If you're an early stage entrepreneur in the process of forming an advisory board (or if you've already formed one), it may not be clear what kind of value these individuals can provide you and your company. It's great to say that a well-known individual has joined your advisory board, but if you're giving them equity in your company and not asking them for help, you're missing out.
You should absolutely feel comfortable asking your advisors for help. If you manage the relationships well, their strategic advice and introductions can be more valuable to your business than money at times. Read below for some best practices on what great advisors do so you know what you can ask of your advisory board.
1. Making introductions across strategic areas
Great advisors should open up their network to you and make introductions in almost any area of need. For example, they can introduce you to potential investors, candidates for employment, strategic partners, and vendors (e.g. accountants, lawyers). You may want to reference their LinkedIn to research desired introductions and make it a point to keep them apprised of your needs regularly so they can offer suggestions on potential introductions.
2. Sending articles of interest
If you're spending every waking moment running your company, you may miss an important article or two related to your industry. You can ask your advisors to be attentive on your behalf and send you anything they see that might be of interest. Just don't be offended if they send you an article about a competitor. They are just trying to be helpful. Let them know specific areas of interest to you such as industry trends, investment or acquisition activity in your sector, and potential clients.
3. Helping fundraise
Some of your advisors may also be investors in your company. If so, you could ask them for help in your fundraising process by potentially leading your next fundraise (setting the terms, writing a deal memo, and/or herding other investors through the process). If they're not an investor, they may know high net worth individuals or investment firms who might be interested in investing, and you can ask if they'd be comfortable making introductions on your behalf.
4. Helping recruit other members of your advisory board
Current advisors can also help you recruit other advisory board members. Your business will grow and evolve, and your advisory board should grow and evolve with it. You may find that there are specific knowledge voids you like to build over time (e.g. legal help, exit experience, government relations, industry knowledge, etc.). You can ask your current advisory board members for introductions in new areas as need arise.
5. Helping in the recruiting process
Not only can advisors introduce you to potential candidates, they can also give you their perspective by participating selectively in the hiring process. You may want to include them as an interviewer if they have a unique perspective or industry knowledge on a hiring need. They can also offer a knowledgeable yet less biased and distanced perspective which could be additive in your hiring process.
6. Attending strategic meetings with you
When your company is small (i.e. it's just you or a co-founder), you may ask an advisor to attend an important meeting with you. They could help you establish credibility and project a bit of gravitas. This can be especially valuable for first-time entrepreneurs to show that they have the support of experienced advisors at their side.
7. Helping you get access and press
Many advisors are also active in the startup community. They may be asked frequently to speak on panels or at conferences to share their expertise. If so, you can ask them to leverage their influence on your behalf. They might be able to ask for a free or discounted conference pass; they could recommend you as a speaker; and, they can refer you to one of their contacts in the media when applicable.
8. Serving as a reference
If you develop a close relationship with an advisor, they can then offer others perspective on you as a leader. You may be asked for references when trying to hire key candidates or secure important clients. A great advisor can be an advocate for you in this respect.
By knowing what kind of value advisors can provide you and your company, you can also know how to get the most out of your relationships. It is a great honor to be asked to serve as an advisor. They are aligned in wanting to see your company succeed, so let them know how they can be of help.