Thursday, February 21, 2008

Take their advice

You can even semi-formalize your relationship with your early advisers. Consider putting together an advisory board filled with people who have already reached the goals that you aspire to, even if they don’t have the potential to become customers. If you can’t connect with the right people with expertise in your industry, seek out wise folks with business expertise in other areas, or a solid image in general. Maybe a senior manager with the company you just left would be interested in serving on your board. After all, your success will reflect favorably on her.

Tell your advisers what you expect from them and how much (actually, how little) of their time you’ll require. Never waste their time. Hold meetings regularly, perhaps over lunch, but infrequently. When the money starts rolling in, you can be more elaborate, if you want, by taking your advisers on a weekend getaway. But don’t pay them. You want objective advice. You want people who will tell you what you need to know, not necessarily what they think you want to hear. You want them to be unencumbered by the promise of stock options or other biases.

Types of practical advice to seek from your advisers:
- How logical is your business plan
- How best to approach others in your industry
- Thoughts on how long sales cycle is likely to be (from the time of your first appointment with
the prospect to the sale)
- Realistic expectations for generating customers
- Examples of what worked for your advisers when they started in business

Your objective with the advisory board, besides the priceless advice, is to establish in future prospects’ minds that you’re receiving regular input from reputable business minds. The idea that a bevy of well-known decision makers is willing to take the time to advise you on a recurring basis will mean a lot to your prospects. They will know that your adviser’s time is a powerful investment in you.

You can tell your prospects, for example, that even though you don’t have the level of experience enjoyed by your competitors, you receive advice from those who do. The time your advisers spend as your sounding board will engender peace of mind with your first prospects almost as much as a long list of customers.

Your advisers should help you willingly because they believe your success will increase the success of your industry or the business climate in general. Who knows? Some of them may become your customers. It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened. But that shouldn’t be the main reason you form a board.

You don’t have to have a Fortune 500 executive on your advisory board. Heck, you don’t even have to have an advisory board. You can ask one or two people to serve as senior advisers. When they agree, immediately put their names prominently on your web site, letterhead or other marketing materials. As long as your advisers
1) will increase the level confidence among your prospective customers and
2) can offer objective advice, nobody should be off limits as a potential advisory board member.

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