Let's say you're a startup founder with massive ambition and a to-do list a mile long. In that case, you probably hate those moments of paralyzing self-doubt when you just can’t decide on your company’s next steps.
It’s precisely at these times that enlisting the help of a startup advisor could be an excellent move. Sometimes, the results can be dramatic. A startup advisor can utterly transform a company and usher in a new era of growth.
What is a Startup Advisor?
Startup advisors provide industry and subject matter advice to current or future founders. They also act as mentors.
What Does a Startup Advisor do?
A startup advisor can provide you with invaluable assistance, including steering you away from potentially disastrous entrepreneurial pitfalls, finding the optimal organizational structure for your enterprise, securing funding, and scaling your business. One of their most important roles is that of a sounding board. This includes letting you bounce ideas off them and talking you through problems.
What role an advisor plays in your company depends on your needs. For example, say you’re the founder of a consumer technology company that needs an infusion of venture capital to fuel your next growth phase. In that case, you might ask your advisor to help raise equity funding.
Needs also change over time. In the first year of your enterprise, you might require guidance around how to get your company off the ground, the best recruitment methods, securing premium office space, or landing your first customers. In the second year, you might ask your advisor the best way to expand internationally or how to find distributors for your product line.
The goal of a startup advisor isn’t merely to be a founder’s cheerleader. An advisor is there to maximize a project’s chance of success. Sometimes that means helping a company change course when it’s heading down an entrepreneurial dead end. Helping a company owner see why they need to steer their ship in a different direction before getting smashed to smithereens is an essential part of an advisor's role.
An advisor needs to be exceptional at helping people figure out what doesn’t work. Realistic feedback is crucial when you’re a founder because you can’t spend the next five years working on a project that’s ultimately doomed to fail.
Even the best ideas require strategic changes from time to time. An advisor can help point out what's needed so the project doesn't veer off course. An advisor with the right expertise can help you achieve your goals more quickly than you planned. That's because you get to leverage the experience of someone who knows how to build a business.
4 Ways Advisors Add Value to Your Startup
1. Has a Skill You Lack
A startup advisor has the knowledge or skills you lack. In this way, they compensate for your weaknesses, while allowing you to focus on your strengths.
2. Has Connections You Lack
A startup advisor has the connections you lack. As such, they can be of immeasurable assistance in opening doors to potential investors, partners, and key hires. They can get you an introduction and a return phone call. After that, the ball’s in your court.
3. Has the Time to Meet Your Needs
A startup advisor doesn’t have to spend countless hours each week analyzing your concerns, issues, and problems from every conceivable angle. However, they should give you their undivided attention when they’re with you.
4. Has excellent rapport
A startup advisor is someone with whom you have an excellent rapport. You’ll stop communicating if you get on each other's nerves due to different styles or conflicting values. Then, you’ll need to find a different advisor.
You’ll need to trust your advisor enough to be brutally honest with them and speak openly. That's true even if you disagree with what they're saying. An advisor won't get offended if you don’t follow their advice. The advisor is there to offer guidance—not make the final decision.
As you talk with a potential advisor, see if the rapport is there. Ensure the individual is easy to talk to and doesn't try to cut you off every two seconds.
When do I need a startup advisor?
The answer to this question will be different for every startup and every set of circumstances. Some founders might want to seek out an advisor from day one. Others might want to hold off until they encounter particular kinds of challenges and growth opportunities.
Maybe you're not sure about compliance issues and want to pick the brain of an experienced business guru because you don’t want to get in legal hot water. Maybe you’re facing seemingly insurmountable production issues or need someone who can help you navigate the regulatory challenges you’ll soon face.
What should I look for in a startup advisor?
Look for an advisor who has the specific skill set, abilities, and knowledge you need. For example, suppose you're wondering who the target audience should be for your line of chocolates that are not only vegan-friendly but also organic and sugar- and gluten-free. In that case, you’ll need an advisor who’s a marketing whiz.
Some advisors bring years of business expertise and a big picture perspective. That could be more valuable to a founder than in-depth expertise.
You’ll also need to figure out what kind of meeting format works best for you and ask your advisor if they’re willing to work within it. For example, if you think informal lunch meetings would be the best way to get together, see if your advisor is willing to go along with the idea. Maybe they’ll give you good reasons why that wouldn’t work and suggest an alternative way.
Decide how much time you’ll need and a reasonable interval. If you only have a few questions on a narrow subject, a one-time call might be enough. On the other hand, if you're looking for ongoing guidance, weekly or monthly calls with email communication in the between times might be the way to go.
How do I find a startup advisor?
There are two different approaches to finding a startup advisor, depending on whether your company is a high-growth startup or some other kind of business. High-growth startups are usually looking for lots of venture capital. Advisors for these enterprises often expect an equity stake in the startup in exchange for their advice.
Only a minuscule percentage of new US businesses each year are considered high growth. Most new startups are bootstrapped, which means they get their initial funding from friends and family, credit cards, or personal savings.
If you don’t have a high-growth business, you might not have the cash to pay an advisor. If that’s the case, you’ll have to either find a volunteer advisor or get creative.
How to Find a Startup Advisor on a Budget
SCORE serves up plenty of helpful advice on its website. It'll also help you find a mentor. SCORE mentors are volunteers, which means their services are free.
2. America’s Small Business Development (SBDC) Centers
Founders can get a ton of helpful advice at these centers, which are often located inside universities. In addition, the centers provide free or low-cost help.
3. Online groups
If a less structured environment where you can participate whenever you feel like is more your style, check out online groups and forums. For example, in the Facebook group "Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, and Startups," you can connect informally with experts in various industries.
4. Peer advisory boards
Because a single individual can’t embody everything a person needs in an advisor, many entrepreneurs put together advisory boards consisting of people with various perspectives. That way, they get a wide range of support and advice.
An excellent way to get startup advisors is by asking local business leaders you respect to be on your informal advisory board. You can find these advisors by networking or asking your contacts. Even if you can’t pay them anything, you might be surprised at how many will say “yes.”
5. Local advisory programs
Programs exist on the local level that will put together an advisory board for you. One of them is Powerlink, offered by Athena International, which provides women business owners with a volunteer advisory board for one year.
Fine-Tune Your Hiring Process
A startup advisor can help bridge the yawning chasm which exists between ambition and reality. Some have a prodigious ability to see the big picture. Others are detail-oriented ninjas zeroing in with a laser-sharp focus on the particulars of a situation.
There’s another time when you might need an expert, and that’s when you’re fine-tuning your hiring process. If that’s the case, take Hunt Club out for a test spin. We’ll optimize your recruiting strategies with our well-honed expertise, proprietary technology, and thousands of subject matter experts.