Mentors vs. Advisory Boards


stockMaria Haggerty has a great article in Entrepreneur contrasting mentors with advisory boards, What’s Better: a Mentor or an Advisory Board (or Both)? She does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting mentors and advisory boards:

Mentors vs. advisory boards

Some entrepreneurs need more than just a one-on-one mentoring relationship to help their companies grow. While a mentor helps you navigate personal challenges, an advisory board helps manage the strategic direction of the company.

Advisory boards are typically comprised of various experts capable of providing insights about specific areas of the business. For example, you might have a lawyer on your advisory board to help work through legal issues and someone from a CPA firm to address financial concerns.

Mentoring relationships are informal, while advisory boards are more structured. Also, advisory board members are usually incentivized to participate with financial or other rewards. But regardless of the motivation, it’s important to use the group’s time wisely and make the best use of the skills and connections each advisor brings to the table.

Maria’s advice on finding mentors doesn’t include participation in academic programs like the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, or the MIT Sandbox Fund. Nor doe she include finding mentors in accelerator/incubator programs like TechStars and Y-Combinator. There are a wealth of posts about mentors on Mentorphile. You might want to start with 5 Traits of Natural-Born Mentors.

And her advice on putting together an advisory board is a bit old school, suggesting you go to your bank, your accountant, your local Chamber of Commerce or professional industry groups for prospective advisory board members. This seem more oriented towards small businesses, not growth businesses.

Entrepreneurs need to be strategic in building their advisory boards. You need a mix of industry expertise, startup expertise, and domain expertise (tech, finance, sales, etc.). You should be looking to your former professors, seasoned entrepreneurs, execs in established companies in your market, retired entrepreneurs, and leaders of entrepreneurship organizations. Your advisory board serves two functions: one is to provide strategic guidance and feedback on your plans, the other, especially for very early stage companies, is to provide credibility by association. See my post Strategic Advisory Boards, which includes a detailed presentation on how to put together and manage an advisory board.

As the saying goes, it’s not who you know, but who knows you. The key to finding both mentors and advisors is to be known in the entrepreneurial community – go to meetings, and don’t just attend, participate; use blogging and social media to become known and build your network, so that when the time comes to start an advisory board you’ll have a strong list of potential candidates.

And keep in mind the guiding principle in all business relationships: think about what’s in it for the other person, be they a mentor, advisor, partner or customer.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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