Assembling a winning business advisory team

Find out how an advisory team can benefit your small business and get tips for selecting the right members.

Melinda Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is one of America's leading small business experts and is a paid contributor for Wells Fargo. 

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Published: September 16, 2013

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TEGAN JONES:

Hi. I’m Tegan Jones for the Wells Fargo Business Insight Series. Today, we’re discussing techniques business owners can use to build a strong team of advisors. Joining me is Melinda Emerson, the SmallBizLady and author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. Thanks for joining me, Melinda.

MELINDA EMERSON:

Thanks for having me, Tegan.

JONES:

Melinda, for small business owners to be successful, I know it’s critical for them to surround themselves with a team of experts who can advise them on everything from taxes to legal matters. Can you start today by outlining the ideal roles the members of a small business advisory team should play?

EMERSON:

Well, every small business should have what I call, a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors. This is an advisory board that should serve as sounding board for a business owner during really any decision-making process.

Your team should be made up of four to five people, including an existing entrepreneur, someone who is doing business with you or could. You should really have someone who is a former mentor in your life in this group. And it should include an accountant and a lawyer. Now, the reason why I call this group of people a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors is because these people will work for food. You can call them for advice without getting a bill, and they basically will work for lunch.

It’s also important to have a strong relationship with a business banker. You want a banker who will take the time to understand your business and recommend the right solutions to guide you through each stage of your business. Keep in mind that a solid advisory board is made up of experts from both inside and outside your industry.

JONES:

So once you’ve identified who should be on your advisory team, what can these individuals bring to the table?

EMERSON:

These advisors can provide key insights and expertise on how to run your business that really you may have not even thought of. They can help you with navigating potential areas of growth. For example, let’s say your targeting a new client or a Fortune 500 company. If one of your advisors has any professional relationships within the company, they may be able to open up their network and help you get that business.

They can also help you address existing challenges in your business. For example, let’s say you may be having a hiring challenge or you might be trying to figure out how to renegotiate with an existing vendor because the terms are no longer favorable. These are the kinds of things that your advisory board can help you with.

They can also help you establish important contacts within their respective field. Many times, they can reach out and identify candidates for key staffing positions in your organization based on their personal contacts. They can also uncover financial opportunities. If you’re planning to pursue growth funding, your advisors can help you evaluate loan packages or if an investor opportunity is really right for you. 

They also can help you make the decision on new markets or products or services that you want to sell. Let’s say you’re looking to launch a product or go after a new market segment. Your advisors can help you decide if your marketing strategy is sound or if the move is premature.

JONES:

Those are great examples, Melinda. But what if a business owner’s network is more limited? Where can they go to form relationships with these types of experts?

EMERSON:

When searching for people to interview, solicit recommendations from trusted professional contacts. For example, you should start by looking at successful small business owners in your local community as maybe some of your first advisors.

Then take advantage of free resources like, if you have an unofficial mentor in your life see if you can formalize that relationship with that person and invite them to join your advisory board.

Another great resource is score.org. If you don’t have a mentor, they can secure one for you through Score, which is funded through the Small Business Administration. And they offer mentors who will work with you in person or online. 

There are also local small business development centers in major communities across the country. And they’re often located within colleges and universities. That’s another great source for potential advisors for your company.

JONES:

That’s really helpful advice. Thanks so much for your time today, Melinda. You’ve given us some great insights on how to build a successful and qualified business advisory team.

EMERSON:

Thanks, Tegan.

JONES:

And thank you for joining us for this segment of the Wells Fargo Business Insight Series. To learn more about how Wells Fargo Business Banking can help you visit wellsfargo.com/biz. In the meantime we wish you continued success.

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