The Importance of an Advisory Board

The Importance of an Advisory Board

Looking back when I restarted consulting in August of 2014 I wasn’t 100% committed. If you had asked me at the time I wouldn’t have admitted that because I didn’t even realize it. I was actively seeking projects, finding projects, doing the work, issuing invoices, etc. But I was also still going on interviews for a “real job.”

It wasn’t until the fall of 2016 I took a cold hard look at what I was doing and sat down and figured out what I really wanted to do and started putting together a plan to go forward. In January of 2017 I reorganized and started putting together a list of potential members of an advisory board. One of the first people I approached was someone I’ve known for over 30 years. Dan left the corporate world about 6 months before I did and he’s built a successful practice around IT forensic analysis.

I asked him how he structured his advisory board for his LLC and more importantly how he compensated them. He said he spent a small fortune when he started out on his advisory board and after a couple of years disbanded it. He still has an attorney he uses from time to time and his accountant but he cut the others loose. He wasn’t completely on his own. He has used the resources available through SCORE as have I and he’s contacted me about things from time and time and I was more than happy to help. We’ve shared clients with each other when particular skill sets were needed. He said he missed having a real advisory board from time to time and walked away from some opportunities because he just didn’t feel like he had access to the right people to help him with the details.

I’m not sure which one of us first proposed the idea of seeking out others like us with complementary skills and who didn’t directly compete with us but by June of 2017 we were putting together a general plan to do just that. Now, I’m on Dan’s advisory board and he is on mine. We don’t compensate each other for being on each other’s board and we still exchange client leads and opportunities.

We have both repeated this process to round out our respective boards. On my board I have a semi-retired marketing expert who consults on the side, a retired CEO who built his career turning around troubled companies, an owner of a media company,  a CPA with a private practice and a financial planner to round out my core advisory board. We all have exchanged NDAs and trust each other allowing a free flow of information as needed to help each other. These aren’t formal boards by an stretch of the imagination and we don’t compensate each other but we do work on projects together from time to time.

It has worked out pretty well and it gives me access to a second tier of people my core group knows when additional expertise or talent is needed. We hold each other accountable and push each other when we stray from our desired course. But when unexpected things happen the real value of an advisory board becomes apparent

In early November, a former client reached out to me. We parted company in the fall of 2016 because I was convinced my departure from their project gave them the best chance for success as a startup. My decision to leave their project was not taken lightly and I hated to go. I still think of the principles I dealt with there as friends. My departure from their project led to my retrospective look at what I was doing and what I really wanted to do a couple of months later and my subsequent reorganization in 2017.

When my former client shared what was going on, I knew I wanted to help. I have always wanted to see them succeed and have an emotional attachment to their project. However, emotions and business don’t mix well. I started reaching out to my advisory board for ideas on how I could help knowing their cash position would make it difficult if not impossible to hire anyone to get them over their hurdle. I was finishing up a project and tied up with hand-off meetings and code walk through calls. Dan volunteered to take point and work with the other advisory board members to see what they could come up with.

Dan and the crew really came through. They came up with a creative way to help and my financial planner came up with a way to fund it all without triggering a tax liability for us before any possibility of return on our investment in this. By Friday afternoon Dan and crew had the wording of the offer worked out and in my inbox. Early Saturday morning Dan and I walked through all of the details and made some small changes based on information I received on Friday. I submitted the offer and was very happy they accepted it.

This is by no means a slam-dunk. When I dug deeper into the website they released in the fall of 2017 and the mobile app I was very disappointed. The designer and developer really dropped the ball. The most tragic part is the the designer is holding the source code hostage. Obviously, this has to be settled before much of the plan can be implemented but it won’t interfere with the immediate tasks

Currently, I have about 100 hours into the development of replacement web and mobile applications that actually work and will provide the foundation to move forward. There are many hurdles ahead of us but once we have a fully functional mobile app and supporting web application a lot of possible paths should open up. Once we have a reliable and repeatable proof of concept the really hard work starts.

The really good news is everyone still involved has a much better understanding of what we collectively face with this and I am cautiously optimistic we will be able to pull this off.

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