When you need to make a major career decision, to whom do you turn for advice? When you are considering a new project or a product roll out, do you collect unbiased feedback? For industry insights, how do you stay informed –not via the news or social media-rather via smart, savvy people in the know?
If you don’t have an answer to any or all of these, let me provide a possible solution: create your own board of advisors.
A personal board of advisors (BOA) is simply a small collection of professionals that you can gather in an informal setting (or via phone/e-mail) to share your career and business decisions where you’d like input from people you respect. “Having a personal board of directors can be a game changer for your career,” says Ellevest Founder, Sally Krawcheck, in a recent blog post. “They’re the people you turn to when you need to make strategic decisions: should you take that new job? Should you join this non-profit board?” Some professionals, like Sally, use the term ‘director’. I prefer advisor because this position isn’t paid nor does it have any legal right to make official decisions on your behalf. The advisor role is more like a group of mentors with relevant experience and a willingness to give you solid feedback and be available if you need them.
Five Tips To Creating a Personal Board of Advisors
Creating a BOA sounds simple, and it is, but getting started can seem a bit daunting. Here are some tips I’ve used.
One: Decide On Your Objectives for Creating a BOA
Busy professionals want to feel they are valued if their time is given. So, create a short list of objectives and purpose for your BOA. Be as specific as you can knowing there will be changes along the way. For example, if you are launching a new company, let your possible advisors know you’ll be seeking counsel on start up questions.
Two: Selection of BOA Members is Critical
Your purpose and goals will guide your choices for advisors. Using the business start up example above, in this case selecting someone that has launched a company or left a job to start a freelance business would be a solid choice. Perhaps someone with a lending or financial background would fit. The key tip for selecting BOA members is to avoid friends and family UNLESS they have completely relevant professional experience.
Three: Formally Ask and Explain The Time Commitment
The first question anyone is going to ask when you ask is about time. Build that into your objectives. Also, don’t assume people that like you will want to be part of a BOA – and don’t take offense if they don’t! Approach people formally with the request like your would a job interview rather than just guessing that someone you respect would like to serve in this capacity.
Four: Create Regular Contact
A BOA is different than a single mentor or peer in that you’ve created your own custom little group. As such, I advocate that you facilitate regular connections between that group. You could host a quarterly conference call, for example. Or, you could do an e-mail distribution list. Establish the timing and frequency before asking members and provide a list of questions or a brief agenda whenever you gather your BOA.
Five: Give Value Back
I created a BOA for my grant writing company. I know one of the reasons I was able to obtain the willingness of such awesome people was that they also wanted to talk to each other. During each quarterly meeting or call, we took turns sharing industry insights from our unique arena before I asked for help and feedback. The group came to value to connections I offered them.
BONUS: Consider Rotating People off Your Board As Needed
People change; so do your needs and their available time. Consider setting ‘term limits’ up front and rotating people off of the board. You can always adjust this later, but I found that I was more apt to get powerhouse advisors when I only asked for a finite amount of time. My first request was to join my BOA for 12 months and reassess. After a year, some stayed and some went, but those that went also offered great suggestions for replacements!
Always listen to your instincts and ultimately trust yourself but pros know that they’ll never possess all the necessary expertise to win. A BOA is one way to access great resources and continue building powerful connections.
ACT like a pro out there!