Choosing Wisely: How to Pick Your Advisors
Having recently launched my third business (media brand www.ClaudiaChan.com, which uniquely shares the wisdom of 100+ female leaders online and at events), I’ve been reminded just how valuable it is for an early stage business to build an advisory committee. After 12 years of entrepreneurship, this is my first venture as a solo founder with no partners to rely on for advice or perspective—so building a network of trusted advisors has given me a much-needed sounding board (not to mention sanity!).
But regardless of whether you have a couple of co-founders or you’re going at it alone, advisors are a crucial part of your success. The trick, of course, is making sure yours are the right ones for your business. So when looking for advisors for your young company, make sure you consider these three important things.
1. Define Your Most Important Needs
Assuming that you’ve defined your strategic objectives for the business, think about the key areas where having guidance, consultancy, or introductions could really help you achieve your goals. From there, identify the different skills, expertise, or connections you’re looking for, and come up with the profiles of your desired advisors.
You don’t necessarily want people whose backgrounds match yours, either—rather, look for complementary skill sets and diverse areas of expertise. For example:
If You Need: Industry Related Intelligence
If you have a marketing research background and are launching a fashion technology company that relies on winning over retail buyers, finding an advisor in the fashion world is key. And if that person has buying or sales experience, that's the jackpot.
If You Need: Strategic Introductions
If you are looking to raise a round of capital in the near future, look for financial professionals or well-respected entrepreneurs who have great contacts and can make introductions that could otherwise take you months to find.
If You Need: Veteran Experience
If you have an emerging beauty product business that is really starting to gain traction, having an established entrepreneur in the beauty or consumer products world advising you on your growth will be invaluable. Not to mention, her name will carry weight when you’re seeking investments or partnerships.
2. Choose Advisors You Are (or Would Want to Be) Friends With
When you’re creating a new venture (particularly one with a non-traditional model), most people won’t quite get your vision until you start showing it to them with actions instead of words. And that’s why it’s important that you have advisors who have faith in you from the get-go. Friends or mentors that you trust and have professional chemistry with will believe in your vision, want you to succeed, and be as honest with you as possible—and that’s exactly who you should be surrounding yourself with.
If you don't have an excess of contacts that fit this bill, that’s OK—just take some time to get to know the people you do find. There are many impressive people out there, but don’t let someone’s experience or fancy title whisk you away before you really know a person and whether he or she is a fit with your company. Like anyone you want to build a lasting relationship with, chemistry and trust are important.
3. Don't Let Board Formalities Stop You
Often entrepreneurs shy away from recruiting advisors because of the formalities involved—defining compensation, quarterly board meetings, setting up responsibilities, and more. But the reality is, you don't need a formal board. You can take advantage of all the benefits by bringing people on as informal advisors—one by one as you find them—just like you would any resource or partner for your business.
So why would people want to join you without being on your formal board? Lots of reasons. If they're early in their career, they may be looking to diversify their resume and want to be a part of something new and exciting. If they're more established, they may find the mentorship opportunity rewarding and see you as a way to stay plugged into business trends.
The most important piece is to sell them on your vision and on you. Most people—employees, partners, investors, and advisors—will join or invest in your team because of the founders.
As a new entrepreneur, you’ll want to get advice from as many people as you can. But when it comes to choosing the advisors who will see you through many stages of your business, it’s much more important to be thoughtful and strategic in who you pick. Good advisors will be an invaluable resource for you, and they’ll be in it with you (hopefully) for the long haul.
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Photo courtesy of NEXT Berlin.
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