By: Melea McRae
“It’s your right to be uncommon if you can … You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed.” – Ewing Kauffman
A client recently reached out asking for my advice on how to establish an advisory board for his new(ish) business. He was impressed with the caliber of the advisory board we’ve built at Crux, and the fact that we’ve maintained and continued to build it throughout the past six years.
Every great entrepreneur has both the ear and the brains of other great entrepreneurs in their corner. But where do you start, and how do you surround yourself with the right people to guide your business into the future? Below are five key lessons learned on how to build your perfect sounding board.
Start with your network
You’ve likely spent your career curating your professional network, not knowing exactly when or how you might need to draw on those connections in the future. Whether it’s the person who gave you your first job, someone you served alongside on a local nonprofit board or the individual you sat next to at your child’s game or recital, draw upon the experience of those already in your network. Your board should consist of professionals in industries different from your own, helping you think outside of the box to find innovative solutions to your most complex issues.
Find your cheerleaders
Your advisory board should be loyal as a champion and cheerleader for you and your business, celebrating alongside of you in your success and serving as a brand ambassador for you in the community. This trusted circle should also “get real” with you, delivering honest feedback that helps steer you toward success. Sometimes the most powerful word in business is “no,” and your advisory board will always have your best interests in mind to keep you on track toward your business goals.
At Crux, we believe the best results are achieved when we put our minds together. It’s easy to get caught in an echo chamber by surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals and “yes” (wo)men, but I challenge you to look outside of your immediate network to draw upon the expertise of multiple perspectives and backgrounds. Diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, education level and skillsets will enhance your strategies, influencing everything from your culture and employer branding strategies to the depth of your offering and business development strategies, making you a competitive force to be reckoned with in your industry.
We all know what happens when we have too many cooks in the kitchen. Make the best use of the brain trust you’ve built by limiting your board to between four and six members to start, growing as your grow your business and your broader professional network. Consider deepening a handful of your most valuable client relationships by inviting a member of their leadership team into this inner circle. Not only do they understand your offering better than most, but they are uniquely positioned to be the voice of the client as decisions are made that impact the business.
Some of the brightest minds in business are those with a lifetime of experience planning their exit toward retirement, and many are looking for opportunities to advise and mentor the next generation of business leaders, putting that expertise to good use. These subject matter experts know the problems plaguing your business better than most because they’ve lived it, allowing you to learn from their mistakes and triumphs through lessons learned. While it’s great to have like-minded individuals in the room who will champion your ideas, it’s equally important to ensure your advisory board is less of an echo chamber, augmenting your existing strengths. Consider the areas in which you’re weakest – maybe it’s HR or finance or marketing – and pack the room with those who can bring that expertise to the table.
As I built my business plan and launched Crux, I was humbled by how my network rallied around me to lend their expertise. They showed up and provided support as I took the entrepreneurial leap, and to this day, all of them continue to cheer us on either as continued members of our advisory board and/or friends of Crux.
Throughout this year’s Chamber’s Small Business Awards program, we reexamined Ewing Kauffman’s incredible legacy of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and as Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” Starting a new business is most certainly a calculated risk, but with a talented team and a strong sounding board, you, too, can dream, build and succeed as an entrepreneur.