How to Set Up a Board of Advisors

Shawn Turner |

“Never tell your problems to anyone; 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” --- Lou Holtz

The quote above from the former Notre Dame head football coach was referenced during a recent COSE Strategic Planning Course discussion about how business owners should best go about asking for help for their business. For a little context, the panel of SPC speakers were saying that when an entrepreneur is in search of advice, the best place to find it is from other business owners. 

That’s where a board of advisors can come in handy for a business. But what’s the best way to go about setting up such a board? The SPC panel provided the following advice on how to put together a board that can help you work through your toughest issues.

Board composition and setup

So, who should you target to be on your board? People like you! You thought CEO was an acronym for Chief Executive Officer? It’s actually short for Consoling Each Other. These are the people who are going to have the best perspective on the various questions you have about staffing, sales, IT, and such because they’re living it too. Find people who have experience in a skill set that you don’t have. You’re a sales wonder, but struggle with marketing? Find someone who fills that gap. Pick people you will listen to, but avoid customers or vendors. You’re looking for neutral third parties here who aren’t afraid to voice their opinion and hold your feet to the fire.

The COSE Strategic Planning Course can be a good place to find potential board members for your business. In fact, several speakers said they continue to meet on a regular basis with the other business owners they met during their SPC class.

To avoid ties, try to have an odd number of people on your board. Also, setting a one-year term for board members is a good timeframe to start with to ensure there is a good fit for both the company and board member and to give the board enough time to understand the ins and outs of your business.

Running the meeting

Once you’ve settled on the makeup of the board, you’ll need to decide how often to meet. Setting up quarterly meetings is a good timeframe to start with. It’s also a good idea to pass along a copy of the agenda and any related materials so board members can begin preparing in advance. On the agenda, consider listing out how long you plan to discuss each item (e.g., 15 minutes to recap last quarter’s financials, 30 minutes on staffing, etc.) Designate a timekeeper for each meeting whose role will be to ensure the board doesn’t go over time on agenda items.

If running a meeting is not your strong suit, don’t be afraid to designate someone to take on that role. You’ll also need someone to take notes during the meeting and then to distribute those notes following the meeting.

Listen

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about your board of advisors? Listen to what they have to say! It can be easy to coast along with your business. You need people who are going to ask you the difficult questions that you need to answer if your business is going to grow.