What’s the difference between an advisory board and a mentor board?

Many Canadian entrepreneurs will turn to others for help – experienced people who either know their industry, or have some insight into a particular aspect of business.

But did you know that there’s a difference between an advisory board and a mentor board? They sound similar, but serve different purposes. Here’s the difference between an advisory board and a mentor board.

What’s an advisory board?

Some members of your team will be members of your advisory board. These people will provide advice and recommendations to management but do not have authority to vote on or enforce any company decisions. Essentially, it’s like having a sounding board that you can turn to for input.

Usually, an advisory board is made up of experienced industry professionals that can offer some insight and expertise into company issues. Make sure that members of your advisory board are able to offer diverse skills and experiences. The members should be good problem-solvers and communicators. And don’t be afraid to ask CEOs or professionals when recruiting. After all, the worst that can happen is that they say no, and you can move on!

For a small business, usually two to five members are sufficient for an advisory board. Quarterly meetings should be held to discuss business issues. At these meetings, the entrepreneur (read: you) will usually treat the board to lunch or perhaps pay an honorarium for their time and contribution. Be sure to prepare your questions ahead of time for the meetings to avoid wasting time. Consider what you really hope to get from this board. Think of the sort of advice or feedback could they give that will help your company be more successful than it would have been without their help.

What’s a mentor board?

Aside from a board of advisors, it may also be beneficial for your company to have a board of mentors you can call on for advice and guidance.

Mentors should have experience with entrepreneurship or with your specific industry. A mentor can be someone for you to turn for answers, opinions and support — something you don’t always have when you are the boss! Mentors will help you learn from their mistakes and expand your social network. Usually, a trusting longterm relationship is built with a business mentor as a role model.

Choose mentors based on their ability to contribute time, valuable opinions, enthusiastic and positive support, and constructive feedback. Look for mentor programs or search through your own network to see if there are any professionals you already know that might be willing to mentor you. And don’t ignore your gut feelings here. You should be able to trust your mentors with guidance about your livelihood — if your personalities clash, it won’t work.

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