How to Get On Advisory Boards



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by Tamara Paton in How to get on board

A review of business literature reveals countless articles on how entrepreneurs can recruit and leverage advisory boards. In contrast, there is a dearth of resources directed to the advisors themselves. It’s as if no one has thought about the challenges, opportunities and rewards from our perspective. At the very least, a study of how to get on advisory boards is overdue.

If last week’s post about the reasons to serve on advisory boards piqued your interest, how do you proceed from here? My experience suggests five practices to guide you, held together by an empathetic view of those you meet along the way.

1. Take a long-term view

Just as most board of director leads emerge from your network, you’ll typically find advisory roles through people you know. Without an open marketplace or clearinghouse for opportunities, it can take months for word to spread about your interest and talents.

Patience will pay off, especially if you are tenacious.  Advisor and director Spencer Lanthier emphasizes the importance of endurance in your search.

“The key thing is to follow up. Once you’ve met with someone and left your CV, it will probably be forgotten after three months. Maintain contact.”

Practicing “palm up” networking can sustain your endurance. When we look beyond an immediate payoff, we maintain an orientation towards a long-term view.

2. Give generously and strategically

As you communicate your interest in advisory roles, you will hear about opportunities that don’t align with your interests. Matching these organizations with potential advisors can indirectly fuel your own search.

Author and Wharton professor Adam Grant studies the success of givers, those whose default setting is to share and connect without expecting anything in return. His findings validate giving as a success driver:

“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them.”

Given that organizations rely on advisors for valuable introductions, why wouldn’t we share our social capital generously and strategically? Grant encourages us to give freely to other givers and matchers, but cautiously to takers. His research highlights promising results, especially when giving strengthens social ties.

3. Fish where the fish are

In my experience, you’ll get on advisory boards through people you know well enough to invite for coffee. Engaging the VCs, private equity professionals and angel investors in your network shows that you are keen. Mentoring via local business incubators, such as Communitech, MaRS and Techstars, can also introduce you to the right influencers and decision makers.

It’s tempting to build connections via professional networking events, but I find that they offer too superficial an exchange to make a strong impression. Of course, you might overrule me if you secure an opportunity to speak or appear on a panel. Demonstrating thought leadership via conferences and publications can align your offer with the needs of a growing advisory board. And in the meantime, you are sharing with people who appreciate your knowledge.

4. Demonstrate your entrepreneurial instincts

It’s been said that entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week in order to avoid working 40 hours a week. Demonstrating your understanding of that mindset is foundational to your relationship with an owner. If you are not in a position to launch your own business, spend time with those who have. Becoming steeped in the world in which you wish to advise will build your credibility.

Throughout these experiences, empathy and curiosity are key. I’ve never met a founder who tires of answering questions about her business. And I’ve never met one who feels truly understood. Slowing down a conversation to explore an owner’s personal history and inspiration makes you relatable and gives you valuable context.

5. Get clear on your offer

Looking back at your personal and professional history, make an exhaustive list of experiences and contacts. Most aspiring advisors only scratch the surface in this exercise. Dig deep, beginning with the following questions:

  • In what fields do you have specialized knowledge?
  • How can you access experts, sales channels, or financing sources?
  • Looking beyond your immediate reach, who can you access via introductions through your network?
  • At each stop in your professional history, what lessons have you learned that might be valuable to others?
  • How have you demonstrated a desire to be a mentor and coach?
  • How much time can you commit to an organization?

With these insights in hand, it comes down to effective communication. We all know the importance of having an elevator pitch. Successful advisors take it several steps further by crafting a series of messages about their offer.

I have to admit that I stumbled into advisory roles. Former colleagues and clients already sought my perspective, so we just formalized the relationships. Now that I’m on this side of the fence, I can see these practices as helpful for all of us. With an informed, empathetic view of those needing your advice, I’m confident that your strengths will benefit growing organizations and enhance your own board career.

Question: What successes and setbacks have you experienced en route to advisory boards? What lessons might help aspiring advisors succeed?




How to Get On Advisory Boards

by Tamara time to read: 3 min