The day to day realities of growing a business mean that, as a woman entrepreneur, you may feel that you can't possibly make time to serve on a board. In the instances when I have brought up the term "board of directors" with entrepreneurs, I have found them more likely to discuss the challenges of building out their own boards of directors than serving on someone else's.
I get it. There are myriad activities that seem to present a clearer, more direct path to growth: sales to close, capital to raise, people to hire and products to tweak. But for women entrepreneurs in particular, serving on someone else's board -- whether that be a charity, startup, or corporate board, is an overlooked and powerful strategy for fueling your own company's growth. Here's why.
1. You'll raise more capital.
Women entrepreneurs own 38 percent of all businesses in the United States, but raise just 2 percent of all capital. The primary reason women under-raise, according to Lesa Mitchell, a managing director at startup accelerator Techstars, is a "lack of access."
Mitchell points out that when it comes to raising money, it's very much a game of who you know. Women entrepreneurs often lack connections to investors, which makes it that much harder to secure funding.
That's where boards come in. When it comes to expanding your network, boards pack a powerful one-two punch. First, boards are typically filled with successful, well-connected individuals who can facilitate the types of introductions you're looking for. Second, because of a regular meeting structure, boards present a great opportunity to build meaningful relationships with up to a dozen new people at once--no awkward networking receptions necessary.
2. You'll make better decisions.
One of my personal favorite aspects of serving on boards is getting a front-row seat to the decision-making criteria of other, very smart people. Because the role of most boards focuses on providing strategic oversight and counsel to the CEO, as a board member, you spend a great deal of time talking through the long-term implications of strategy and learning from other people's approaches and experiences. This exerts a powerful influence on how you make decisions.
My personal approach was always "ready, fire, aim." However serving on boards, with its attendant exposure to multiple viewpoints, has helped me insert greater patience in my own decision-making process.
3. You'll become a more effective salesperson.
As a board member, your job is to review, analyze, discuss and in some cases, decide. When you are part of a healthy, high functioning board, you'll take part in a number of vigorous debates on strategy and direction. As a group, you'll need to consider the information before you, weigh the pros and cons, and help guide the CEO on a particular direction. Inside the boardroom, these debates offer fascinating insight into the art of building influence, securing buy-in and negotiating support. Outside the boardroom, you'll discover that you're building ninja skills in the art of influence -- a powerful sales skill.
Growing a business is one of the most rewarding and time consuming tasks you can assume. Devoting the extra hours to someone else's board is well worth the effort.