The Art of Business: A Little Help from Your Friends
No one needs to tell you that growing a business isn't easy, particularly if you're the type that so dearly prefers to stay on the creative side of things. But letting the business side languish can leave you spinning your wheels because of unresolved business issues, unrealized goals, and unfulfilled promises to yourself.
One of the best ways to energize your business and keep it hopping is to recruit an informal advisory board, to help you stay clear of complacency and stagnation. What can an advisory board do for you? Plenty.
- Enrich your business with tips, ideas, and experiences from other industries as well as your own.
- Inspire you to seek new challenges and to tackle problems that have dogged you repeatedly.
- Generate creative ideas to kick-start growth.
- Help solve specific problems that impede your growth.
- Lead you to new prospects, suppliers, and partners.
- Help you uncover new funding sources.
- Provide help in areas where you may be weak, such as finance, marketing, and technology.
- Help you see the big picture view of business trends in the graphic arts industry; your region, and the economy as a whole.
- Improve your "soft skills," such as presentations and client relations.
- Assist with strategic planning and risk management.
- Provide a sounding board for crazy and wonderful ideas.
The mere fact that you have to prepare yourself to talk to these people regularly will help you think more strategically and professionally about your business.
An advisory board can and should be made up of an eclectic group of business professionals. As tempting as it may be, don't clone yourself. Include another graphic artist or two, sure, but also pull in people from outside the biz -- an accountant, a sales professional, an executive, a window washer. Each will bring a fresh point of view to your group.
Before inviting anyone onto your board, define your critical needs and issues. Create or review your strategic plan and think seriously about what you need to make it work, such as marketing help, partnerships, technology. Then decide what knowledge, skills, and competencies you most need from your board of advisors.
Draw candidates from the pool of people you know professionally and socially. And it's not a bad thing to have a few board members you don't know so well -- people not scared to offend you. Talk to business associates and ask for references.
To avoid conflicts of interest, stay away from suppliers and customers. These folks may have a sincere interest in your success, but they also have a vested interest in the direction of your company and a perspective that may cloud their objective vision, whether they'd like to admit it or not.
Above all, find people who are alive, who are excited about what they do, who have exhibited business integrity, and who have demonstrated success in their own careers. Success is contagious and you want to catch it, big time.
To make the proposition more palatable, put an expiration date on the commitment -- say, six months. This will help people feel like they're not signing up for an eternity, and it also gives you the option to create a new (perhaps more dynamic) group in six month's time, should you find the process worth continuing. Also, volunteer to sit on other people's boards in exchange. What comes around, goes around.
So why should a group of busy people choose to grace you with their wit and vision? Free lunch, that's why. Schedule regular meetings once a month or at intervals that work for everyone in the group. Invite your board members to a nice restaurant and treat them royally. Their advice is worth the cost of every tortilla chip.
Prepare for meetings by putting together a written agenda and e-mailing it to your board a good few days before the luncheon, so that members have a chance to reflect on your items. Keep the meeting professional and save the chitchat until dessert. If need be, schedule one-on-one meetings between luncheons with advisers who have expertise in a particular area.
You're asking a lot of a group of people, and you should ask a lot of yourself as well. Be honest about your needs and weaknesses, and place your mistakes and inadequacies on the table. You must trust your board with access to financial and client details if you want its best efforts. Only an informed board can help steer you well. If you want to get fancy, prepare reports at least a week before each board meeting. Include financial summaries, project updates, cash flow, news, and problems.
Encourage advisers to ask tough questions and to challenge you. And then stay open to suggestions, thoughts, and criticisms. Most importantly, act upon the good advice you're given and report back on your actions. Even if you don't agree initially, keep an open mind, and take a good look at your own prejudices and blind spots before you dismiss suggestions.
Board members won't stick around, even for free lunch, if they see you're not following up on their suggestions. In fact, start each meeting by reporting on the steps you've taken since the last meeting and the results you've achieved.
Creating an advisory board is a scary thought -- all those people privy to your stuff. But solo practitioners have a tendency to cocoon themselves, and that can lead to professional stagnation. If you're ready to bust free, take a chance. The most you stand to lose is a few days' lunch money.
Read more by Eric J. Adams.
Liked This? Read These!
Jupitermedia Corporation (Nasdaq: JUPM) today announced that it has acquired all of the shares of mediabistro.com inc. (www.mediabistro.com), the career and community site for media and creative... Read More
If you haven't yet, take a moment to read last Wednesday's column on creativepro.com, "Industry Analysis: Welcome to the New World of Print Production" by John C Dunn. Read More
iStockphoto®, the world's leading community-powered marketplace for stock photography and illustrations, announced that it will sponsor a weekly podcast starting today. Read More
An hour-long Internet coaching session aimed at sharpening communications skills for business owners will be presented by Granville Toogood, a former network news producer for NBC and ABC on April 24... Read More