Founders work tirelessly on every aspect of their startup, whether it be branding, hiring, marketing, accounts, planning or pitching. You name it, they do it.  It’s more than a full-time job, it’s a lifestyle. The initial excitement of starting a business is a great motivator early on, however, it can also distract from the grand vision. Tiredness, mistakes and burnout creep in as founders spend more time trying to master areas they are not qualified in. It goes without saying therefore, that they could all do with a little help from time to time.

If you lack expertise in areas which are integral to your startup’s future success, assembling an advisory board could be of great value to you and your business.

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to easily identify your strengths but perhaps more importantly, your weaknesses. Identifying your weaknesses early on enables you to reach out to knowledgeable and experienced individuals for help and advice.

Not sure how to go about setting up a strong group of advisors? 

Here’s a few steps we’d recommend you take:


1. Clarify the terms 

Be clear about what you require from your board members from the outset. It’s worth putting something formal in place to ensure that you avoid any uncomfortable conversations in the future. That could be a meeting once a month or the ability to pick up the phone whenever you need them (i.e. a board of advisors you can contact at any time). 

Showing professionalism, organisation and a means for the board member to get involved without too much strain on their schedule will go a long way to securing their involvement. 


People sitting around a table with laptops


2. Draw up your dream team 

Firstly, identify the areas of expertise you are lacking in (cybersecurity, marketing, tech etc.).  Now, draw up your absolute dream team, listing all the big fish who have expertise in these areas. Remember, you’re not hiring them so you can target anyone you like. Founders, CEOs, specialists, or thought-leaders - go big! If you were guaranteed to get a definite yes, who would you ask? 

Now it’s time to make contact. Don’t reach out to your absolute favourite options first though. Contact the smaller fish on your list initially. That way, you’ll get a sense of what the responses are like. Test the water. If the responses aren’t great, you can readjust your messaging. By the time you get around to contacting the big fish on your list, you’ll have a strong idea of how best to approach them. 


3. Don’t ask people you don’t want

If you're struggling to source the right person to fill a knowledge gap on your board, don’t just invite someone onboard to make up the numbers. Even if it takes a little longer than expected, bide your time until you find the right individual.


4. Decide how board members will be compensated

While some individuals may not look for a fee, it’s worth offering them some kind of return for their involvement on your board. Many startups use equity as a way to compensate board members instead of paying them cash. 

Senior board members will most likely be well out of your price range so you’ve got to get creative. Sell them on your vision, ethical mission and the journey they will go on with you. Money is rarely the main motivation. 


5. Stroke the ego of the experts

To increase your chances of landing your dream board of advisors, you need to message their egos. It’s flattering to be asked to sit on a board of advisors. Keep up to date with their business exploits via sites like LinkedIn. Be sure to drop in a congrats or some praise on a recent business milestone of theirs during your conversations. In short, remind them on a regular basis (within reason obviously) how useful and valuable they’re input is, how much you appreciate their time despite their full schedules etc. 


6.Choose quality over quantity

Choosing three to five really knowledgeable individuals is key to establishing an effective group of advisors. Big boards might look impressive but if you’re looking for productivity, strong communication and trusted advice, smaller boards with quality advisors are the way to go.  

It might be the case that overtime an advisor’s input becomes less relevant to your startup. This is often due to the fact that you have moved past or overcome an obstacle with that advisor's help and you're now facing new obstacles which they do not have the knowledge or expertise to help you with. 

Don’t be afraid to retire advisors and take on new ones as your business develops. However, this should be managed in a strategic and respectful manner in order to avoid offending advisors. Consider, for example, putting term limits in place for each advisor from the outset. When their term comes to an end you can either part ways with them or you can ask them to remain on the board for an extended period.


A strong group of advisors can be extremely valuable to a startup founder. With their expertise, vast experience and extensive networks, advisors can help you navigate and overcome knowledge gaps and other hurdles that might take you years to work out alone.

If you’re planning on setting up an advisory board in the near future, consider following the steps in this article to secure the best advisors and get the most out of your startup’s board as a whole.