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Creating an Advisory Board

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We are raised in a culture of the rugged individualist—the man who goes it alone, makes his own path, never showing any signs of weakness.

Well, even though I’ll admit it’s hard for me to ask for help, I think that’s bunk. The myth of the self-made man or woman is just that: myth. We are all born dependent little creatures and even as we gain independence, we never outgrow our need for help of some kind. The sooner we can embrace this—and I’m preaching to myself here—the sooner we can get the help we need.

So, when I need help, where do I turn?

I love to read, so I typically find a book about the idea that I want to unlock and immerse myself in it, applying everything I can. This is how I initially learned about search engine optimization. I have also engaged the services of many coaches and consultants. Some of them have been for free as I just asked friends who knew something I didn’t. And of course there are the seminars, webinars, workshops, and conferences both inside and outside the industry that I have attended.

But at the end of last year I stumbled upon an idea that might trump all of the above—an advisory board. My board, unlike family or paid advisors, can offer objective feedback. The members have been where I have been and faced the pressures of making payroll, paying vendors and dealing with workplace conflict, all while juggling family responsibilities.

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “In the presence of many advisors, there is wisdom.”

Here is how my board came together:

First, I started looking around in the circles I’m already in to see if there were people who shared my values and had done what I want to do. For me, that boiled down to people who have significantly grown a small business, 10-times or more, and lived lives that demonstrated values of family, faith, generosity and community service. It was a tall order, but once I laid out that criteria and started looking, it took me less than a month to find five people that fit the bill.

One I met through my church, another through a weekly networking group, another owns a business less than a mile away, another is someone I have lots of mutual friends with that I got to know over a few lunches before extending the invitation. I identified five people that I would ask and just see what they would say.

My expectations were to meet quarterly for a couple of hours to discuss the financial strength of my business, hold me accountable to goals I had set, and advise me on specific challenges my shop was facing. The initial commitment would be for one year. To my surprise, they all said yes.

We have a standardized quarterly agenda that revolves around three things: my shop’s financials, progress toward stated goals, and questions I am currently asking. That last one is the most free-form and usually involves something I feel stuck on, something that I cannot seem to get past, or perhaps a situation that I am too close to and need perspective on. Sometimes other people, like my assistant or a manager, will suggest topics to me.

As the meeting approaches, I will usually ask my managers if they think there is anything to put on the agenda. They almost always have great suggestions.

So far, the board has helped me in at least two ways. The first is with specific input on needed changes. For example, recently I wanted to introduce a bonus plan in the shop and I proposed to the board that we bonus the team based on overall sales. The board encouraged me to rethink that. They suggested I not bonus everyone the same way as many of the team does not have direct control over sales, so they would not be able to tie their efforts to the bonus.

The board challenged me to have a more sophisticated bonus structure that would simultaneously be tied to cycle time, quality of repairs and overall throughput. They encouraged me to consider not making the bonus all or nothing, but instead more of a graded bonus that could be partially awarded for targets met. I ended up with an much more sophisticated bonus plan than I initially envisioned, but it is also much better.

Another key benefit I have already experienced from my board is confidence. They have affirmed several decisions I wanted to make. Prior to having a board I often felt like I was making decisions in a vacuum. Now if there is a major decision, I can consult with them and walk away confident that the decision is backed by several people who have loads of experience and my best interests in mind. That allows me to make hard decisions with great confidence.

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