’s possible that your financial or legal board member will know people who can help your company in the areas of procurement or exporting. Additionally, they will likely have experience in utilizing partnerships for business growth.
The future is unpredictable. There is risk and uncertainty in almost every area of business today. Having the right board of advisors in place won’t guarantee your success, but it will measurably improve your odds.
As the founder and CEO of Brian Moran & Associates, Brian helps entrepreneurs run better businesses. He was formerly the executive director at The Wall Street Journal, overseeing the financial and small-business markets across the WSJ franchise. From 2002 to 2010, Brian ran Veracle Media and Moran Media Group, content companies in the SMB market.
Photos from top: Thinkstock, Shutterstock