I’m often asked about whether an emerging company should create an Advisory Board versus forming a governance fiduciary board. My response to entrepreneurs thinking of creating an Advisory Board is to be strategic in the formation of your Advisory Board.
An Advisory Board is not a Board of Directors with legal and fiduciary responsibilities. In contrast, an Advisory Board does not have any formal legal responsibilities and liabilities. Rather, an Advisory Board is created by the CEO of the company to get advice and support.
Over the years I have been invited to serve on Advisory Boards & Councils and have enjoyed providing strategic advice and guidance. More recently, I had the opportunity to create an Advisory Board for Women Get On Board, consisting of members with experience and connections in governance, law, investment banking, accounting, financial services, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, professional development, and media. Thank you all for your commitment and support to help us fulfill our mandate to connect, promote and empower women to corporate boards.
Five key strategic considerations when creating an Advisory Board:
- What is the purpose of this Advisory Board?
Usually an emerging company creates an Advisory Board to augment the talent on the leadership team with accomplished and connected business leaders. These business leaders are thought leaders, connectors and influencers that will use their network to make connections and provide strategic guidance and expertise to help accelerate growth, manage risk and enhance operational performance.
- Who do you want to invite on your Advisory Board and what is the value they will add?
First of all, you will want to prepare a skills matrix to identify the skills/expertise you need on your Advisory Board. You may want to bring in business leaders who have skills/expertise in areas like Digital Media, Private Equity & Venture Capital M&A, Capital Markets, IT, Sales and Marketing, as well as knowledge of the industry. It also helpful for prospective Advisory Board members, know the company they keep!
- How would you compensate your Advisory Board members?
If you are an emerging company, cash is king. You can certainly grant some form of stock options or equity to the Advisory Board for their time and their network. Or maybe it is about these business leaders paying it forward and helping an emerging company with its strategic planning, access to capital and customer introductions.
- Should there be term limits and is there a succession plan?
It is important when you ask someone to join your Advisory Board to define the expectation of their time commitment. Most Advisory Boards that I have been involved with typically have a 2 to 3-year term and meet 3 to 4 times a year in person. Sometimes there is a sub-committee that you will be asked to serve on, and occasionally there will be calls with the CEO on as-needed basis.
As you build your Advisory Board the skills/expertise you need in the early formation of your emerging company may be different as you grow. Be mindful of your succession plan for renewal of your Advisory Board members.
- What is the mandate of the Advisory Board?
Do you have a terms of reference or a mandate for the Advisory Board that describes the following items?
Expectation – What is the expectation of the role of your Advisory Board members. Is it to provide strategic guidance, for introductions, or to attend meetings?
Time Commitment – Is there a meeting schedule? How often will you meet?
Term Limits – How long is the term?
Compensation Terms – Is it a “pay it forward” or are there stock options or some form of equity, or a retainer?
Marketing – Will you be showcasing your Advisory Board members on your website and other marketing materials?
Once you have thought through these five key strategic considerations on creating an Advisory Board, it is really up to the entrepreneur to engage members of their Advisory Board. The more engaged your Advisory Board members are the more they can help you grow your emerging company!