David Dietrich

Friday, 29 July 2005 11:05

Family business ideas

Do you have a mentor? How about a close friend who gives you business advice?

If you don’t have anyone to talk to about your business issues, or if you just need a different perspective, you should consider developing a board of advisers (BOA) for your company. This board can serve as a sounding board for your business, offering various opinions and problem solutions, which can be helpful in making difficult decisions.

Your BOA can also be the bad guy, presenting tough or unfavorable news to employees.

Find four to five people to sit on your BOA. You should choose a member of your advisory board as you would a partner. Advisers must possess certain qualities and expertise, bringing to the table education, diversity, industry-specific experience and practical business experience.

Look for people who have grown a business similar to yours. It’s OK to be picky when choosing advisers — you don’t want to create a BOA just for the sake of having a board. You want to create a BOA that will help you achieve your company goals.

This is possible if your advisers clearly understand your expectations of them. It can be a win-win situation for all involved.

BOA meetings should be set for at least once every quarter. If you meet less often, you may find it difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing business environment. Emergency meetings can be scheduled in between regular meetings, if necessary.

Board meetings should be formal, and need to be held somewhere where there will be no interruptions. They can be held at any time of day, but be sure to allow for a minimum of two to three hours per session. Try to plan meetings six months to one year in advance so you can accommodate and coordinate the members’ busy schedules.

Preparation will ensure that your meetings are productive. Create an agenda for each session and send it to BOA members two weeks in advance. Keep a log of questions for discussion in your daily planner so you won’t let issues slip through the cracks.

Typical business issues include financing, expanding, downsizing, strategic planning, business planning, selling the business, succession planning, bringing family members into the business and any number of other issues. Being prepared will help you maintain focus and accomplish everything in the time allotted.

Most businesses pay their board members on a per-meeting basis. Compensation can range from a lunch to $1,200 per meeting. BOA members are generally not in it for the money but rather to give something back to the business community by assisting others. Most members will continue to learn as they advise, which is why the process is win-win.

If this sounds like a great idea, consider hiring a professional facilitator. Business owners often look to facilitators to help set up their advisory board. They can also assist in creating the agenda and kicking off the board meeting. The benefits of using a facilitator are definitely worth the time and expense.

As in all things, there are risks and rewards involved in setting up a board of advisers. You might get an earful and, at times, you may not like what you hear. But, as with any advice, you can choose to follow it or not. You always have the final decision.

DAVID J. DIETRICH, Ph.D. is a family business adviser for the The Family Business Center at Citizens. Reach him at (888) 829-2162 or www.familybizcenter.com.