Bring them on board! Of course you should ask people for their suggestions, advice, ideas, knowledge about potential competitors – anything that increases the likelihood of your success! But here is the challenge: Whom to ask? It is easy to start with the three Fs – like when you ask for your pre-seed money – Family, Friends, and Fools. But don’t fall into that trap; they might be the perfect Family, great Friends, and fun Fools. And if they really, really belong to the three Fs they will be happy to help you, almost to the point where they are proud that you asked them. But that is not the same thing as they are the right people to bring on!
You should only bring on people who can support you because they have: knowledge, experience, and/or contacts of importance to your business – nothing else!
You should strive for diversity, men and women, young and old, market intelligence and general experience in doing business. But don’t bring on too many! Instead pick a few, work with them, some will eventually politely tell you that they don’t have time, then it is time for you to bring on new ones. Your need for advice will be plenty but those who can give them are going to differ depending on where you are in creating and executing. If those belong to one of the Fs, great! If they don’t, you just have to try a little bit harder to get them to devout their time to your idea.
Let’s assume that you have gotten them to accept, then your job is to keep their attention. Remember that they probably have several other entrepreneurs calling them eager to spend their time, money, and to utilize their connections.
Below I have listed a few things to keep in mind to turn your connections with advisors into long lasting relationships:
- What’s in it for…?
As early as possible try to establish a Give/Get, that is, be clear on what you would like to Get from the relationship and make sure on what you can/will Give to the advisor. I would even go so far to suggest that you should include both some sort of description explaining what should be accomplished as well as when in time it should happen. Aligning expectations by doing a Give/Get makes it easy for both you and your advisor to know what to expect from the relationship, what to discuss and not discuss and – crucial to keep in mind – when to end the collaboration. The last one is especially important since an amicable ending is a good beginning whenever you need to reconnect for some other reason.
- Come prepared!
Show your advisor respect by always being prepared. Send information in advance, share the topics and/or questions you would like to discuss, and be conscious about time: start on time and end on time. And please, promise not to ask about things that you easily could have found out yourself!
- Use your ears more than your mouth!
Listen more than you talk. Your advisor is on your side – no need to pitch to her - and if you have chosen wisely then it is worth paying attention to what she has to say.
- Pay it forward!
You should do to others what you would like them to do to you. You might not feel that you have a lot to give to your advisor but there are others who would greatly benefit from your advice; startups, students in need of someone from the “real world”, or at public events. Share and you will become recognized for your insightfulness, generosity and as someone that is in the known.
- Acknowledge their contribution!
Say Thank you! Acknowledge your advisor’s contributions whenever it is appropriate. Why? Because first of all it is polite and she deserves to know that you value the input and time, second because that is a way for your advisor to earn “reputation points” – an important currency in the world of entrepreneurship. You mentioning their names and their value to you will contribute to them being more well-known and appreciated by others.
- Create a Circle of Advisors!
Don’t regard your relationships with your advisors only as one-2-one connections. From time to time, bring them all together, maybe even lighten it up with something to eat and drink. Why? Two things: they will enjoy the opportunity to increase their networks – might mean more business for them – and when they talk with each other about your business you might identify opportunities or ways of scaling that haven’t come up in your individual meetings with them.
One thing to remember: Advisors can never replace the importance of building a great team of people in your company. Your advisors will never have stakes in what you are doing in the same way as you and your team. Your advisors will not toss and turn during nights agonizing over the next step in growing the company, they will not spend the same amount of time and energy as you and your team, or grueling over the potential competitors lurking in the shadows. Balance a great team with great advisors and the probability of success will increase.
I wish you all the success with your business and your Circle of Advisors!
Ps. Please share any comments, questions, or suggestion you might have related to my humble suggestions above. firstname.lastname@example.org