I just found out that I will be presenting at the 2010 National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) Conference to be held in Columbus, OH. My presentation is titled, “Don’t Go It Alone: It Takes a Village to Run a Successful Organizing Business.” It will focus on delegating, outsourcing, developing strategic partnerships, engaging in coopetition, etc. I had the pleasure of presenting to peer professional organizers at the 2008 NAPO Conference in Reno, NV, and am thrilled to be chosen to present again next year. Giving back to the professional association and industry that I belong to is an honor.
And in honor of next year’s presentation, below is the article of the same name that prompted the idea to submit the presentation in the first place. I hope it gives you some great ideas for your own business, regardless of the type of business you run.
Meet Your Board of Advisors
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” ~ Helen Keller
Imagine a group of people that are available to bounce business ideas off of, to help you make pivotal business decisions, and to serve as a sounding board. Major corporations have a Board of Directors. Non-profits have a Board of Trustees. Why can’t the solopreneur or small business owner too? You can! How? By developing a Board of Advisors for your business. You’ve heard of Mastermind groups, through which like-minded peers share ideas and support each other’s business endeavors? A Board of Advisors is similar, but usually consists of individuals from outside your industry, even clients.
Striking the Right Balance
I am a Certified Professional Organizer, Business & Life Coach and Motivational Speaker. I’ve been in business for seven years, am structured as a Limited Liability Company, and consider myself a solopreneur, in that I have no employees working for me. My Board of Advisors consists of an individual with a marketing background, an individual with a publishing background, two other successful professional organizers with a very different business model and focus than mine, two long-time clients, and my very supportive, objective husband. A good number to strive for is 5-8 members. Be careful not to include anyone on your Board of Advisors that pushes your buttons, saps your energy, or is competitive. In addition, try not to surround yourself only with “yes” men and women who nod approvingly at everything you do, and never challenge you or hold you accountable. You want members that challenge you to stretch your entrepreneurial muscles.
Do not confuse your Board of Advisors with your official team of advisors. Your team of advisors is usually made up of people that you retain to assist you with certain aspects of your business operations, such as a lawyer, accountant, graphic designer, webmaster, etc. These are paid professionals that you hire to provide services to your company, as opposed to an individual that is voluntarily providing assistance to you and your business. Yet another category of people that may provide assistance to your business are what I call power partners. These are vendors that you refer your clients to, or that you partner with on a project basis. Again, these partners are extremely valuable to a small business, but do not serve as a Board of Advisors.
What Does a Board of Advisors Do?
What can your Board of Advisors help you with? Everything and anything. A Board of Advisors can push you when you need a nudge, lift you up when you lose focus or faith, and help to keep you on track. Mine assisted me with the re-branding of my company last year, including the design of a new logo, business card, brochure, and website. Yes, I used a graphic designer and web designer to actually create the promotional materials, but it was my Board of Advisors that helped me to capture the overall vision and message I wanted to achieve. A Board of Advisors can act as a sounding board for the future launch of programs. When I was developing my signature approach to organizing, DECIDE®, my Board of Advisors provided invaluable feedback.
You can also use your Board for market research. These days, we have a plethora of resources available online, including social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, survey tools such as Survey Monkey, as well as forums provided by professional associations (for example, as a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, I have access to the NAPO Chat, which is an invaluable resource). All of these are fantastic resources, and serve a relevant purpose to a small business. But, there is something magical about a consistent group of people that can go deep with you, gets to know your business intimately, and is vested in some way in your success.
What Are The Rules That Govern a Board of Advisors?
When I recommend to a small business client that he or she create a Board of Advisors, invariably the client will ask me what the rules are that govern this type of relationship. It is entirely up to you and your Board of Advisors. Communication is key, so think about how you will communicate with your Board members. Do you hold in-person Board meetings, or communicate virtually? Should you develop a special online membership forum or website to communicate? I communicate with members of my Board of Advisors in numerous ways — by email, telephone and in person, as some are local. I have never convened a full Board meeting, although that may be in my future plans.
What are the benefits to your Board members? Some just want to be a part of a growing, successful business. Others may want tangible benefits, such as the ability to take your workshops for free, or buy products at a discount. Ask what they want in return. Find a way to acknowledge or reward the members of your Board of Advisors to let them know they are an asset to your business.
On the flip side, if you are asked to serve on a Board of Advisors, take the request seriously. I recently had to turn down an invitation because I knew I could not actively participate at that time. I appreciated the offer and confidence in my feedback, but passed it onto someone else that was a better match.
Take your time putting together a great complementary Board of Advisors and experience the positive affect it will have on your business. Now, go forth and create your village!