Editor's Note: The following is the third in the series "Advisory Board 101" in which Jessica Alter, the CEO and entrepreneur behind FounderDating -- a people network for entrepreneurs -- provides insight and shares advice pertaining to the intersection of advisory boards and startups.
It happens time and time again. You somehow managed to get a stellar group of advisors (aka your mentors) to agree to help you and your company. But then you get busy, and they were already busy. Your emails are less frequent, response time is longer -- the relationship begins to, well, fizzle out. Don't let this happen.
Advisors can play a huge role in a company's success, as they can offer guidance, introductions and resources. Plus, many advisors have walked in entrepreneur's shoes and can provide emotional support for founders traveling down the bumpy (and sometimes lonely) startup road.
Here is how to not only avoid the advisor fizzle but also exchange real value with advisors.
Keep the conversation flowing. The communication onus is on you. Whatever you do, don’t slack on creating and maintaining lines of communication with your advisor. They are there to help but assume the burden is on you to reach out. You should actively seek their input and keep them abreast of your current projects. The best way to do this is with consistent, scheduled updates and meetings. Here are a few pointers:
- Get in touch on a schedule. Depending on the kind of work you’re doing with your advisors, it’s a good idea to connect with them on a monthly or biweekly basis. Decide what kind of a schedule works for both parties, and make sure you stick with it.
- Have one-on-one meetings. It can require some extra effort but getting in a bit of face (or phone or google hangout) time on a regular basis is a good idea as well. If you get in the habit of meeting one-on-one with each advisor on a regular basis, it will go a long way towards the productivity of your relationship. These meetings are a good time to check in on projects you’re focusing on together and update him or her on the general happenings of your startup. These meetings also help you maintain a level of familiarity with each advisor.
- Get together as a group. If you can make the perfect balance between one-on-one advisor meetings and group sessions, it will serve you extremely well. Consider having occasional dinners or group events, so your advisors can get to know each other. It provides the perfect opportunity to get a cross-set of opinions about what you’re working on, have mentors feed off each other’s idea and introduce them to some of the other great people you’ve brought on board to help build your dream.
Be precise. When you’re asking for help be as specific and informative as possible. Remember, it might have been a few weeks since you last spoke, and they are working on several other companies or projects. You know what your advisors are good at so focus on a particular issue with each of them. (It’s a far more effective approach than presenting him or her with a vague collection of maladies that need attention.) Write down the key things you have to cover and have an agenda. All of this is part of placing a high value on your advisor’s time, as well as your own. When people approach me about being an advisor via FounderDating, I always respond with “How can I help?” That’s not a question I want a general answer. I want to hear some specific problems or areas you think I can really move the needle for you.
Don’t take it personally. Sadly, some advisor-advisee relationships collapse due to an entrepreneur not having thick skin. An advisor would hardly be useful if he or she always told you your ideas were great. Leave the feel-good talk to someone else in your life. An advisor is there to give his or her professional, unblemished opinion on your work. As advisor to several well-known startups and CRO of BitTorrent, Ro Choy, explained, “Being consistently honest builds trust quickly with entrepreneurs, and given the short timeframe for their success with limited capital, that time is critical.” If an advisor shoots down your ideas or seems to be pushing you hard, keep in mind that it’s not personal: It’s about what’s best for the company.
Have advisors keep you accountable. At the end of every meeting with an advisor, make a plan for your next steps -- what you are go to go do and ideally the next meeting. Your conversations won’t matter much if you sort through a snarl of problems and then do nothing about them. This will help you keep the momentum going between meetings and use the advice and perspective they have imparted to you to tackle problems head on.
Related: How to Build an Advisory Board
In theory, these are fairly simple steps: set up regular meeting times, create opportunities for your advisors to get to know each other, bring specific issues to the table, take critique in stride, and take responsibility for what needs to happen next. In reality, it’s an investment of time and energy that you can be tempted to sideline with lots of other things demanding your attention. (And let’s be honest, as a startup entrepreneur, you always will have lots of other things to do.) The challenge is maintaining these communication strategies amid your other responsibilities. If you can, it will pay off in the long run. If you can’t, your advisor relationships will fizzle.