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Advisory Board 101: The Best Kept Secret About Advisors

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Editor's Note: The following is the fourth 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.

As entrepreneurs, we know that human connections are precious assets. We work ourselves to exhaustion, expand our circles at every opportunity and always keep our eyes peeled for chances to build mutually beneficial relationships. But inevitably, we find ourselves unexpectedly isolated and lonely.

This is where advisors can be great sources of personal support. While their respective expertise and experience make them valuable, their empathy is what's truly priceless. And often, they are the only people you can trust and who truly understand what you are going through. Your friends and family don't understand the stressors and sometimes straight-up outlandish circumstances begin to take center stage in your life. You can't lean too heavily on your work connections. You can't divulge your innermost fears to your team (or even discuss every problem with them), your cofounder is great but not necessarily for every conversation (and this relationship might even be the issue at hand), and the last people you want to see when you're in a state of decision-paralysis or self-doubt are your investors.

Related: Need Guidance at Your Startup? Create an Advisory Board Keeping These 3 Things in Mind.

Advisors, on the other hand, not only understand your business (if not, there is a problem), but you've cultivated a personal relationship with each other. They've walked some of these same paths before, messed up, recalibrated and came back to succeed. Advisors should understand what you're going through, not judge you for moments of self-doubt and most importantly, actually help you through it.

As Bob Buch, CEO of advertising company Socialwire, told me recently, "Advisors are the ones you turn to when you think you want to curl up in the fetal position in the corner."

Related: Advisory Board 101: How to Get Advisors to Say Yes

You should seek out mentors with whom you can build this kind of rapport, because in the end that will serve you better than almost anything else they can offer. That said, advisors aren't just therapists. You should involve them because of other values and areas of expertise. But when you're evaluating whether someone can be your advisor don't forget this personal support aspect.

Here are a couple ways to determine if you'll be able to build a strong supportive relationship with an advisor.

  • Find out if he or she has done anything like this before. Is this person an entrepreneur, or has he or she been an early employee of a company? If so, this advisor is more likely to be able to guide you through the highest highs and help you through the lowest lows.
  • Look for an endorsement you trust. Do you know someone else who has worked with this person in an advisory capacity before? What was his or her experience like? On FounderDating, we have a vouching system that allows previous advisees to say something meaningful about the advisor and their experience with them. Their name is attached to it publicly, so don't take it lightly.
  • Ask. Yes, it could be that simple. If you ask a potential advisor about a low point in his or her career journey, you'll get a peek into the way he or she handles crisis situations, see what kinds of experiences and/or concerns you have in common, or just find common ground that makes you feel comfortable opening up.

A well-matched advisor can help you balance out the emotional rollercoaster of being a startup founder. So, choose advisors that are talented at what they do, care about what you're doing, complement you in a strategically important area for your company and can lend an ear when needed.

Related: Advisory Board 101: How to Avoid the Advisor Fizzle

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