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Advisory boards - an idea for small business

Mention the word ‘board’, and I still think of suits, ties, and big tables. Not for the first time, the Startup Therapy podcast from startups.com with Will Schroter and Ryan Ruton has changed my outlook on things.

In one of their recent episodes, they discuss in some detail the benefits of advisory boards for startups - I would broaden that out to all new small businesses.

Here’s my take on the key points.

Surprisingly perhaps, there’s no board as such, no need to throw big meetings nor even for everyone to get together at the same time (one to one can work), and it’s definitely not a board of directors style set-up - members are responsible to you rather than the other way around.

It’s simply a group of, typically three to five, people that you pick, people who have extensively more experience than you, who can help with various, potentially very specific, parts of your business journey.

A couple of things, firstly the composition of the board can change over time as the business evolves and faces different issues - they mention a two-year term as a suggestion. The second point is that there’s no need to go for the butcher, baker, candlestick maker style type approach where you try to get a representative from all the main business disciplines. The point made in the podcast is that unless you expect to be involved in endless litigation, for example, appointing a lawyer may be a waste of a seat. Instead, pick people who understand what you are about to go through.

As regards the process of recruiting people for your board, the podcast suggests aiming high and asking established people who can add credibility to your business.

I would perhaps widen that out to say the pool of potential recruits could be much wider and not necessarily big players on the startup or small business space, people you already know, for instance.

At worst, they say they can’t do it, but you still have a potentially helpful contact for the future. And, in any case, people like to be asked!