As an entrepreneurship instructor, one of my favorite documents I used to give to my students for discussion is “Who should be on your Board of Directors”. Years later, as I am now in the trenches of my own early stage growth company, this document still guides how I think about and conduct business development.
With such a high failure rate of businesses, what makes the difference in success? There are many factors that go into it: well-balanced leadership, a great product or service, thought out cash flow, and timing. These all need to be present; however, I would argue that having a well-rounded Board of Directors is the most important.
To clarify, Board of Directors is defined here as your well-rounded network. It is essential in business development that you manage and maintain this influential group. It’s not what you know, but who you know. I am starting to realize this is the heart of it.
The ten functional roles that I am constantly seeking in order to be as effective as I can are: the mentor, the coach, the industry insider, the trendsetter, the connector, the idealist, the realist, the visionary, the partner, and the protégé.
The Mentor: This is the person who has reached the level of success you aspire to have. You can learn from their success as well as their mistakes. Heed their wisdom and experience. This relationship offers a unique perspective because they have known you through several peaks and valleys in your life and watched you evolve.
The Coach: The coach is someone who comes in at different times in your life. They help with critical decisions and transitions and offer an objective perspective with no strings attached.
The Industry Insider: This is someone in your chosen field who has expert level information or access to it. This person will keep you informed of what’s happening now and what the next big thing is. Invite them to be a sounding board for your next innovative idea.
The Trendsetter: This is someone outside of your chosen industry that always has the latest buzz. It can be on any topic you find interesting. The goal in having this person in your network is to look for those connections that spark innovation via the unconventional. It will also help you keep your conversations interesting.
The Connector: This is a person who has access to people, resources and information. As soon as they come across something related to you, they are sending you an email or picking up the phone. Connectors are great at uncovering unique ways to make connections, finding resources and opportunities most people would over look.
The Idealist: This is the person on your Board of Directors you can dream with. No matter how “out there” your latest idea is, this is the person that will help you brainstorm ways to make it happen. Without judgment, they are focused on helping you flush out your dreams, even if you don’t have a solid plan yet on how to make it happen.
The Realist: On the flip side you still need the person who will help you keep it real. This is the person who will give you the raised eyebrow when your expectations exceed your effort. These are not people who knock down your dreams rather they challenge you to actively make your dream happen.
The Visionary: Visionary people inspire you by their journey. They are similar to the Idealist, but the visionary can help you envision an actual plan to reach your goal. One personal encounter with this type of person can powerfully change the direction of your thinking and life.
The Partner: You need to have someone who is in a similar place and on a similar path to share with. In fact, partners do a lot of sharing. This is a person you can share the wins and woes with. Partners will also share resources, opportunities and information.
The Protégé: This is someone you can serve as mentor to. Someone you can help shape and guide based on your experiences. One of the best ways to tell you understand something is to be able to explain it to someone else. And sometimes, one of the best motivators for pushing through obstacles and hardship is knowing someone is watching.
Do not include only people from your current profession or business focus, for this can limit your career development opportunities. Continuously build a diverse network by adding people from different industries, backgrounds, age groups, ethnic groups and other facets of life that fit into the roles listed above. Annually evaluate your current Board of Directors and fill in the gaps where needed.
As you grow in business development, it is important to seek out these people and seek to grow personally in each of these roles in your profession. Choose your board well and take calculated risks towards your goals. The community we form around us and the internal drive for constant never-ending improvement are essential to propel and drive growth.