When Do You Create a Board of Advisors

iStock_000005458028XSmallThere comes a time when assembling a group of experts to help grow your business is considered smart leadership and a business best practice. When you reach a stage in your business where you have exhausted the collective internal experience, knowledge and skill to achieve your next phase of growth — create a Board of Advisors.

Every purpose of creating a board will differ for each organization. A business owner may be faced with great opportunity for rapid growth or significant challenges from conquering the next ascent in revenue, market or product expansion. The appropriate time to consider assembling a board is when the business path forward is less clear or cluttered with obstacles that could derail you from achieving your business goals. You have reached that period in your business when their is more “unknown” and you fear what you don’t know.

A Board of Advisors is different from local peer groups, leadership councils, service providers and executive mentors. Your board is a committed team of individuals working on your business. Advisors should have congruent skills that compliment your leadership. As an example, you may find that by adding a distinguished industry expert or technical guru best serves the next phase of your business  Adding market or sales expertise can open new doors, while a finance or legal expert can provide insight to reduce risk.

Experienced executives want to help entrepreneurs, startups and leaders that seek advice to grow their business.  It validates their business “wear and tear”, while providing meaning and value to their experience. The board should round out your executive court, as these advisors are typically not available to hire as full-time employees and can be “unaffordable” for smaller businesses. They also may be those exclusive experts that will always be in a role of advising and never work for a single entity.

The reason you bring experts together as board members is to increase effectiveness and efficiency in decision-making and strategic planning. A board will perform best when there is an exchange of ideas in an organized environment, centered around a single business issue. The board format is designed to solve problems. Each board member brings a different set of experiences, viewpoints and resources. Having a board working together with you to assess challenges and discuss opportunities, gives you invaluable advise that can save you significant time and money versus the “learn as you go” approach.

Board of Advisors are not in a role of governance. They do not have fiduciary responsibility to protect shareholders or investors, though they should be very responsible in providing any guidance related to financials or spending company money. Only an elected Board of Directors for a public corporation or non-profit have governance over a company. The Board of Advisors is a non-binding group of mentors and experts that work collectively with company leadership to achieve your business goals.

Advisors should be completely aligned with your goal and mission and also be able to challenge you by providing recommendations and views that will differ from your own. You do not want a board that agrees with all your ideas or thinks as one. Why waste your time.  They should differ in expertise and have the ability to assess short-term and long-term strategies, out load in a group discussion, without fear of reprisal.

A board is typically five to six members, excluding the CEO or business owner.  A Board of Advisors should consist of experienced and skilled individuals in varied areas where your business is lacking in comparable talent. In the early stage of a business, Board of Advisors are typically unpaid and may or may not have a long-term financial commitment through future equity.  As a business leader, be cautious of giving away ownership in your company early, this could be a note of contention with future financing.

The commitment of an advisor should be a minimum of two years.  It is valuable to set a term limit in reviewing board members, as you company is expected to grow and you need to be able to add new board members with different skills during later stages of your business.  Board members must also be committed to attend meetings.  A small business will typically meet with the entire board every 8-12 weeks.  If a board member misses more than two meetings a year, consider replacing the advisor.

Board members should not be family members, employees, contractors or service providers you pay for other functions in your business. It creates conflict of interests. Though a board of advisors are not employees, you should treat your advisors as accountable members of your C-suite. Set expectations, ask for help and use your board to help you achieve your goals.  If you simply assemble your Board and provide an update report on the business, you are wasting valuable resources and time.

Board of Advisors are trusted members of your inner circle. You can share with them confidential information and discuss highly sensitive matters that are not open for discussion with anyone else in your company. Your board should consist of credible experts that will provide insights you can not gain from any other resource. They should open doors, help you gain new customers or strategic partners and provide actionable ideas to help you achieve success. If you want to grow, create a Board of Advisors.

“You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it’s really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.” – Stanley Kubrick

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

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Over the Hill or Through the Woods

iStock_000021617437_ExtraSmallThe beginning of every year is an opportunity to set your direction and communicate your path forward. It gives you the chance to review and define your goals, personally and professionally. For everyone else, it gives them the ability to know how to best support and follow the leader. Does everyone that can impacts your business know your 2013 plan?

The lack of a defined plan for the year, leaves everyone taking their “own” best path forward. In the end, this may not produce or represent the organization’s goals or objectives. People will be moving, activities will be happening, yet you may be headed to exactly where you did not “plan” to go. It is up to you to stop the wandering effect of your business and your followers. Set the direction. Communicate your exact plan.  If you don’t have a plan, create one now — before it is too late.

If you have a plan and you have not shared it, this is the week to get it done! People and businesses need goals and plans. You can work endless amounts of time, expend great energy and spend a lot of money to end up in the wrong place. How did that happen? Usually it is because everyone is not working collectively on the same outcome. Everyone is heading in a direction, but it may not be the “right” direction.

As a leader, it is critical to everyone working with you that they understand your strategy and goals for the business. A plan provides the road map empowering you to define the activities and tasks. It opens the door to assigning responsibilities and setting accountability. More importantly, it gives you the capability of making a pivot or shifting your plans by creating a benchmark for how you will measure success along the path forward.

Working on a shared and communicated plan, gives business leaders a reason to stay in touch with employees, measure their progress and assess performance. People thrive on accomplishments and desire feedback. Knowing how they are contributing to the success of the business can only be measured by stated goals and objectives.

Get everyone working together. Options may be limited or options may be bountiful based on the path you choose to take the business. Communicate your choice. Will you be headed over the hill or through the woods. What will be in the basket full of goodies you will offer to your customers, vendors, employees and partners. How do they prepare to avoid risks? What will be awaiting when they arrive at the determined destination?

Your team is waiting for you to tell them the story. How it begins this year and how it will end. Provide regular updates and know that people will be looking for you to lead them in the direction you have shared.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
— Henry Ford

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Don’t Confuse Confidence with Enthusiasm

Enthusiastic blonde woman wearing big glasses.Business leaders, entrepreneurs, sales people and marketers utilize enthusiasm to draw people to their ideas. They passionately motivate us to follow and take action.  Enthusiasm creates an emotional attachment.

Beyond the emotion, we soon find ourselves wanting more.  We want to trust that we should follow, not follow blindly. We need proof that the words are supported by facts. We need evidence. We are convinced by confidence.

Enthusiasm opens the door, confidence is the closer. We are attracted by enthusiasm. We believe in confidence.  Enthusiasm is selling, marketing and promoting.  Confidence is demonstrating, providing proof and creating trust to solve problems and fulfill needs.  Knowing the difference is very important.  Knowing how to balance the two requires expertise.

A person that lacks confidence will often exude excessive enthusiasm to mask insecurities or lack of evidence.  Have you ever found yourself so engaged by a sales person that you forget you are being sold? Enthusiasm wins. The result may be buyer remorse or worse, deception. Perhaps a new hire enthusiastically convinces you that they can “do the job” and soon the facts do not support reality. A very expensive mistake for a small business – costing the company time and money.

On the flip side, a confident person can be so overtly confident they fail to listen to others or fail to create a following.  Confidence is not arrogance. Confidence can easily delude rational thinking.  The love of power convinces the most confident they can not fail, thus losing all sense of humility and gratitude. When you look around you and no one is cheering you along, your confidence has removed your ability to attract others. There is no emotional appeal. You are now the leader of no one.

Confidence is defined as full trust; belief in powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing, belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.

Enthusiasm is defined as absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit; lively interest.

How do you create balance and avoid the extremes? The perfect blend of confidence and enthusiasm is pitchman Ron “Ronco” Popeil.  He used demonstration to prove his inventions were viable and trustworthy. He used hype and selling to capture our mind share and imagination.  Who can forget his famous, “But wait, there’s more!”  Son of an inventor, Popeil is one of the most famous marketing pitchmen.  He showed you how you could dice onions, so you won’t shed a tear.  How you could depend on his electronic dehydrator to feed your children healthy fruit snacks instead of candy.  The lessons in all the infomercials where about solving a problem. Confidently.

What is the financial impact when you expertly blend confidence and enthusiasm?  Many of the Popeil inventions, most designed by Ron’s father, sold over 2 million. Ron Popeil is not rich solely from his fishing poles and spray on hair inventions. He is rich because he used enthusiasm to get our attention followed by confidently demonstrating how he solved our problems. He sold it. We bought it. We bought his confidence.

Whether you are pitching for investor dollars or motivating your sales team, you must build trust.  Demonstrate reliability and accountability.  Show the why.  Why you, why your company, why your ideas, why now.  Then use your persuasive personality to make sure the message is received, understood and people are left wanting more.

Enthusiasm without evidence is hype.  Hype doesn’t convince anyone, only gives us reason to be suspect.  Don’t oversell, don’t undersell. Confidence alone is mundane. Lead with enthusiastic confidence. A moderation of the two, equal but not separate, wins.

“Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” Norman Vincent Peale

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Entrepreneurial Spirit or Stress

High energy and optimism drive entrepreneurs to overcome the daily challenges of starting and running a business.  It is drawn from the spirit of achievement.  A belief in winning.  The achiever reflects on the vision supplanted in the back of their mind that reminds them they can do it.  Entrepreneurial spirit motivates. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial stress can be harmful.

Often times I see business owners who fight gallantly and passionately to get their businesses off the ground. Overcoming every obstacle with stamina and vigor.  Then the really hard work begins, as if the launch wasn’t difficult enough.  Selling. Operating. Scaling. Funding. HR, PR and avoiding the ER.

Days begin at 5AM and end around midnight. Sleep is sacrificed in place of getting more done.  Family and friends watch on the sidelines as the entrepreneur climbs to the top.  They are the cheerleaders, sounding boards and allies.  They see the competitiveness to win, so they encourage you more.  You’ve got spirit! You can do it, yes you can!

Our colleagues and advisors rarely say stop or slow down.  Why?  They don’t want to crush the dream.  They want to keep the spirit alive.  Businesses are built with emotions of positive thinking, ambition and heart thumping enthusiasm. They are also built with blood, sweat and tears.  We chant faster, better, more.  We ignore slower, take a breath, and reminders to enjoy the journey.  We convince ourselves we work better under pressure and stress.

As we are conditioned more than ever to reach for the stars, who is telling you to chill out?  It seems counter intuitive to being an entrepreneur.  Is it?  Can you get more accomplished when you are relaxed and well rested?  There are countless studies that prove stress is bad for your health.  It increases heart disease, inflammation, chances of having a stroke, weight gain, and even increases odds of catching a cold.  Relaxation studies show we can counterbalance many of the health risks.  Yet, out of fear of failing, the entrepreneur presses on and tries to do more.

I am reminded of a wise mentor who once said, do you want your epitaph to read “I Worked the Hardest”. Know anyone that has health issues from living stress-free or being well rested and relaxed?  Know anyone with health issues from living in the hyper stress mode, working 18 hour days, not sleeping, and sacrificing all “me” time?

Take this advice from a self-subscribed workaholic, it may be time to relax!  Here are a few ideas on how to get back to the spirit and reduce the entrepreneurial stress.

1.  Remind yourself of the WHY.  Why are you building a business?  Why are you working so hard? Why are you driving yourself and probably your family crazy?  Write down your why and review it daily. If it is for your retirement, for your security, for your family or for your employees, they will all tell you they would rather have a bit more of the relaxed you than a bit more stress.

2.  Turn off the electronics.  We are more wired and connected today.  Checking emails first thing in the morning can create stress before you even get started.  Smartphones, laptops, computers, TVs, off!  Set a schedule for when you will be connected and give yourself the freedom to be off the grid.

3.  Say hello!  Reach out to past colleagues and mentors.  Get together in real time, face to face.  Perhaps they are in the same predicament of being overloaded and overworked and are looking for someone to help give them a reprieve.

4.  Read any good books lately?  No one can argue that reading is good for the mind and soul.  Take 20 minutes a day to refresh your mind.  Give yourself time to escape, explore and grow.

5.  Prioritize.  Do you have a list of priorities?  Take your list and categorize the A list, all which have to be done by a committed deadline.  Next is your B list, those items that are important but are less urgent.  Finally, your C list that captures those tasks that would be nice when completed; however, do not endanger your well-being or put the business at risk.

6.  Escape.  If your business can not survive without you for a weekend, a week or even two, you do not have a sustainable business.  How would an investor perceive your business if it can not operate without you.  In other words, the business is you. Do not believe you are helping your customers, your investors or employees by being the one that makes it all run.  It is bad for business and bad for you.  No one can sustain the pressure of being the sole enterprise.  Delegate and escape.  Force the business to run without you.

If you get to the end of the road and the sign blazes with bright lights that you made it, congratulations.  You did it.  Now, look back and ask was it worth it? Did you enjoy the journey?  If you are still on that journey, stop and breathe.  Relish in the spirit of being an entrepreneur.  Enjoy the growth in your business and your personal experience. Don’t miss out on life to get to the end.

There is no recovery from lost time or relationships.  Make sure it is really the entrepreneurial spirit that is motivating you, not the stress controlling you. Live Long. Be Happy. And Prosper.

Leaders are Superior Deciders

Leaders are DecidersBusiness leaders and entrepreneurs are faced with endless decisions. The effect of every decision can impact the forward motion of the organization, address critical business needs or simply keep operations steadfast.  Decisions are part of the bosses daily to do list.  How decisions are made reflects your effectiveness and judgement.

As a leader, you have the role as crowning decider. Confidence in your ability to make decisions impacts how others recognize you inside and outside your organization. Employees, partners, customers, vendors, investors and your market industry all evaluate your strength as a leader based on your decision making skills.

Being resolute and determined assures others you are unmistakably in the right position to guide the company. Responsibility and accountability rest on your shoulders, always.  Whether you delegate the actual decision making process to someone in your business or not, you own the outcome.

How leaders make decisions sets the pace of how the business operates and often to what degree it succeeds.

  • Fast Decision Makers:  High growth, innovative businesses require a leader adept to making rapid decisions, trusting intuition and using a high threshold for exposure to risk.  Failure is an option for this type of decision maker, as the decider is likely a pro at pivoting.
  • Moderate Decision Makers: Leaders that use managed growth strategies require a steady hand. They are assessors and consumers of strategic evaluations and advice to help mitigate risk.  Roadmaps, KPIs and measured milestones often guide this type of leader in their timing of decisions.
  • Slow Decision Makers:  Risk adverse companies who have a very low tolerance for failure, perhaps because of the financial structure, need a decider who will go beyond assessment.  They use defined research, analytic and data resources, detailed reports and experts to evaluate their decisions.  These type of deciders are patient and often are primarily focused on long-term goals and objectives.

Of all types of deciders, the biggest failure of any business leader is NOT making a decision.  CEOs and business owners are often surrounded by advisors and have multiple inputs into their decision making processes.  It can complicate the final call.  Talk is not cheap. Too many inputs can slow down decisions and increase risk.

Businesses fail in absence of making decisions.  New technologies can sweep them out of the market.  Hindered by bad personnel, companies can be drained of momentum and energy.  Capital issues can delay key projects and impact future revenue.  Making a decision, can negate these types of risks.

Empowering others to make decisions is important in any business.  Provide others the capability of being creative and strategic in their role by decision making authority.  You want thinkers and doers in your business.  If they are only allowed to do, based on your decisions, you can stifle cooperation and confidence.

You may need to set limitations on decision making capabilities by your empowered team based on the business risk tolerance.  Budgeting is one way to put in business controls, along with road maps.  Define what has the most critical impact on the business and put in place the sign-off authority for those decisions.  For example, if a product development change can delay meeting a critical release date of a product or service, put in place authorizations to manage expectations with all stakeholders.

Whether a decision relates to products, markets, finances, technologies or personnel, a business can easily become paralyzed without a strong leader that makes decisions.  The final decision is the responsibility of the leader. Inputs need to be managed.  Assign a deadline and know when a final decision must be made, without exception.

As the decider, you have the ultimate power.  How you use your power is a reflection of your leadership.  Whether you choose to make rapid decisions or methodical, deliberate decisions, the action matters most.  Don’t let decisions, small or large, slow you or your business down.  Procrastination is deadly.  Lead by deciding.  Decide how you will lead. Decide now.

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Ready to Hand Over the Keys to Your Business?

Business owners can easily be consumed by the short term activities of day-to-day operations.  Sole focus on immediate outcomes exposes any business to long-term financial risks.

Every business leader needs to mitigate risks associated to being the one in charge.  The value of a business is built upon the sustainability of the operating plan, with or without it’s leader.  As an owner or CEO, have you asked yourself the “what if” question?  Are you fully prepared to hand over the keys to your business today?

You may have imagined that some day you will be transitioning your leadership to a partner, an investor, the next in line or even family member.  You may see your fabulous retirement life through the eyes of selling your business in multiples above your investment. In order to realize your dream, you need to spend time and commit resources to adequately prepare for a favorable transition. When? Now.

Succession planning is critical to an effective transition.  Achieving optimal outcomes in transitioning a sustainable business requires years of preparation.  How confident are you in handing over control of your business to your successors today?  A successful transition plan gives the new leaders a complete operating manual.  They need to be adequately prepared to operate the business day one.  They need to be able to take your business forward to protect your investment and to benefit your employees, stakeholders, customers and partners.

Some owners avoid planning for the end of the business because of the time it takes away from working “in” the business right now.   The lack of preparedness puts your business value at risk. It is never too early to prepare for an exit.  Whether you are a small owner-operated business, mid-market company or family-owned enterprise, you need a definitive succession plan.  It should be part of your standard business.

Here are some tips on how to start your succession planning:

1.  Document company processes and procedures.  Everyone is not replaceable. Unfortunately, when a person leaves the business they take institutional knowledge.  Key personnel that do not document their knowledge or share it with their direct reports, cost your business long-term and expose you to great risk.  This includes the owners and founders.  You can mitigate that risk by making sure every employee documents their processes and procedures.  Start with key roles.  This is not a job description, it is a “how to” operating manual for every role in your company.

2.  Review your wealth preservation strategies with your advisors.  Meet regularly with your personal and professional financial team members to analyze your current situation and review your short and long term goals.  Be “in the know” at all times of where your business stands financially.  Use strategy and growth advisors to help you pivot the business, so that you can exceed your goals.  Update your business evaluations annually.

3.  Build a culture of knowledge sharing.  Create internal social exchanges and information sharing networks.  Use your company meetings to have one department or key player provide a highlight of their role and what it means to the business.  Reward employees for creatives ways they educate others.  Commit one hour a week per employee for education and cross-training.

4.  Host quarterly strategy updates with key personnel. Spend time with your “next generation” of leaders to share business plans, KPIs, lessons learned and company strategies.  They are the future leaders of your business and they may be executing your business plan.  Keep no secrets.  Share your wealth of knowledge.  Sharing keeps people engaged and actively participating in achieving business goals.

5.  Reward excellence in execution.  Find opportunities to reward performance for those that take initiative and demonstrate they are prepared to lead.  A business full of up and coming leaders, results in sustainability.

Exit planning helps you increase the value of your business today and in the future.  Investors and bankers should ask to see your succession plan.  As you plan your beginning, you need to plan for the end.  Make your investment of time and energy pay off more than you imagined.  Plan today to realize a profitable, rewarding and fulfilling end.

Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.