Here’s the beauty of a top-notch advisor: They can make a big difference to your leadership team without breaking the bank. They can expand your network, fill gaps in your own knowledge, and just generally provide a sanity check. 

But to get a good advisor, and to have a good relationship with them, you need a good fit. So what roles might an advisor play, and why might anyone be interested in being an advisor in the first place?

First, let’s look at some of the specific ways a good advisor can help your company:

Avoid potholes. Advisors who have “been there, done that” as serial entrepreneurs have seen the common pitfalls and can alert you before you even get close to falling down. This can save you a lot of grief and help maintain your positive momentum.

Expand your network and make key introductions. Your advisor should be willing to introduce your company to key people in his or her network. Think customer introductions, investor introductions, or connections to critical talent. Nothing beats introductions from a well-respected person in the industry. Use them wisely.

Serve as sounding board. A small team can’t possibly be up to speed on everything. Advisors can help fill gaps in your team’s expertise, or may know a ton about a market you’d like to get into.

Represent “the other side.” One of the most difficult things to do as a small business is truly understand your value to a customer. Some of the best advisors will not only have specific industry experience, but they may have worked at a key target customer. Their insights can be invaluable, their perspective on the value of your small business spot on.

What about the advisor side of the equation? Why do people serve as advisors?

I grew into an advisory role over time. I was working near a start-up called Tau Science, and we often talked shop. Tau was facing a lot of issues that I had dealt with in my previous start-up, because they were doing what I had done: creating new and unique equipment and selling it into large companies. I had been there and done that, but in a different market. I started introducing them to people in my network, and eventually they formalized my role as an advisor to their company.

Why was I interested?

I had something to offer. Equipment businesses have unique challenges, and I thought my previous experience in the sector could be useful. I like thinking about creative ways to structure deals with large companies, for example. It’s like a puzzle.

I loved the team. Tau Science has an incredibly talented engineering team. The CTO has deep expertise in the solar industry, and I have learned a tremendous amount from him. The team is grounded in reality, meets their commitments, and is not prone to hype. Especially before the Solyndra bust, this type of realism was unusual and refreshing.

I'm excited by the opportunity. Tau Science is mapping out new territory in a young industry. They’re looking at new ways to test the quality of solar cells while they’re still on the manufacturing line. The tools are unique in their ability to take measurements even as the cells are whizzing by. The industry needs this sort of leap, and Tau Science is just the company to provide it. And I’m happy to help.