How a solid bench of expert advisers can help round out your skills and better set you up for success.

Build a trusted team of advisers.

No entrepreneur can master every aspect of being the boss: An ace marketer and salesperson may be able to bring in accounts weekly. But maybe he or she can’t find the enthusiasm for project management and struggles keeping up with work volume. Or perhaps there are judgmental blind spots.

You can strengthen these weak spots as you hire employees by seeking candidates who bring complementary skills to your shop. But if your business plan doesn’t provide for an office full of talent right now, building a trusted team of advisers makes great sense.

What’s an advisory board?

An informal advisory team is a group of seasoned professionals. This team is ready, able, and willing to fill in your managerial gaps, to offer expertise, and to even call out a bad idea, as needed.

Informal advisers are typically motivated solely by a desire to help entrepreneurs succeed. That said, it’s still customary, and respectful of their time, to compensate an adviser. Perks like travel reimbursements, meals, free use of the firm’s products and services, and whatever additional forms of gratitude you can manage for their time are all options. Consider increasing compensation as your business grows.

Where to look for candidates.

Many organizations and programs exist solely for the purpose of supporting new entrepreneurs and helping them to succeed: In addition to the Small Business Administration’s SCORE mentorship program, the SBA also holds many less formal local events attended by potential advisers. Other organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and local networking groups, are also great sources of advisory talent and may organically help you form valuable business partnerships at the same time.

What will be your search criteria?

For starters, don’t make the mistake of looking solely for more experienced versions of yourself—people who’ve owned businesses like yours for a longer amount of time. Some of the best advice comes from those in totally different fields who can offer you a unique point of view.

Say, for example, you’re launching a women’s accessories shop; though it might not seem comparable, the guy who runs a swimming-pool supply store may become an invaluable marketing guru. Likewise, if you’re selling themed baked goods, a corporate events expert may not only have insights into your business—they may also become a great source for new customers.

  • Have they been in your small-business shoes? Do they seem to understand your challenges?
  • Can they share some past advisory successes? How did they attack a problem with their advisee? Do they have a handle on the big-picture benefits of the collaboration?
  • Would they be willing to do a tryout? Ask the candidate if they would consider working on a test case with you.
  • Do they have any conflicts of interest? The best advisers have multiple advisees. Since you’re potentially sharing confidential information, be certain no other advisory relationships would pose a conflict for you or your adviser.

Other considerations

As you engage potential advisers, note their temperament. Even if someone has a great advisory style, it might not be one that works for you—and that’s okay. Much of this relationship’s success is subjective.

When you’re making your final choices, think big: Would this person be a great choice for an eventual board of directors, when the time comes? After all, the more people you have on your management team for the long term, the better. Choose wisely now, and you’ll be on the road to greater successes later on.

Need help developing your advisory team?

Consider using the resources of an M&T Business Banking relationship manager. Call 1-800-724-6070 to make an appointment.



This article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.


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