Beginning as a part-time college job walking friends’ dogs, Cary Barker’s full time business now employs over 30 college students to walk neighborhood dogs and to deliver them for daily activities to and from his Barkingham Palace Doggie Day Care Center, LLC. Although not yet ready to seek investors and begin franchising, Cary wants to grow Barkingham Palace, protect its blind spots, get alternative perspectives from other’s experiences and expand his network of friends. Cary’s friend Bayh Lawz suggests that Cary should select a board of directors. Should he?
Certainly. Barker should surround himself with astute business advisers who routinely challenge and improve his company’s direction. More than just responding to day-to-day business needs, Barker’s advisers can help him avoid becoming myopic about Barkingham Palace by looking at the big picture. They also can become Barker’s advocates and network on his behalf.
- Keep it small.You’re small. Stick with at least three and no more than five. While many promote an odd number of advisers, focus more on building consensus, not taking votes.
- Experience – “Been there, Done That.” “Quality always trumps quantity, especially for young businesses. Think about your most challenging business objectives during the next three years, and seek advisers who, for example, have direct operating experience or those who understand the legal process and marketing requirements to build a franchise network on a regional or national basis. Look for “where you want to go” not “where you are today” advisers.
- Balance Their Experience. Find different yet complementary expertise across your business needs, for example, in product development, finance, sales, marketing, etc.
- Find a go-to guy or gal.Have at least one director who understands boards and governance. Find those who appreciate the proper role of boards in business building.
- Get aligned. Interview your advisers and take the time to explain your company’s business goals, product development priorities, financing objectives and distribution strategies in detail. Advisory candidates who agree on overall business priorities and objectives – even if they disagree on tactics – can be invaluable to the overall board.
- Use ‘em or lose ‘em.If you’re only going to give them a free meal once a quarter or so, make sure to use each adviser’s time to its highest and best use. Help them be productive and show them that they are appreciated.
- Friends or Relatives.Don’t select someone just because they are a friend or relative.
- Unknowns. Don’t select someone who hasn’t been checked out thoroughly. Do a background check; get references.
- Conflicts. Don’t select anyone who has a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest with you, your other advisers or your business.
- Conversation Hoggers. You don’t want somebody who’s going to dominate it all so everybody else feels intimidated.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
There is no better time than today to think of candidates who can upgrade your company’s board of directors. Search for advisers with a rich experience to draw from who come to meetings prepared, on time and willing to be honest. Then, take the time to get to know each of them and for them to know each other to become your team. At their best, they will challenge your assumptions, help you see the broader picture, and point out patterns – both good and bad – that they’ve seen before. Don’t delay.