Traditional belief holds that having a strong business plan, a committed staff, and a well-developed management style are all you need to run a successful business. Yet somehow, there seem to be indecisive moments, mistakes, and pitfalls that many entrepreneurs fall into. These are all extremely common, and all point to the same problem: tunnel vision. In other words, seeing the forest for the trees is one of the greatest challenges to running a business.

Board members bring an element to the table that you may struggle to get anywhere else: a qualified, yet independent perspective. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable you and your staff may be, you will always be constrained and affected by the inherent myopia that comes from running a business day-to-day: the politics in your organization, the short-term needs that dictate your role, and the immediate demands of your stakeholders (employees, investors, creditors, customers, etc).

Enter a Board of Advisors

The role of the board is to provide an independent, outside perspective. Members of the board should be experienced professionals whose opinions are informed and intelligent. A well-managed board can give you strategic direction, help you answer tough questions, and always ensure you stay true to your business plan and your core values.

A recent McKinsey & Company study (McKinsey and Company, “The Dynamic Board”) interviewed the directors or board chairs of 32 of the 100 organizations named as top performers by Worth magazine. The survey concluded that high-performing boards play three distinct roles:

If performed well, these three roles can mean the difference between success and failure for many small businesses. So how do you recruit, set up, and manage an advisory board that can help you succeed? The first step is to find the right people. GreenBusinessOwner feels that the most important aspects of the ‘right’ kind of board members for a small, green business are:

* They should see eye-to-eye with you on the mission of the company.

* They should have a specific skill set that you need in your company. This criterium goes a long way toward assuring that they stay on task, as well, and not try to overstep their oversight, which is a crucial success factor we discuss in more detail below.

* They must understand and agree on the role you expect them to play.

* They must have sufficient time to meet your requirements (this may be only a few hours a year, but some high-profile people may not even have the bandwidth for this. If not, they will be a distraction to you and take up valuable time and energy in scheduling and rescheduling).

* They should enjoy the task at hand.


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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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