by Vicki Gerson
Have you ever considered establishing an informal advisory board for your small business? Large companies have them. In fact, the largest companies in the world have all sorts of advisory boards, but many small business owners are reluctant to ask for outside feedback. Part of the appeal of owning a small business is the freedom of doing things your own way, so why ask a bunch of outsiders to start nosing around in your company?
Yet an informal advisory board is definitely something to consider. An advisory board can be composed of 3 or more people. The members can include other small business owners, members of the associations you belong to, creative thinkers and other experts such as your lawyer or accountant.
As you select members for your advisory board keep in mind that you don't want "yes" men and women. You want people who will provide you with honest opinions. Look for members that will help you monitor your competition, know the pulse of your industry and be able to come up with objective solutions.
When you decide you want someone on your informal advisory board, make sure this person knows what is expected and is willing to give the time needed to be a member. You don't want someone who says yes, but misses more meetings than he or she attends.
This advisory board should meet quarterly or twice a year. Make sure you compensate your board members, either monetarily or with some free products or services from your business. When you meet, be sure to include a catered breakfast or lunch.
If you keep your advisory board to local people, you will not need to pay the cost of airfare or accommodations. However, if you feel someone from another state would be a valuable addition to your board, the costs could be well worth the price of their inclusion.
During your meetings, create an agenda of goals and focal areas for your business. Share an overview of what has been happening at your company since the last meeting. Be sure to provide all the necessary details in writing. Also give each advisory board member a current balance sheet, new product literature, brochures, ads, current articles about your company and other pertinent information.
Leave time during the meeting for brainstorming about new products or services. This time can also be used for reviewing current products or services and how they can be enhanced or upgraded.
While no one understands your business as well as you do, an informal advisory board can provide you with excellent consulting services for very little money and can help you gain a fresh perspective on your business.