If you are unable to devote the time and resources necessary to a full-fledged board of advisers, there are alternatives:

  • A board of professional advisers: If nothing else, convene your paid, professional advisers (including, perhaps, your banker and a consultant if you have one) a couple of times a year just to bring them up to date on the business. Some entrepreneurs may find this threatening (and expensive, if the advisers are billing). But, Ward is quick to add, "these are smart people who see lots of businesses and are going to raise questions." Moreover, preparing for the presentation forces you to do your homework. Because you are already a client, the arrangement can also ease disclosure fears.

  • The ad hoc board: Instead of constituting a board with regular meeting times, approach potential mentors individually, meeting with each for coffee occasionally or corresponding by e-mail. Or recruit a board for a short-term project. Either approach can serve as a tryout of sorts for a more rigorous approach later on.

  • The task-specific board: Some experts, including Eisenhut, believe advisory boards are best constituted for a specific purpose and a limited time. In this view, when convening a board for a strategic objective, "you need to have 60 percent to 80 percent of the framework in place," he says. "Then you go back to the board and have them put the final touches on." Each member of the board should have a particular area of expertise: finance, operations, purchasing and supply chain logistics, and a variable--regulatory, say, or real estate knowledge.