» Moderator: Today I’d like to introduce our two speakers, who will debate the issues for and against the idea of a small business forming and using a board of advisers. To lead off today’s discussion, I’d like to introduce Professor Pro, who will present his ideas for forming a board of advisers.
» Professor Pro: Having been the owner of several small businesses, I have direct experience with the benefits of having a board of advisers. Most of us in business may know a lot about our particular product or service, but we are surely a lot weaker in other areas of business, such as accounting, taxes, legal issues and financing, just to name a few. Adding a small group of individuals with special expertise in fields like this adds immense benefits to any small, growing business.
» Doctor Con: Having to make decisions by holding a meeting with a group of so-called experts can be cumbersome and time-wasting. It is better in the early stages of a business to acquire an experienced mentor with whom the business owner can work on a one-to-one basis.
» Professor Pro: With all due respect to Doctor Con, meetings with a small group of experts will be a time-waster only if the business owner allows that to happen. Properly organized and conducted, a board of advisers meeting can be held in a reasonable amount of time and be highly productive. Also, unless a businessman can find a mentor who knows all the answers and is an expert in all the diverse areas of expertise that I mentioned before — and I have little doubt that such a person is rare indeed — he will not be much better off than trying to run his business on his own.
» Doctor Con: Yes, but if the businessman selects the proper mentor, that person will know or have access to the various other experts who may be required from time to time. When a question arises, the mentor will direct the businessman to the correct expert for an answer. Solving problems this way as they arise from time to time saves the time of periodic meetings with the complete group of experts.
» Professor Pro: I’m afraid that Doctor Con may not understand how a meeting of a board of advisers actually works and how frequently they occur. Early in the life of a small business, there are many issues to decide and questions to answer, and meetings will necessarily be held more often. This is the time when a board of advisers can be the most valuable to a small businessman. The advantages of having a meeting with all the board members present is that every member can focus his or her expertise on a particular issue.
Just as an example, the negotiation for the lease of office space for the business could involve legal, financial, accounting and even marketing issues. Using a board of advisers at a meeting of all of them is far more efficient than consulting with them one at a time.
Later in the life of the business, there will be fewer issues, and less frequent board meetings will be required.
» Doctor Con: Finding and selecting the right members for a board of advisers can be difficult, time-consuming and we haven’t even addressed the issue of how these people will be compensated for their time.
» Professor Pro: I’m glad you brought that up, Doctor. First of all, it is not necessary to start out with a full board of advisers; they can be selected and added on an as-needed basis. Each one will be selected on the basis on what he or she can “bring to the table,” i.e., a specific area of expertise.
Second, members can be identified and selected by using the network approach. Existing members will know of corresponding experts in other fields and these will be people they know and have worked with before.
Third, an ongoing group of advisers will have a historical knowledge of the business as it grows so there will be no need to bring an outside expert “up to speed” when an issue arises.
Lastly, there is the question of compensation, especially if the business is located in the Santa Barbara area. Santa Barbara is a “magic town” in that there are any number of retired, semi-retired or even still active business experts who are willing to give of their time to see a new business grow and prosper. There are also independent nonprofit organizations, such as SCORE, whose members are eager to donate their time to see new businesses succeed. Their reward is simply to see the business flourish.
» Moderator: I’m afraid our time is up for this debate. Thank you, gentlemen, for your thoughtful remarks.