“It seems like there are opportunities you might be missing. Why don’t we schedule some time in the office? We can think that through and arrive a go-forward plan together.”
I was enjoying happy hour on a recent holiday with two good friends, having a casual conversation about my business when this prompt to lend support occurred. It was needed. I was acknowledging out loud that I had arrived at a clear inflection point and was feeling a little stuck. The prompt from my friend was an effort to get some focus around unsticking me — fortunately for me, both friends at that happy hour also happened to be trusted advisers.
Running a small business can be a lonely road. You’re responsible for the livelihoods of people you care about, and you’ll confront numerous challenges as you attempt to move your business forward. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you are making moves that might just prove to be a big misstep.
More recently I’ve found that confronting these challenges in isolation is simply less than ideal. Enter my Personal Board of Directors. This is a group of carefully vetted advisers whose opinions and judgment I trust and respect. They lend invaluable expertise and competency that shores up my own gaps. I can call upon them for guidance and that insight helps me make more informed, strategic decisions.
Research backs this up: One study published in MIT Sloan Management Review found that informal support from colleagues and mentors has a huge impact on an individual’s career and personal growth
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned while setting up my personal board of directors:
Choose the Right Partners
Having a personal board of directors can be incredibly useful for your business. But as you think about who to put on your board, don’t just think of family and friends. Your family and friends may have great insights, but they may not have the expertise you need to build your business. Instead, think of people you respect whose insights you can learn from to get your business to its next iteration.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone on your board should come from the world of business. My life coach serves on my board; so does my financial adviser. Both help me shape my thinking for the long haul, which better helps me visualize the long-range thinking both about my life and where I want to be personally in 10 years — and what I need to do to get there.
My objective is no longer simply about building a thriving business. I want to build a business and a life that I love with people that I love.
So, when you consider your own personal board of directors, I suggest the advice of the one and only Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What do you want your average to look like? You need insights from many different areas, after all. Make sure that you’ve got all those areas covered — not only so that you can build a great business, but also a meaningful, fulfilling life.
Engage with Your Board
Appointing a board of directors doesn’t mean you need a conference room where your members meet for weeklong summits, fueled by take-out lunch orders. Instead, make it more informal. If you have someone in mind, reach out and tell them something like this:
“Hey, I’m putting together an advisory board. I’m trying to grow my business these next 24 months, and it would mean the world to me if you would agree to participate on it. All I ask is that maybe once a quarter, that I can reach out to you for a phone call or a meal when I’m struggling with something, so that I can bounce a few ideas off of you.”
Often, just being asked will be enough if the ask isn’t too time consuming. And even though meeting once a quarter is not a large time commitment, the access alone can be invaluable in shaping your path forward.
Don’t Forget Your Clients
If you’re a small-business owner, another resource you should consider is a client advisory board (CAB). These don’t necessarily have to be your best customers, but your CAB should consist of a few very important customers that you’ve identified for their particular level of competency and contribution. Perhaps you’ve been able to have candid conversations with them in the past. Or they’ve been with your business through a variety of iterations. Either way, you have to find their insights valuable and also representative of the needs of your broader customer base.
Create a structure similar to your personal board of directors. Make sure that you reach out to your CAB once a quarter — or perhaps an interval you find more appropriate — so that you can tap into their perspective, expertise and knowledge. Then leverage all of those to move your business forward.
And as you grow, formalize your CAB meetings. Some businesses do two-day summits with their CAB, going on deep dives on how to better serve customers. But no matter what the size of your business, embrace your CAB. It’s a great way to develop intimate relationships with your most valued accounts, and even more importantly, it will provide you with the insights to get even closer to the customer and build the next iteration of your business in lock step with what customers need, want and are willing to buy!
That is just good business.