Ask the Experts

Ask the experts: Round out your small-business team with an advisory board

vbridges@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

Fred Gebarowski, director of the Small Business Center at Wake Technical Community College.

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a business is being on your own.

“It was true with me when I started a business,” said Fred Gebarowski, director of the Small Business Center at Wake Technical Community College, pulling out an old small-business adage. “All I had was the dog to talk to, and then the dog died.”

In his small-business planning classes and during counseling, Gebarowski advises entrepreneurs, especially solo-entrepreneurs, to recruit from three to eight people to serve on a volunteer advisory board.

“They can provide feedback on plans, strategies and courses of action,” Gebarowski said. More importantly, the board can strengthen weaknesses in the operation.

Owners who are strong with numbers might want to recruit someone who is good at copywriting or marketing, he said. Owners who want to break into a new industry might want to ask someone familiar with that market to join the board.

Generally, the advisory board is just that – advisory – and doesn’t have authority to take any action in the business, compared with a larger corporation’s board of directors, which often has the ability to hire and fire the CEO.

“It’s basically rounding out a team to make sure all the critical areas have some level of expertise,” he said.

Advisory boards should meet about twice a year to review overall business strategy, but owners can also contact members individually to discuss a challenge or an idea.

Owners can find volunteers by networking or reaching out to someone in their existing contacts. Generally people serve because they get a kick out of helping somebody, Gebarowski said.

“You certainly need to know these people, and they need to know you personally, because they are doing it because they want to help you and help your business,” he said.

Owners, however, have to be careful not to take too much of their board members’ time.

“The caution there is the business owner shouldn’t lean on them too heavily and overuse their agreement to serve,” Gebarowski said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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