Ask the Experts

Ask the experts: Here's why your small business needs an advisory board

From staff reportsMarch 25, 2013 

Carlos Salum is founder of Salum International Resources, a management consulting firm based in Huntersville.

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Whether you are starting a company or taking your business in a new direction, an advisory board can provide invaluable mentoring, advice and ideas. Shop Talk spoke with Charlotte area business leaders about how to best assemble and utilize an advisory board.

Q: Who needs an advisory board?

All small businesses can benefit from an advisory board.

“Their counsel is helpful in advising the business owner in areas where they lack, utilizing their experience and best practices,” Al Johnstone, director of apprenticeship at South Piedmont Community College in Union and Anson counties.

With the right mix of people, an advisory board can provide everything from legal or financial advice to ideas that can take a business in a new direction.

Q: Who do you choose?

The experience and personalities of the advisory members will determine how effectively they help a company.

Carlos Salum, founder of Salum International Resources, a management consulting firm based in Huntersville, formed an advisory board for his company 10 years ago, 10 years after he started the company. He looked for people who had vision, were creative and had reinvented themselves after struggling.

“I needed to have people who understand how new ideas are generated and how they are made real,” Salum said.

Tom Conroy, lead small business counselor for the Institute for Entrepreneurship at Central Piedmont Community College, suggests that owners look for three types of people: those who know the industry, those who are specialists in the company’s key issues and those who are industry outsiders.

“They have to be willing to listen to you, and you have to be willing to listen to them without them taking charge,” Conroy said. Specify the term length for potential board members, who will more likely agree to serve if it’s not a lifetime commitment.

Q: How often should the board meet?

A board should meet quarterly, Conroy said, but semi-annually is usually more realistic. Full board meetings can be important because discussions can generate helpful ideas.

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