Things to Look for When Adding an Advisor onto Your Team

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Does this sound like you?

You’re a UX/UI designer or Ruby on Rails developer who started to do freelance work on a per project basis for a brand new client. As time passed, you built a HUGE client base via referral where you soon started to outsource projects to more talent within your network.

Bam…2 years later… now you’re a small agency struggling to take care of business, marketing, sales, and finance.

Either during the first year of building your agency or as your freelance work expands into one, you are going to get stuck. Regardless of how many blog posts you read, webinars you attend, and how much you try to keep up to date, managing your web agency will feel like a battle, and your skills will be tested to the limit. 

You will reach a point where you can no longer run your agency by relying on your knowledge alone. You will automate and systemize things to save time but you will realize that you are not seeing room for improvement, and your digital agency will stagnate. You may also develop self-doubt, and soon uncertainty may cloud in.

But why does this happen? 

In business, there is always “too much to know.” and no matter how good you’re, you cannot know it all. At one point you will need to add an advisor to your team. This is not to be mistaken with a mentor who might be a personal friend and someone you don’t need to pay or people you put on retainer.  

Advisors focus on business, mentors focus on you.

But who is a good advisor?

Simply put: Someone who knows more than you. They have done what you have done before, and actually got it right. Someone who will challenge you to take your agency to the next level and to give you not just ideas, but ideas that execute 100%. A third party will bring fresh knowledge to your firm. She or he will give you advice that makes you uncomfortable, moves you to action, and probably boost the growth rate of your agency. A business advisor should NOT be your peer; but rather someone whose brain power and experience in your niche clearly exceeds yours. 

Unfortunately, with the mushrooming number of agency advisors setting up advisory businesses, it can be challenging to find the right one for your agency. Do not get me wrong, not all advisors out there are charlatans – most of them are real professional, but they might not be the right option for your agency and hiring them will be both a waste of time and money. 

When adding an advisor to your team – keep in mind the following:

Ensure they “walk the talk”

Ensure your business advisor is competent in whatever field you want to consult (Finance, marketing, accounting, etc). Only settle for ones that are still active in your industry.

Ask them the big question: What is their guarantee, what are their KPIs? Hold them accountable and give them 3 months to accomplish their goals. If not, move on. Wasting too much time on an advisor who can only tell you “the big idea and philosophy” doesn’t know how to execute. Remember, you are not looking for a mentor, but rather an advisor.

If we “walk the talk”, we actually learn more hacks and cheats than if we just teach or are taught to. Another caution: if a person was at the top of their game five years ago, and has not been active since, their knowledge has become obsolete. Therefore, always settle for experienced, active practitioners with up to date knowledge.

Note* How long they have been in business is not a good measure; success is. For instance, someone who has been a CEO of Founder since 2012 and did all of his or her own marketing and achieved more SEO and leads, etc might be a better option than a CMO who has been in business since 2005 and hasn’t brought in as many clients. The secret; look for a business advisor who has helped other agencies achieve something your team would want to achieve one day. Not necessarily the oldest in the industry? 

How will you connect with them?

Will you be communicating with your business advisor one on one? Online via Skype? Or via phone call?

Before settling for an online business advisor, make sure you have all the right equipment to reach them. For instance, if you will be consulting them via Skype, then you will need to buy a headset, and if you opt for video calling, a fresh haircut will come handy. If you will be communicating via Google Hangout, then you will need to arm yourself with a Google Hangout account. 

The bottom line, consider the required infrastructure to connect with your business advisor. I mean, does it make sense if you live in Chicago, and choose a Chinese business advisor who can only meet your team online on his or her schedule? No. An advisor who makes a personal appearance once in a while or is within 4 hour time zones is better.

Don’t be afraid to try more than one 

I’ve said it before and I say it again: make sure your potential advisor knows MORE than you. If you understand 100% everything they’re saying, then that means you’re on the same page and you’re just getting more of the same.. which is a great danger. Go ahead and try someone new. Of course you still need to have an idea about what they’re talking about otherwise, if you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t even have a beginning point, or even the questions you need to ask to start with. 

Ideally, ask questions that will help you establish whether the business advisor is only giving promises or is offering concrete proof of results or guarantees that he will deliver, such as a business he helped to grow, references and more. You should also try to get someone who is ready to get more involved by being there to give you more insights during implementation phase, otherwise, a business advisor who just gives you a rough idea and leaves you to figure it out, is NOT helpful to you agency. 

The secret;

Do not just settle for the big online advisor celebrities and big promises just because your competitors are. Choose a business advisor who fills the gap in your agency development blueprint and knows more than you.

Are they compatible with your team

Something huge that I’ve personally seen is incompatibility between an advisor and the rest of your team. An advisor executes and needs to talk to other members of your team rather than just yourself to get things done. Some can be demanding with time and deliverables. What does their schedule look like compared to that of your team? Do they line up well?

Ideally, you want to hire a business advisor who will be there for your agency on an on-going basis. Whether you agree to meeting up once or twice a month is up to you. Overall just make sure they are there when.

Do you already have an advisor for your agency? What areas have you needed advice in?

Talk to me on Twitter. Or, shoot me an email at kate@dashable.com.

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Author: @keswanberg