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BUILDING A BOARD OF ADVISERS

How to Build the World's Best Board of Advisers

A guide to getting the help you need. And yes, you will need help.
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You have your doubts about advisory boards. I get it.

You picture people who don't know your business sitting around your conference table offering platitudes at best and inane comments at worst while all the time you're thinking, My time could be so much better spent building the company.

If you're picturing a board of advisers as a group of dilettantes or retired business people with nothing better to do than offer platitudes, then you aren't wrong to have your doubts.

But why would you ever want to have a board like that?

Let's deal with six key questions about boards, including who should be on yours.

1.  Why you need a board.

That's easy: It will keep you focused on what matters.

People are reluctant to change, and that's especially true if they've been successful. When things are going well, the natural tendency is to look around and say, "Everything is great. There is no reason to change or reinvent anything. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

What's the problem with that? A lot.

First, things are going to change whether you like it or not. New competitors will enter your industry; the economy is going to tank or start to take off; your most important customer could wake up one morning and decide it would prefer to do business with someone else. Very few things are within your total control.

Second, you may get into a rut when things are going well.

The third point is directly related to the second. If you are in a rut, you may not put in the time to truly study what the competition is doing and what customers really want.

A good board will make you keep your eye on the proverbial ball.

2. What truth has to do with it.

You always want honest feedback.

Yes, of course, you expect your staff members to tell you when your ideas are not the best.  But:

a) That may not always happen (for whatever reason), and

b) Given they work for you, you may tend to discount their opinions.

That's where a good board of advisers can come in handy. They will provide ideas you haven't thought of and give you a different perspective.

3.  Family members can be advisers, too.

Yes, it's OK to put family members on your board. They need to understand why you are putting in such ridiculous hours at work.

But they are there to listen and learn. Board meetings are not the place to explore family conflicts.

4.  You will increase your network. 

I will talk about who should be on your board in a second, but for now, know these people will be accomplished folks. That means they will know people who can help your business grow.

5. You will get mentoring. 

We all need help from time to time--and that "we" includes you. Perhaps the biggest role the board can play is giving you someone to talk to.

Having someone to bounce ideas off of or simply having someone to discuss challenges with can be invaluable.

6. The makeup of the perfect team. 

Let's deal with the most basic question: Who should be on your board?

First, let's start with the negatives.

Do not include people who are your company's accountants, lawyers, senior executives, or bankers, because they have a vested interest in pleasing you. They are beholden to you for work--and income. You can always choose another accountant (or accounting firm), lawyer, banker, or senior executive, and they know that. They have a vested interest in making you happy, and as such have a potential conflict of interest.

Do have six to eight--more than that gets hard to manage--creative problem solvers sit down with you three or four times a year to discuss your business.

They will be another asset you can draw on.

Last updated: May 19, 2014

PAUL B. BROWN | Columnist

Best-selling author (and Inc. magazine columnist) Paul B. Brown's latest book, Own Your Future, has just been published. Brown's blog appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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