Every successful business owner benefits from the wise counsel of a select group of experts, who offer a differential diagnosis that brings fresh air and information into the room and drags us out of the echo chamber of our auto-pilot habits and ingrained perspectives.
Fortunately, life equips us with an advisory board, whether or not we recognize it as such. Unfortunately, most of the advice we receive is bad, starting with what know-it-all cousin Howie and meddlesome Aunt Sheila have to say (those two will have you broke in six months!).
No, our real advisory board must be carefully curated. One must know whose advice generally should be heeded and whose advice basically should be ignored. The advisory board that we consult can be informal. It is not necessary to create a formal board unless the business demands it. But we should check in regularly, to find out what is new on the horizen, figure out how to solve problems faster, brainstorm intriguing new ideas and overall learn how to work not just hard, but smart.
As numerous experts repeatedly recommend, listen to your clients and receive a wealth of information. Customers give the outside-in, other side of the desk view and what they value most can be surprising. You cannot always fathom what customer priorities will be and you won’t know until you let them tell you.
Customers are essential members of our advisory board. The client represents the marketplace and when the market speaks, business owners must listen. Ask for customer feedback in the form of evaluations, surveys, or plain old Q & A over coffee. Ask what they like about your products and services; ask what would enhance the experience of doing business with you; ask about upcoming trends in their organizations and figure out what you can monetize.
If you have employees, seek out their insights and advice on how your business protocols might be improved. Employees are in the trenches and often know better than the owner about how the business is perceived by customers. Employees are uniquely positioned to give very valuable feedback. Owners and managers should be smart enough to listen.
Likewise our accountant, attorney and other professional service providers, through the unique prism of their specialty, may offer useful advice that can have a positive impact on the business. A wise business owner creates an environment where employees know that their opinions and advice are welcomed, respected and at least occasionally implemented.
Do speak with experienced people within your industry, including competitors. Many will be happy to share a few pearls of wisdom with you, especially if they operate in another geographic locale. Marketing tips and other promotional strategies can be good topics to discuss, as could the types of services that resonate most with clients these days. If your summer vacation means travel, don’t be afraid to do some soft-touch networking. You might get some timely advice from a seasoned pro.
Additionally, I think you will find it useful to have also a structured advisory board esperience and for this I recommend membership in a peer group, also known as a CEO forum or roundtable. Groups consist of perhaps a dozen business owners in non-competing industries, are often segmented by number of employees and annual revenues and usually meet monthly for about 2 hours. The idea is to assemble a group of business owners who share a similar profile and who therefore have the perspective to offer relevant advice and support to fellow members.
When properly facilitated, group members function as each other’s board of directors. There is guidance and support on decision-making. Members celebrate successes. New ways to consider and resolve business challenges are put forth. Opportunities may be discovered, goal setting is encouraged and members hold one another accountable for progress and achievement. Peer roundtables can provide a welcome source of support and inspiration and do much to overcome the isolation that many business owners experience.
Thanks for reading,