When youre just starting a small business, an advisory board can provide valuable guidance and objective advice. Unlike a board of directors, which is elected by shareholders and legally bound to a corporation, an advisory board is usually composed of volunteers. Clear, concise communication shows respect for board members time and helps you get the most from their expertise and professional experience.
Set Clear Objectives
Your advisory board members are likely busy professionals, so clear communication is key. Before your first meeting, sit down with your business partners, managers, and trusted employees. Work together to determine how you want the board to help, both immediately in the future. Places to start include:
- Skills gaps in the existing team
- Questions about business operations
- Advice for achieving short- and long-term goals
Set Meeting Agendas
A clear, concise meeting agenda is one of the most useful tools for communicating with your advisory board. By listing the issues and questions you want to address at the next meeting, you can give board members time to prepare. Your defined objectives should form the basis of the agenda. Start with a quick update on the state of the business, and then get into the most pressing questions you have for the group as a whole. Use discussion-based issues to benefit from your members experience. If youre preparing to launch a promotional campaign, talk through your marketing plan. If youre struggling to handle payroll and taxes, ask for advice on hiring an accounting firm. Finally, plan time to talk about future business growth objectives and set goals. Email your agenda to the board in advance of the meeting, and invite members to request additions.
Communicate Individual Tasks
If you need to take advantage of an individual board members knowledge, the best time to do so is outside full-group meetings. Using your list of objectives, match specific issues to the correct board member. A board member who works as a web developer can offer suggestions for a more user-friendly website, while an experienced CFO likely has valuable insights into investments and financial structures. Before you reach out to individual board members, define your query process. For questions that require a short answer, you might opt for an email. Make your board members job easier by getting to the point quickly and explaining exactly what you need. If your issue requires a more in-depth discussion, write a short email that briefly explains the issue and requests a one-on-one phone call or meeting. By approaching questions professionally, you can get what you need without wasting board members time. Dont be afraid to ask for advice. Your board members volunteered because they genuinely want to help you build a successful business.
To provide the most effective guidance, your advisory board needs updates on business operations. Instead of waiting until board meetings, send out short updates on a regular basis. Small pieces of information are easier to process, and frequent communication gives board members the chance to spot problems or offer useful advice when you need it most. In each update, you might include items such as:
- Progress toward previously discussed goals
- Financial data
- High-level updates on major initiatives
- Significant challenges facing your company
Your advisory board can be particularly useful when it comes to strategic planning. Member insights and industry experience can help guide your plans for expansion, diversity programs, staff development, and board development. Its important to involve board members at the right time for your team. If youre new to strategic planning, you might hold a board conference call to discuss how to get started. Alternatively, ask the board to review the first or second draft of your plan. Focus members’ attention by asking pointed questions and inviting feedback on specific sections. Your communication methods shape your relationship with your advisory board. With a clear, targeted strategy, you can make efficient use of your board members knowledge base.