When you are starting up your own business, it’s not unusual for you to have to do everything yourself – from making and selling products, ordering supplies, paying the bills and emptying the bins, to name just a few of your everyday tasks!
As long as you are not overloaded with work, this can be a good way to start, as not only does it save you money but it’s a good way to learn a bit more about all the different activities you need to do to start up and grow your business.
However, not only can doing everything yourself be a bit lonely and take up a lot of time, if you don’t seek support from other people, you can be missing out on invaluable advice which can help you in so many ways such as mentoring, marketing, strategy, finance, introductions and problem-solving.
If you want to grow a limited company, to get support in the above areas you’ll benefit most from having a legal board of directors. But if you want to stay as a sole trader or keep things just as they are without any undue pressure or external influence, you most likely won’t need a board of directors.
However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need additional support, nor that you can’t get it – you just get it a different way, and without all the legal responsibilities of having a board of directors. And you can do it in two ways – by having an advisory board/group or a virtual board.
An advisory group or board is just that – advisory. There are no legal responsibilities as no-one else is a director, it’s simply a group of people you gather around you to give advice on key aspects of your business. You can hold regular meetings with them all together (as you would in a legal board), or just speak with them separately at any time you need to. The people in your group can change over time as your support needs change. (Note that advisory boards can often turn into formal legal boards over time if that is what your company needs.)
What is important here though is to take time to get the right people. Think carefully about your skills gaps (and you will have some, so be honest with yourself) and the type of help you need. It may be with technical skills, sales skills, social media, finance or understanding the market, or maybe you just want advice from a group of fellow entrepreneurs who have already travelled the same road as you are starting out on. And don’t be afraid to ask for help – most people love to be asked for help!
Ask around for recommendations of potential group members, do your detective work on them and make sure you are clear about your advisory arrangement with them. If it’s not a lot of time many people will help you for free, but some people will require a fee – as long as you clearly discuss the arrangement and confirm whatever you agree with them in writing at the start, you will be fine. If you want to discuss anything confidential with your advisers, make sure they sign a confidentiality agreement with you before you tell them anything. And of course, please treat everyone with courtesy and respect and be mindful that they will only have a limited amount of time available for you.
A virtual board is completely different and a lot of fun – it all goes on in your head! Think of four or five people you admire or respect in life and business – and it can be anyone, from Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, to Sheryl Sandberg or Michelle Obama – and in your head visualise them all gathered around a table, there to help you make decisions on your business. Write down your key questions and ask your famous and very well-connected board what they would do about this problem or that opportunity. You can even go as far as having a proper agenda and a set time for this meeting!
You will be amazed at the answers that come back to you pretty quickly (you probably have a pretty good idea that Branson would do something one way, Sandberg another) and how helpful a virtual board can be in making key decisions. What you are doing here is helping yourself look at things with a different perspective and a hefty dose of inspiration. Your gut instinct probably knows the right answers anyway…but why not get some virtual help from some of the best business brains in the world? Try it on for size and see if it works for you. I have virtual boards constantly – my colleagues always know when I’m in a virtual board meeting as they see me shaking my head and having discussions with myself!