How to start an advisory board

1      What is the purpose of this document?

2      What is the value of an advisory board?

2.1       What is an advisory board?

2.2       How is an advisory board different from a group of advisors?

2.3       How do you measure advisory board value?

2.4       What are the major benefits of an advisory board, as perceived by companies with advisory boards?

2.5       Who has advisory boards?

2.6       How do you recruit advisory boards?

2.7       How do you organize an advisory board?

3      Do you have the capability for an advisory board?

3.1       The CEO has time available

3.2       The CEO has a plan with milestones

3.3       The CEO has a cash flow forecast, budget, and tracking process.

4      How do you get people to serve on your advisory board?

4.1       Document the initial set of mutual expectations

4.2       Send a formal invitation letter to the advisor candidate.

4.3       Invite the best people.

4.4       Advisors may change over time.

5      Sample advisory board invitation letter.

5.1       Your company letterhead.

5.2       Start out with your ask.

5.3       Pitch What are the benefits to this advisory board member?

5.4       Overview of the Company – 1-2 sentences per topic area.

5.5       Advisory board’s mandate and focus – What are the advisory board’s goals?)

5.6       Responsibilities of board members.

5.7       (Close and thank you)

6      Follow Up Your Board Invitation Letter.

7      First meeting of the advisory board.

7.1       Plan the First Meeting Agenda Around a Problem or Discussion Topic.

7.2       Gather the Relevant Background Material

7.3       Create the Meeting Agenda.

7.4       Make Arrangements for Recording the Meeting Minutes

7.5       Provide refreshments

7.6       What might an agenda look like?

7.7       Begin Future Meetings With a Review of Previous Minutes

8      Footnotes


1       What is the purpose of this document?

This document outlines how to create an advisory board and the agenda for the first meeting.  This document must be adapted and revised for you specific situation.

The audience for this document is CEOs and founder


2       What is the value of an advisory board?

Advisory boards have a major impact on sales and productivity, comparing the three years after an advisory board vs the three years before an advisory board:  sales growth of 67% vs 23% and productivity growth of 6% vs 3%.1

2.1      What is an advisory board?

A group of independent people who advise the CEO (or board of directors) on specific problems and meet on a regular basis.  The advisory board has no voting authority and company has no legal obligation to follow advice.

The board is independent.  Ideally the advisors have no other business arrangement with the company other than being on the advisory board.  If the advisors have other financial arrangements, their advice may be biased.

2.2      How is an advisory board different from a group of advisors?

Every CEO/Founder has informal advisors.  The advisors know little or nothing about the company, answer very specific pointed questions and devote little time to the company. The engagement with the CEO/Founder is sporadic and ad-doc.

An advisory board has scheduled involvement with the CEO/Founder.  The advisors have an understanding of the company based upon their ongoing involvement as well as the information provided to them by the CEO/Founder.  The advisors have made a long-term commitment of time to the company, a few hours a month or more.

2.3      How do you measure advisory board value?

There can be two sets of “hard metrics”, especially if it is possible to compare the times before and after the advisory board creation, as well as comparison of any improvements relative to industry benchmarks.

  • What is the impact on sales, earnings, and productivity?
  • What is the impact on key business milestones, growth, and innovation?

It can be difficult to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the advisory board advice and business results.  A key indicator can be whether or not the advisory board impacts the decisions made by the CEO (or by the board of directors).

2.4      What are the major benefits of an advisory board, as perceived by companies with advisory boards?

85% of business leaders believe that the advisory board had a significant impact on success.2

Some of the benefits, according to business leaders (rating on a scale of 1 to 10):3

  • Is an essential tool 8.2
  • Allows you to develop a broader vision 8.0
  • Improves strategic business choices 8.0
  • Forces management to look at the company 7.5
  • Challenges the company’s management team 7.5
  • Puts in place a better management structure 7.4
  • Brings rigour in to the company 7.2
  • Reassures shareholders and investors 7.2
  • Avoids costly mistakes 6.7

What are some of the impacts of an advisory board, according to the business leaders (on a scale of 1 to 10):4

  • Company vision 7.7
  • Innovation 6.9
  • Risk management 6.8
  • Profitability 6.8
  • Survival 6.6
  • Sales growth 6.6
  • Hiring the best employees 6.2

2.5      Who has advisory boards?

  • 75% of SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises)5 have no board. 19% have a board of directors only. 6% have an advisory board (Half of those also have a board of directors)6
  • 11% of companies with more than 100 employees have an advisory board.7

2.6      How do you recruit advisory boards?

56% of the advisories come from the company’s network, 8% from external recruiting such as associations, only 3% from company’s financial institution or investors.8

2.7      How do you organize an advisory board?

  • You need to determine the skills and experience required on your advisory board. Look at your 2-5 year business forecast.  What are the opportunities and challenges over that time-horizon?  What is the talent (skills and experience) you need?  What are the talent gaps when you look at the management team (and board of directors) What is the talent you need on your advisory board?
  • The written advisory board mandate must have the objectives, terms of reference and time commitment. Each advisor commits to reading preparatory documents, actively participating in the meetings and follow-up.  The mandate also addresses advisor out-of-pocket expenses and compensation (if any). If business development is a role, then there can be performance bonuses based on business development results.  The mandate may be the set of mutual expectations i.e. expectations of the CEO/Founder and of the advisors.
  • The mandate must be clear – are the advisors expected to act in the best interests of the owner(s) or the best interests of a broader set of stakeholders? For example, a recapitalization could provide capital to the owner but risk the long-term viability of the company.
  • It must be clear how the company and advisory board interact. (e.g. meetings only with the CEO or including C-Suite members?  Are all questions (from management and advisors) funneled through the CEO?  The advisory board may meet weekly, monthly, quarterly as well as urgent ad-hoc meetings.
  • Is there an advisory board chair? If so, the role of the chair is crucial, working with management, the board of directors, and the advisory board members.
  • The individual advisor roles must be clear, e.g. help develop business by opening doors, act as a company ambassador at social events, etc.
  • Individual advisors bring specialized experience, knowledge and contacts which the board of directors does not have. The advisor capabilities are not a replacement for capabilities which should be on the board of directors or management, but rather be complementary.
  • Each advisor must also have a degree of passion and interest in the business.
  • The advisory board has simpler processes than a board of directors, does not require elections, term limits, committees, public disclosure, etc.

3       Do you have the capability for an advisory board?

You have three pre-requisites for your creation of an advisory board.  Much of the focus is on having the documented thinking of the CEO/Founder and documented company plans and results.  If there are no documents, then its too early for an advisory board.  The CEO may have advisors with whom she has an ad-hoc relationship.

3.1      The CEO has time available

The CEO has the time to prepare for meetings, have the meetings, and follow-up from the meetings.  This implies that there are enough team members to allow the CEO to delegate some of her work.  If the company consists of one sole founder, then it’s too early for an advisory board.

3.2      The CEO has a plan with milestones.

The CEO must have a documented set of future milestones.  There is a least an assumption of the company’s future path.  If the CEO has not documented what the company will be achieving in future, it’s to early for an advisory board.  The role of an advisor is not to document where the company is going.

The advisor will help the CEO think through how to achieve critical milestones.

3.3      The CEO has a cash flow forecast, budget, and tracking process.

The cash flow forecast, budget, and tracking process is directly tied to the set of milestones.  There must be a set of documented assumptions as to what resources are required to achieve milestones.  If the CEO has no documented set of assumptions as to the cash required to achieve critical milestones, it’s too early for an advisory board

4       How do you get people to serve on your advisory board?

When talking with prospective members, focus on two things:

  • The impact the advisor will have on the CEO/founders and on the company. People won’t want to be an advisor if they are asked for advice on minor issues and if the CEO/Founder regularly ignores most of the advice.
  • The benefits to the advisor of being on an advisory board, which could include:
    1. Learning new ideas and getting new perspectives.
    2. Expanding their network.
    3. The personal satisfaction of helping a CEO/founder and company succeed.
  • Compensation is not a reason people join an advisory board. If the advisor puts in significant time or when the company goes beyond the startup stage, then compensation is warranted.

Advisors come from the CEO/founders network.  The network may also suggest advisors.

4.1      Document the initial set of mutual expectations

Document the initial set of mutual expectations:

  • What expectations the founder(s) have of the advisory board and of each advisor. E.g.
    1. Hours per month?
    2. Meetings during the business day? During evening? During weekend?
    3. In person meetings or via Skype?
    4. Reading material before each meeting?
    5. Any follow-up from meetings?
    6. Responding to emails and phone calls between meetings?
    7. Investing in the company?
    8. Doing introductions: to potential customers, partners, suppliers, employees?
    9. Represent the company at social events?
    10. Attend meetings with founders?
    11. Attend meetings with potential customers, suppliers, partners, employees?
    12. Attend internal project meetings?
    13. Review and comment on material produced by the company?
  • What expectation each advisor has of the founders.
  • Expectations may be different for each individual advisor

4.2      Send a formal invitation letter to the advisor candidate

The letter needs to include:

  • A brief overview of the company
  • The advisory board’s mandate and role.
  • the responsibility of the advisors and the time commitment expected (how often the board will meet and for how long)
  • Why you think the person would be a great addition
  • The specific contribution the person would make.

4.3      Invite the best people

You have identified the capabilities you need on your advisory board.  Invite the best people you know.  If they are not part of your network, ask someone in your network for an introduction.  You can also cold call them.

4.4      Advisors may change over time

The advisors you have when you are pre-seed with no satisfied customers and no revenue may be different from the advisors you have when you are a global unicorn about to do an IPO

5       Sample advisory board invitation letter

The following draft invitation letter must be sent after you’ve connected with a prospective advisor and have drafted a draft mutual set of expectations.  Note that there is a fixed time frame for the appointment.  The CEO/founder may at any time for any reason end the appointment of the advisor to the advisory board. The letter must be customized for each advisor.

5.1      Your company letterhead

(Prospective Board Member’s Name and Address)


Dear (Board Member’s Name):

5.2      Start out with your ask

I’m pleased to invite you to become a member of the FastGrowth Business Advisory for 20__ – __.

5.3      Pitch What are the benefits to this advisory board member?

FastGrowth is one of the AR (Augmented Reality) industry leaders. You have the opportunity to shape the global growth of this industry and literally change how humanity views the world.

FastGrowth is entering the next stage of its business evolution. Growing from 10 to 50 employees in the next 24 months requires reinvention of every aspect of the business: talent, technology, and processes.

Your experience and insight would be the perfect person to help me think through the critical changes and deal with the issues.

I will cover nominal expenses you incur from attending advisory board meetings such as parking.  I don’t expect you to fly in for the meetings.

5.4      Overview of the Company – 1-2 sentences per topic area

FastGrowth was founded in 2014. Currently,

Target customers are …….

Their problems are ….

Our solution is ……….

In 24 months,

Target customers will be ………….

Their problems will be ………….

Our solution will be ……………


5.5      Advisory board’s mandate and focus – What are the advisory board’s goals?)

The main purpose of FastGrowth’s Business Advisory Board is to provide management advice about the direction the company should follow. Specific goals for this year are how the company can get ready for Series B funding and manage the deployment of those funds.

5.6      Responsibilities of board members

The Board will have an initial face-to-face 2-hour meeting.  Subsequently, there will be a monthly 1-hour conference call, with a 2-hour face-to-face meeting quarterly.  Your time commitment is approximately 5 hours per month.  You will also need to sign a confidentiality agreement.

5.7      (Close and thank you)

Thank you for considering being a part of FastGrowth’s Advisory Board. I will call you within 7 days. I’m available to discuss any questions you may have. You can reach me by phone at (phone number) or via email at (email address).


(Your signature)



6       Follow Up Your Board Invitation Letter

Follow up your letter with a phone call. If your prospective advisory board member does not have time to talk with you, they will not have time to be on your board.

7       First meeting of the advisory board

7.1      Plan the First Meeting Agenda Around a Problem or Discussion Topic

Your first meeting, therefore, like all your Advisory Board meetings, needs to be planned around a question or problem. You might find it easiest to ​state the problem as a goal. For instance, “We want to raised Series B funds in 9 months time. How might we do this?” Or there may be a general topic “How can we cut our business costs?”

7.2      Gather the Relevant Background Materials

  • Once you’ve decided on the discussion topic, it’s time to gather the materials that your Advisory Board members will need to read before the meeting.
  • Because this is the first Advisory Board meeting, you should include a business plan and any other documents pertinent to the discussion topic, such as charts, graphs and fact sheets illustrating the background of the discussion topic.
  • You should send a copy of these documents to all Advisory Board members one weeks in advance, along with a copy of the agenda. You can distribute material by providing the Advisory Board with access to an online data room.  Later stage companies should use a Board of Directors software packing to manage information distribution.

7.3      Create the Meeting Agenda

  • Below is an example of a first meeting agenda (with comments for running the meeting efficiently) that you need to revised and adopt for your first Advisory Board meeting.
  • Each agenda item is timed; building a time schedule into your meeting and sticking to it ensures that your meeting doesn’t get bogged down and stimulates on-topic discussion.
  • There is no presentation of the pre-reading material. The focus on the meeting if the CEO/Founder learning from the group discussion.
  • Every advisory board meeting must start with the CEO/founders 1-5 minute pitch. The details supporting the pitch are available in the data room for the advisors.

7.4      Make Arrangements for Recording the Meeting Minutes

Make some arrangements for recording the minutes of the meeting. Don’t try to do this yourself; you need to be able to participate fully by listening and contributing. If you don’t have someone who can attend and serve as a secretary, ask an Advisory Board member to record the meeting.

The minutes are brief and capture:

  • What was the discussion topic?
  • What were the issues, challenges?
  • What were the decisions and next steps?

Lots of the discussion will be on flip charts, whiteboard, or electronic meeting software.  The minutes are not intended to capture every word said.

7.5      Provide refreshments

Provide beverage (coffee, tea, water, etc.). Food is required depending upon when the meeting is held, your advisors are busy people.  E.g. Early morning meeting – breakfast; Mid morning meetings – snacks; Mid day meeting – lunch; Afternoon meeting – snacks; Evening meeting dinner.

Food can be sandwiches, pizza etc.  You will have to learn any food allergies and preferences of your advisors.

7.6      What might an agenda look like?

The sample advisory board meeting agenda below includes suggested activities with notes to guide you through the meeting process. You will have to change this to meet your company’s specific situation

[Your Company Name]




Beginning/Ending Time Activity
7:00 – 7:05 am Introductions
(Assuming your Advisory Board members haven’t met, introduce yourself and all the Board members, giving a brief outline of their expertise.)
7:05 – 7:10 am Why an Advisory Board?
(A brief statement of how you see the Advisory Board operating and the contributions you hope the Advisory Board can make to your company. Include details such as how often the Board will meet.)
7:10 – 7:20 am Questions
(If there are any. If there aren’t, ask your Board Members how they see the Advisory Board operating and how they hope to contribute.)
7:20 – 7:25 am The CEO/Founder does her 1-5 minute pitch
Discussion Topic: [Insert Your Question/Problem Statement Here]
7:25 – 7:30 am Presentation of the Discussion Topic
(An outline of the history of the topic and how it’s presently affecting the company; refrain from giving your views/solutions at this point.)
7:30 – 8:35 am Discussion
(You want to keep the ideas flowing at this stage; don’t reject or dismiss ideas at this point. Do contribute your ideas/views, too.)
8:35 – 8:50 am Proposals/Resolutions
(Evaluating the ideas the group has heard and choosing the best “solutions”.)
8:50 – 8:55 am Summary
(Summarize the topic, the discussion, and the results for the group and tell them what you plan to do.)
8:55 – 8:58 am The CEO/Founder states what has been the value, if any, of the meeting]
8:58 – 9:00 am Schedule of future meetings
9:00 am Adjournment


7.7      Begin Future Meetings With a Review of Previous Minutes

The minutes are in the pre-prereading material.  The minutes will show unresolved issues as well as the CEO/Founders decisions and planned actions.  The review will update everyone on the outcomes of the decisions/actions.

8       Footnotes

Advisory Boards: An untapped resource for businesses  March 2014  Business Development Bank of Canada

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5 Industry Canada definitions (2018 May 9): Small business: < $5 million in revenue, < 100 employees; Medium business: between $5 million and $20 million in revenue, 100 to 499 employees.