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The Whys, Wherefores, Hows and Benefits of Having an Advisory Board for Your Business

11 Jun 2015 | Posted Under Business
Phyllis Barr
Corporate Culture & Heritage Marketing
New York, NY


Director of Connections for LinktoExpert

In 1997 having had my own business for five years, I decided to see if I could create an advisory board. I had taken a course in running a small business and regularly talked with other small business owners and others as well, particularly about marketing, branding and advertising. Some I knew from my old life when I had worked for a major institution; others I met through organizations I had joined.

I advise companies on leveraging their history and heritage particularly at the time of an anniversary of a company, non-profit or brand or product among other services which are described on the site, quite a mix!

What made me think seriously about establishing, if possible, being a one person with interns business, was an experience I had had when I created Trinity Museum in Trinity Church, Wall Street.  I put together a group of consultants including designers, climate control expert, security expert, and fellow historians, museum education intern, and  including some of my former professors. We met as a group and I also met with them individually. The interplay and interaction and exchange of ideas was very valuable.

I decided I would just try and if I failed, so be it. If I didn’t try I would always wonder. I asked two people I had known when I worked for Trinity for 14 years one whom I had met at a community organization planning the anniversaries of the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Those meetings were very informative and taught me a lot. I met one member of the board at those meetings which she chaired and hosted. Another was a neighbor.

I then approached 14 other people I had met at professional associations or whom I knew from clients for which I had worked and in one case a present client.  I was stunned when all but one said yes. Some had to get permission from their companies. 

They worked in the fields of publishing, advertising, marketing, finances, branding and public relations/communications. They suggested and all agreed that I include their names and the names of their companies in my media kit. Again, they had to get permission. No company refused which still amazes me.

All were sent formal letters asking them if they would serve AND noted this would not be a board with any legal standing, but simply advisory. This is very important as serving on a corporate board carries obligations of a legal and fiscal nature. I had consulted with a lawyer I knew.  I did not pay anyone.

Although they all knew about my business and the multi-services I offer, I sent them information about the business, my goals, and myself. I then planned a meeting. One member offered their conference room which her organization made available to members. Others got permission from their bosses to have a meeting at 8:00am or at lunchtime. I paid for the food.
About seven or eight came to each meeting as they all had packed schedules. I then sent minutes to all and spoke to the others. We met three or four times a year.

The synergy and ideas that came out and the interaction of the members reminded me of my past experience. They said they found the experience to be a positive one.

There is no way, I must emphasize, that I could have formed this advisory board when I started out. I had to pay my dues both literally and figuratively by not just joining professional organization, but serving on committees and showing up and doing what I was charged with doing or working for their company. 

The Board disbanded about 5 years later for reasons which had nothing to do with my business, but the fact I had had an accident and couldn’t work for awhile and because of the recession in New York City after 9/11. Some on my board were laid off and took early retirement; others got laid off and had to start their own business and some moved away from the City. 

But I am still in touch with some of them and they still are willing to offer advice, references and testimonials. And all for no cost to me.

I suggest asking other small business owners you know if they have a board; surveying people on their opinion; and taking a chance. Having the board taught me a lot. And although it is no more, I am glad I took the chance and grateful to the former members; and the continuing relationship with some.

I debated whether to start another board, but I had so many I could turn to for advice, I decided that I would ask for advice on a person-to-person basis and that has worked well. 

Good luck and let us know what you do!

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