One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received as it relates to starting or building a business is this:
Get a board of directors.
But isn't that only reserved for dinosaurs huddled around a large mahogany table in the ivory tower of some big multinational? Didn't Steve Jobs once get unceremoniously fired by the board of Apple before he returned to raise it like a phoenix from the ashes?
Why would someone running a business want a board of directors? That's a great question and here is my humble opinion:
Starting and running a company is hard work and at times it can be damn lonely.
One of the best decisions we made when starting was having a board from Day 1. So without further delay to Charles, Imran, Tamara, Chris and David....thank you.
Who are they? They graciously serve as the Advisory Board for our firm Servo Annex. Put more simply they force us to raise our game and hold us accountable to results. They provide counsel, provide a shoulder to cry on, tell us to suck it up and make us park our egos at the door. They act as a gauge of our success, challenge us to continually deliver our best and serve as a compass for the future direction.
Now you might like the concept of a board but how is that possible if you don't have tonnes of capital or financial backing? Doesn't having a board of directors means compensating them and incurring additional costs such as Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance? It can, so I recommend starting simple by creating an Advisory Board to start.
In my case, I reached out to people I've known over a long time and hold in high regard. People who represent a mix of accomplished senior executives and entrepreneurs who have built, lead, and advised companies and senior leadership teams from technology startups to global brands. People who are much wiser than I am. People who taught me to learn how to listen.
What I then did was asked these non-competing individuals, who were very familiar with my targeted clientele to serve on the Servo Annex advisory board. I also told them that I would not ask for more than a specific amount of time per month.
And once the business grew to a key point in the future, I'd create a formalized board of directors structure. Until then the time commitment was minimal and potential liability as officers of the company was zero since an advisory board is strictly volunteer.
In your first year of business you make a lot of decisions. Some are good, some are neutral and some are bad.
What I've found is the number of potentially bad decisions are significantly reduced if you are blessed to have others serve as your sounding board.
The question is...are you on board?
Whether you plan to bake cupcakes, be a consultant, or manufacture a product, the first questions you must answer are the same, says Chodos. “Who are my customers and do I have a product or service that they want and are willing to pay for in an amount that my sales will be greater than my expenses? Until you have a really solid sense of how your business will succeed, you need to keep answering those questions… Research, analysis, and testing beforehand is heading you down the path to getting it right.” Really hone in on what you’re selling. “Describe as precisely as possible what you’re going to sell,” advises Jeff Williams, CEO and chief coach of <a href="http://www.bizstarters.com/" target="_blank">Biz Starters</a>, a company aimed at helping people over age 50 start businesses. “Many people come to me and they want to sell two or three different things all at once. It doesn’t work. You need to be specific."
Many businesses today start from right inside your home without a lot of cost for equipment or rent. But there are other factors to consider, Chodos says. <strong>How much will it cost to start your business and to run it for its first year?</strong> Will you need to invest in inventory? What will the costs be for advertising? Is there equipment you need to purchase? Will your electric bill rise? Ask yourself what you’re willing to invest, what you might have to borrow, and how much you expect to make from sales. If you can’t answer those questions yourself, <a href="http://www.sba.gov/" target="_blank">consult with an expert</a>.
“This is the most important part of your business,” says Williams of biz starters. This plan must answer the questions described above, but it also must help you identify how you’ll find your customers. “Are they on mailing lists? On the Internet? In industrial listings? This is the usually the most difficult part for people, because if you previously worked for a corporation, the corporation brought you the customers. Now you must go out and find them.” <strong>Research, networking</strong> and <strong>word-of-mouth</strong> are your three key approaches. For information on how to write a marketing plan, <a href="http://www.inc.com/welcome.html?destination=http://www.inc.com/guides/writing-marketing-plan.html" target="_blank">check out this information</a>.
“We’re all at square one when we start a business,” says business consultant Nancy Michaels, founder of "<a href="http://www.growyourbusinessnetwork.com/" target="_blank">The Grow Your Business Network</a>." “The great news is that by the time you’ve hit 50, you should have some connections in the world. Tap into that and let people know what you’re doing. They can help spread the word for you.” Start by <strong>announcing your business</strong> to all of your email contacts and a simultaneous announcement on Linked In, says Michaels. “Tweet about it, and put it on Facebook and maybe even make a video so you can post it on You Tube.” If your business warrants it, consider an open house to which you invite your contacts. Depending on your business, it might make sense to start locally rather than trying to reach a national market immediately, but first evaluate who and where your customers are.
If you are offering a service, you are more likely to be hired if people feel you know what you're doing.<strong> Establish a professional looking and accessible web site</strong> that boasts “strong, selling-benefit oriented copy,” says Williams. Have friends or business associates critique it and make sure that it highlights your accomplishments and abilities. And get the word out about yourself. <strong>Write articles and other content related to your business</strong> and post them on free article archive sites like <a href="http://www.linkgrinder.com/" target="_blank">Linkgrinder</a> with a prominent listing of your web address, Williams says. He also suggests that you regularly send out publicity articles talking about key phrases for your business. Once you’ve done this, you can <strong>speak to civic groups or other organizations</strong> to further establish your expertise. <strong>Note: Approach trade shows with caution.</strong> Williams says it can be an expensive undertaking with not that much reward. Better: Once you have landed a few customers and feel the business is rolling, a trade show might be a good next step.
If your business is consumer-based (you’re selling cupcakes, for example), <strong>use Facebook</strong> to promote it, says Williams. If it is a “b-to-b” business, one that sells services to other businesses, use Linked In to promote it. You can use both platforms to make announcements about your business, to remind consumers you are there, or to hang out your shingle, so to speak, so that people passing by will notice it.
By the time you get to the six-month mark, if you’re not seeing some steady income, it doesn’t mean you’re an outright failure, says Williams, but maybe you’re not getting your message out. You’ve got to continue to tweak it. “If you are honest and accurate in your revenue model and you are not making money, then you usually need to go back to one activity--sales prospecting,” Williams says. “Ask yourself: are you doing enough of it and is it well-focused on the people you are trying to reach?”
Where to go for more information, to learn about free seminars, and even set up free one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs? Check out: <a href="http://www.sba.gov/" target="_blank">The Small Business Adminstration’s website</a> <a href="http://retirementrevised.com/career/five-questions-for-jeff-williams-on-50-entrepreneurship" target="_blank">Retirement Revised </a> <a href="http://www.encore.org/" target="_blank">Encore.org</a> <a href="http://www.inc.com/" target="_blank">Inc.com</a> <a href="http://www.entrepreneur.com/" target="_blank">Entrepreneur.com</a>
Follow Sulemaan Ahmed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sulemaan