How a peer advisory board can benefit your business
At The Alternative Board (TAB), we often hear from business owners who feel they can’t properly share the challenges they face as an owner with their friends, family, or even employees.
We’ve heard many business owners use the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.”
Owners often seek out advise through small business networking groups but quickly realise that networking isn’t going to help them connect or problem solve.
Small business peer advisory boards (sometimes called a business advisory board or mastermind group) are available to discuss problems and build goals as a collective; a business owner advisory board.
Why use a peer advisory board?
A traditional business advisory board is a hand-picked group of individuals who come together to help guide a business owner through tough decisions. These individuals generally complement the business owner’s own expertise and could include anyone from a financial advisor or a lawyer to a sales expert or a marketing specialist.
Business owner advisory boards are a longtime staple of large businesses, but owners of privately held businesses generally haven’t had the resources to take advantage of them. Plus, when you’re mired in a business problem, even expert advice from an advisory board often can’t compare to sharing your concerns with a group of people who not only understand your business but also understand the pressures you face as a business owner.
That’s where local peer-to-peer external advisory boards can be valuable. They bring together like-minded business owners across a variety of industries who can all share insight and expertise in order to help each other’s businesses grow. In these peer-to-peer boards, members come together as equals in business with a shared goal of growing their companies and developing their own skills as business owners and leaders.
This creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust; where members can be frank about their challenges and questions. The concept of an alliance of business owners and other high-powered peers was introduced in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. He recommends that business owners run every plan they have by what he calls their “Master Mind” alliance, writing, “No individual has sufficient experience, education, native ability and knowledge to insure the accumulation of a great fortune, without the cooperation of other people.”
How can a peer advisory board benefit your business?
Not only do fellow business owners more fully understand the issues you face, as a business owner advisory board matures, members will become more familiar with each other’s businesses and be able to offer personalised insights on things like how to increase sales, how to run the business more efficiently and how to solve thorny personnel problems.
As business owner advisory board members become more familiar with one another’s businesses, says TAB founder and executive chairman Allen Fishman, something incredible happens.
“One of the reasons why TAB Boards are so successful is that the members are able to open up with the kinds of things they don’t discuss with anybody else,” he says.
“They never discuss their fears or their pocket dreams of what the future holds with their employees in general — or even their executives.”
The ability to open up so fully among a trusted group of peers allows business owners to not only grow their businesses, but also to find personal and professional balance.
Consider the following points to better understand how a business owner advisory board can help your company — and you— thrive.
Who might benefit from a peer advisory board?
Whether you’re just getting your first business off the ground or you’ve been around the block a few times before, you’ll benefit from a business owner advisory board. Don’t underestimate the power a group of like-minded business owners can have when they put their attentions and business acumen toward the same goals.
The benefits of joining an advisory board extend across industries.
For example, there are over 3,000 business owners who are members of The Alternative Board (TAB) representing over 300 different industries. These include professional services, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, finance, insurance and real estate.
Seeking out a peer advisory board is a smart move for a business owner who:
- Has been running a business smoothly for some time but is ready to increase growth.
- Is considering a new direction for the business and is headed into uncharted territory.
- Knows that the business is in a rut and isn’t sure how to get out of it.
- Is considering a transition of power — especially within a family — and needs advice.
- Could use regular help with marketing, hiring, employee management and other day-to-day business concerns.
- Wants to run the business more efficiently in order to improve work-life balance.
- Has just bought a new business and could use expert mentorship.
- Is looking to sell a business and wants to make it more attractive for a potential buyer.
In short, a business owner advisory board is a smart move for every business owner.
But particularly for those who are hungry to improve both professionally and personally.
The value of an advisory board
“Most people join TAB because they know from talking to other board members that it will increase the profits of their company and the value of their business,” he says.
“But they don’t realise that they will also receive non-financial values that may be every bit as important — or, in some cases, more important.”
He’s seen business owners improve their quality of life, their work-life balance, learn how to fight burnout better and even work on their interpersonal relationships as a result of their TAB Board membership.
Augment your core competencies
Every business owner has specific strengths and weaknesses — and even a Jack or Jill of all trades could use more in-depth assistance in certain areas. You may be excellent at keeping your business on track fiscally and finding inefficiencies but be less adept at communicating with your employees or developing a marketing strategy.
Each member of a peer advisory board will come with a different unique set of strengths and weaknesses, tried and tested in the real world. This makes a board a powerful tool for business owners to help fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge and grow their own capabilities in other areas. Along with receiving advice, you will also get an opportunity to share your own knowledge. That challenges you to grow, as well as gives you an opportunity to help other business owners.
An added bonus is that, whereas many business owners find it difficult to admit vulnerability or knowledge gaps to others, a peer advisory board is designed as a safe space where you can assess your strengths and grow professionally.
Help you evaluate new ideas and strategies
Are you puzzling through a new growth idea? Considering a possible business opportunity?
Here’s another place where the real-world experience of your peer advisory board will come in handy.
Coming up with effective business growth strategies, marketing strategies, succession strategies, etc. can be difficult. Adapting generic advice to your specific business is a challenge, and evaluating whether or not a specific strategy will work for you is easier with the help of other seasoned business owners.
In a board with a diverse membership, it’s likely one of your peers has come across whichever situation you’re considering in the past and can give you custom-tailored advice.
Your board members can also help you ask the tough critical questions or offer suggestions and caveats based on their own personal experience. They can help you uncover your blind spots and confront gaps in your line of reasoning to make sure your new strategy is watertight.
Provide an outsider’s perspective
When you’re too close to your business, it can be difficult to see issues or opportunities that might be glaringly obvious to someone else. Cultivating a group of unbiased outside observers is an excellent way to expand your perspective. (This can be especially helpful for family-owned businesses, which often suffer from relying on the advice of too many people with very similar points of view.)
This is one of the best values of a board made up of members across different industries or disciplines. A business owner who has spent 40 years in manufacturing will have unique questions and ideas to offer a wholesale business. These could spark true light bulb moments, whereas if you brought up your problem to a group consisting only of wholesaling professionals, you might hear only industry- standard advice.
Many business leaders excel at meeting the day-to-day deadlines of the business. But big-picture goals designed to stretch the business — like implementing a new marketing strategy or networking with potential business partners — often get pushed to the back burner.
A peer advisory board helps provide accountability to keep you on track with big-picture goals. Knowing that you will need to walk into your next meeting and report on your progress provides the positive peer pressure to accomplish those things that will truly grow your business.
Along with providing peer pressure and accountability, members of a business owner advisory board can help you understand why you’re having trouble missing certain milestones or goals. They can help you identify which issues are holding you back or brainstorm ways to get obstacles out of your path.
What should you consider when joining a business owner advisory board?
Many boards will let you attend one or two meetings as a guest before deciding to join. This is a good idea, as it allows you to see the group dynamic in action and gives you a better sense of whether this particular group works for you.
When you are deciding if the board is a good fit, consider the following before making a decision.
Who are the current members? What types of professions and industries do they come from? Do they represent a wide range of experiences and disciplines? Both LinkedIn and Google are useful tools for doing your due diligence on the current members of a potential business owner advisory board.
In the business advisory board, members should all come from different industries and not be competitors. “The benefits would not work if everybody was in the same industry,” says Fishman. “This is a concept that works on the premise of openness, and you are not going to be open to a competitor in your field.”
How much of your time will the business owner advisory board take up each month? How often are the meetings, and how long do they last? Beyond the meetings, are there any additional time requirements, such as volunteer expectations or outside business coaching?
How much are the annual or monthly dues? How much would your business have to grow (or how many new clients would you have to take on) in order to realise a return on investment from joining the board? Does it seem like the board will offer at least that much or more value?
The facilitator or chair is the lynchpin for how a board functions. If you are considering joining a board, ask to meet with this person one-on-one to understand his or her personality and style. Pay attention to how he or she directs the meeting if you attend a trial session. Do they run the meeting efficiently? Do you agree with the insights and suggestions they offer to other members?
Your Own Commitment to Openness
There are two last big things that are important to the success of a business owner advisory board, says Fishman: willingness to share advice and openness to receiving advice. Ask yourself if you are willing to be vulnerable enough to learn and grow along with your fellow board members. Are you willing to share (and empathise with) personal challenges? Are you willing to hear (and offer) tough advice?
What is a TAB board meeting like?
TAB’s business owner advisory boards meet monthly under the guidance of a qualified board facilitator and are made up of an intimate group of around ten members. These members hail from a variety of industries, providing a breadth of knowledge and experience to help each other solve challenges and seize new opportunities.
In a typical TAB Board Meeting, members have a chance to greet each other and catch up before learning something new and actionable about a business topic or trend. Then, we move around the table one by one so that each member can share a particular business issue or situation they would like help gaining perspective on. The other members of the board then ask clarifying questions and offer advice.
Next, we list our goals for the next 30 days, quarter and year. This is where the accountability aspect comes in, and members help each other understand why they haven’t yet met certain goals and brainstorm how the board can help. Lastly, we set the agenda for the next board meeting.
Over 70% of TAB Members say that the board meetings and coaching sessions add real value to their businesses, and 86% say they are likely to recommend TAB to other business owners.
But these numbers tell an even more compelling story:
The majority of TAB Members say the cost of their membership has had a high return on their investment.
Those who were able to quantify their return on investment showed impressive numbers:
Along with business owner advisory boards, TAB Membership also comes with opportunities to take advantage of our coaching and consulting services, along with valuable networking opportunities and access to proprietary business resources.
Is The Alternative Board for You?
The Alternative Board® (TAB) helps forward-thinking business owners grow their businesses, increase profitability and improve their lives by leveraging local business advisory boards, private business coaching and proprietary strategic services.
Becoming a member of The Alternative Board gives you access to resources and expert advice to help you create, and maintain, a strong company culture. Find a TAB Board near you and begin growing your business today.
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