"Who Should I Ask to Help Me?"

As a Mentor, one of the things that I am often asked about is how to find reliable partners, and indeed who those partners should be. I recently overheard that very point when a lady was asking “who should I ask to help me and what exactly are the best roles for them to play?”

Like almost every question when it comes to early stage businesses, there is no simple or standard answer as so much of the answer depends upon the individual business and the founders behind it. But a very good starting point is ‘what are my own arrears of expertise and what areas do I either not know about or am not confident that I know enough about’. If you are a sole founder then it is likely that you will need more assistance, as often co-founders team up with someone that has complimentary skills in some way to their own.

Once you have identified the areas that you feel you need help with you must then try and decide if this is ‘one off’ type help or whether it is ongoing help to grow and drive your business. The reason that this is important is because it should help you decide on what basis to work with them. The one off type help would also include specific services such as accountants, lawyers, and the like, whilst the more ongoing type of help are people that you feel you want by your side in a closer capacity as they will make a lot of difference to your business in both the immediate and the longer term future.

Both the one off or contracted services help, and the closer inner circle more permanent help are crucial and care needs to be taken to find the right people for the right roles. Often the best way to find such people is by personal recommendation or reputation. Whilst both types of assistance are important to a business it is the close inner circle that will make the biggest difference as they will be able to provide the broadest range of support over the longest period of time. It is for that reason that this inner circle is even more carefully selected because of what added value it brings to the business.

Experience suggests that the best way to achieve a core inner circle is to appoint a good, experienced Advisory Board. Ideally this would be made up of four or five experienced and trusted individuals that have a broad range of experience – this experience to specifically fill the gaps of the founder(s) and any other senior members of the company. Often the majority of the Advisory Board members play very little active role but are there when needed, although it is better if one or more is much more active.

So what exactly does an Advisory Board do and why is it often the best help an early stage company can get? Ideally the Board as a whole are able to bring all of the following benefits between them:

  • Open access to contacts in the sector
  • Provide knowledge and expertise in areas that the founders and management do not have
  • Provide guidance
  • Guide and question the founder(s) and make sure the business stays on track
  • Ensure the founder(s) deliver milestones on time and on budget
  • Help the founder(s) develop the business and to scale it

These members of the Advisory Board are often prepared to work for a small equity stake and this amount would vary depending upon the added value and the amount of time spent. The two benefits of this to the founder(s) is that it preserves cash flow and makes sure that the interests of the Advisory Board are totally aligned with that of the founder(s) and the business as a whole.

Parting with equity is always a difficult decision for a founder(s), and rightly so as it should be guarded carefully, but getting the right help and advice is crucial to growing the company and if the company does not have the cash flow or finances to pay for the best help then releasing some equity is a very viable alternative. After all, 100% of a company that has failed because of the failure to get the right assistance is worth nothing.

So, in answer to the question of ‘who should I ask to help me?’ then the best answer is the best people that you possibly can, and find a realistic solution for both sides. If you get this right then believe me, you will not regret it!