An advisory board of unbiased business peers is a cheap way of getting feedback without the legal entanglements and cost of a board of directors. Payment is negotiable, and the rewards are great. "You can negotiate a fee or just take them out to dinner," says Ray Silverstein, president of Chicago's President's Resource Organization, which helps entrepreneurs create and run advisory boards.
When creating an advisory board, look for four or five people whom you not only trust but who collectively can find money, introduce you to customers, mentor your managers and review your ideas. "These are people who have political power to bear. They can open doors," says Betsy Atkins, who sits on the advisory boards of a few small companies and is also CEO and president of Baja LLC, an independent venture capital firm in Coral Gables, Florida. "They can also help you fine-tune your business plan."