As you build a network around your food business, you have many options for obtaining mentorship and aid. This will likely be highly informal at first, with advice coming from anyone who wants to help. However, as you grow, you may want to consider forming an advisory board. An advisory board is a group of mentors without financial stake in the company who can help you solve problems and address challenges.

Why an Advisory Board?

Regardless of how many employees you have, you are likely the sole responsible party for the success of your business. That’s scary! An advisory board serves as a network of mentors and helpers that support your company and want you to succeed. The best advisory boards contain a multitude of different industry representatives and skill sets, in order to compliment your own skills and fill in any knowledge gaps. Venture Beat suggests that having “a cross section of industry constituents will offer the broadest perspective and the best checks and balances in addressing the industry’s needs.”

How Do I Build One?

Mine your network! Keeping in mind that you’re looking for a diverse skill set, utilize your existing contacts. If you’re coming up short, Entrepreneur suggests seeking referrals and even making cold calls. Remember that your network is always bigger than you think – you know people who know people! If you have a clear set of expectations for your potential board members and a set of needs you’d like to address, finding the members is a cinch.

One of the most important take-aways mentioned by Entrepreneur is the need for ‘doubters’ in your advisory board. A team of people who think you and your company are the greatest won’t help you find and address shortcomings. It might be tough, but look for those who are likely to find weaknesses in your company so that you can combat them more quickly.

How Should I Use My Advisory Board?

You’ve found 5 or so advisory board members. Now, what exactly do you do with them? It’s important to quickly create structure around the board so you don’t lose your members’ interest. Set regular meeting schedules (many people like a quarterly cadence), set specific goals that are realistic within the timeline, and stick to an agenda. A sample agenda for an advisory board meeting can be found here.

Most importantly, follow up! Keep your advisory board updated through regular communication, create action items from their suggestions, and track whether those suggestions have delivered positive results. That way, you can build on the board’s work over time and keep your members engaged. With enough structure and the right members, an advisory board can be an invaluable resource to your food or beverage startup.

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