No matter what topic I’m speaking on, the one question I always get is around mentorship and how I’ve found guidance throughout my career. I’ve actually never had a formal mentor. It’s not that I don’t believe those types of relationships can work, I’ve just had a crazy jungle gym, non-linear career path and I’ve never really looked to one person and thought, “Wow, I want to do what they’re doing.” Through Tuesdays with Trish I’m going to dive into the different ways I’ve sought help because it’s taken a village to get me where I am today, and this week I want to focus on personal advisory boards. I honestly hadn’t done much research into advisory boards when I created my first one (transitioning from higher education to startups), and I wish I’d seen something like this before I started. Ah well, my fumblings are your gains! So what is a personal advisory board and how do you create one? Here’s how I did it.
So what are we talking about here? For me, a personal advisory board is quite simply a helpful group of people that you know, trust, and can be vulnerable with professionally. They’re my dream team when it comes to the startup that is me. I would say I’m friends with half of them (which happened organically over time), and know the other half purely in a professional capacity.
To create the most helpful advisory board, you have to start with why. Do you need help for a big project or are you laying out your next career move? When I first joined the startup world, I was just trying to keep my head above water, and so I sought general resources on how people managed time, hired, how they did their job (directors of sales, VPs of engineering, folks I hadn’t interacted with previously), and even people that could teach me the lingo. As I built up my internal startup knowledge base, my questions got more complex and that’s when I decided I needed more one-on-one time with people that could get more specific on issues I had.
Remember your board changes as your goals change. This is why I like the flexibility of having an advisory board. While board relationships can grow deeper over time, with mentorships there is an inherent feeling that it’ll be long term. As I got my unofficial street MBA in startup skills and started to think about my career path at that first startup, I set my eyes on paving the way to becoming Chief Customer Officer. I went from a “how does this startup thing work” mindset to “how do I run this thing” mindset. And while I kept some of the former advisory board in the loop, my goals had really changed so I had to build a whole new board.
Break it down. Using what you know right now, what do steps do you need to take to finish up that project? What course or certifications might you need for that career goal? As a customer experience person I like to break down the journey as much as possible either by drawing it out or using post its (what’s the step / how would this get accomplished / what’s the finished step look like). Do what you can with what you’ve got to shape the path to your goals, knowing that this too will change once you learn more through your advisory board and research.
What are your skill gaps? Sometimes it’ll be easy to populate this list when it’s a project you’re familiar with but when it’s a new career path it might be tougher. While I liked the idea of becoming a Chief Customer Officer someday, there weren’t many that were accessible to me so I had a lot of research to do. Pro-tip: Don’t get paralyzed at this step. Go with the skill you think will be the easiest or fastest to tackle or the most urgent. Prioritizing will keep you from feeling overwhelmed, especially for folks like me who looked at their list and saw they had way more listed on the “needs help” side than the “strengths” side.
Where do you find people? It’ll largely depend on what you do and whether or not you feel the need to see people in person vs video / online chat, but for me:
I went to in person networking events
Used keyword skills searches on LinkedIn
Read lots of articles and books, then researched the authors via social media
Straight up asked for help and got referrals across social media, at work, and even at social events with friends when work talk was not totally looked down upon
Get them onboard in whatever way makes you feel comfortable. I took my time getting people on my advisory board through quarterly (sometimes more) coffee chats and phone conversations. Also one quirk of mine is, not many people know they’re on my board. I’ve learned a lot over the past several years, and now my advisory board is more around projects than career path so there’s more fluidity. One of my board members actually found out because we discussed it during a panel that we were both on. On the flip side, I know some people that are very open about who is on their board. It’s really up to you and your comfort level.
If I’m not meeting with folks regularly, I make a note in my calendar to check in with them every once in awhile. I’m the kind of person that hates to go to people only when I need something, so I’m always making sure I check in with advisory board members to let them know what I’m up to but also to offer my help. I think most people that have invested in you in some way, whether that be through introductions, advice, or even real investments in your startup, want to know how things went. So just because you didn’t take their advice or go down the path they talked about, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in. Personally when someone follows up and I’m in the advisory position, I’m just happy that they were able to make a decision and forge forward.
Remember, focus on adding people to your board that you like and trust. There’s a temptation to find THE smartest people or THE #1 person in XYZ, and there’s no problem if you do, but just make sure they’re people you can actually talk to and not just sit across from and gawk. These are working conversations. Also make sure you’re not getting too many peer advisors on your board or people that think just like you. Diversity of thought is SO valuable when it comes to personal advisory boards (and well, regular boards too).
Hope this was helpful! Feel free to comment below with your advisory board experience or send along some suggestions for an upcoming video. See ya on the interwebs!