How to work with advisors (productively)

Who should read this?

Startups that are preparing for their first meeting with a new advisor.

Why does it matter?

Based on their amount of industry experience, advisors can add immense value to your company, but only if you enable them to.

Meeting with a new advisor is difficult. Deciding what information to share and when can be challening. If you don’t properly prepare for a meeting, both you and the advisor will feel as though you have wasted your time.

There are two main areas to focus on when initially meeting with an advisor: preparing the relevant materials and entering the meeting with the right mindset.

Preparing relevant content

No one enjoys sitting through a meeting without a clear purpose or goal. Advisors are busy and their time is valuable, and it will set a bad tone for the relationship if you show up unprepared. Before entering the meeting, take time with your team to discuss:

  • Your desired outcomes. What is your goal for this meeting—building a relationship, getting subject matter advice or just receiving clarity on next steps?
    Determine one clear objective and inform the advisor of your goal before or at the very beginning of the meeting. Keep this objective top of mind and avoid going off topic to maximize the value of the session.
  • What documents are critical to esnure you reach your desired outcome. What information is necessary for a focused discussion that will help you reach your goal?
    Consider the documents the advisor will require in order to understand the context surrounding your specific challenge or question. If you’re attending a session about preparing for investment, for example, you need to show up with completed financial statements and projections.
  • The easiest way to distill information about your business. What is the fastest way to share the intricacies of your business model?
    Advisors typically have only 10 minutes to read prior to a meeting. Create documents that are clear and concise, highlighting only the most important information, as sending irrelevant materials will eat up time that otherwise could be used for questions.

Framing your mindset

Advisors are solely there to provide you with advice based on their past experiences and exposure within the industry. The only people who can make a definitive decision for the venture are your team, your board and yourself. Before entering the meeting, take time with your team to discuss:

  • Your North Star. Why does your business exist?
    Keeping the business’s key purpose in mind during the meeting will help you justify previous decisions and future plans, helping the advisor understand why you are prioritizing certain aspects.
  • Why you chose to meet with this advisor. Was it because of their previous experience in the industry or their long history as a serial entrepreneur?
    Getting an understanding of the advisor’s background and expertise will give credibility to their suggestions and help you build trust and mutual respect.
  • Your team’s advisory plan for the future. Are you looking for this advisor to join you long term?
    Make sure you consider what you are looking to get out of this relationship, as it will change how strongly you want to rely on this advisor’s opinion. Remember, different advisors will often give you conflicting recommendations. It will be in the best interest of your venture to consider all the pieces of advice from various advisors and then make a decision.

By Nicole Plant