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Advisory boards can help dealers going forward

If you look at our industry sales figures, you’d have to say this recession seems far from over. But, it will end and there are many who point to signs that it could be sooner than later. But, regardless of the exact recovery timing, dealerships that examine and plan now for what’s ahead will position themselves for new levels of success.

Let’s face it: As we begin rebuilding from the rubble of this calamity, dealers must recognize that we will not be returning to the old business model we knew before this economic ship hit the sand. And, therein sits one of our biggest challenges as small businesses coming out of a period that’s predicted to forever change how we look at everything from our risks to regulations. Most dealers are not prepared. That makes forming an advisory board now a wise management move.

This fact surprised me. Only about 20 percent of small businesses have advisory boards, according to a Paul Willax at the State University of New York’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Create a board, then, and you’re likely to have an advantage.

Most small businessmen assume an advisory board needs to be a large group, say, eight or 10 or more. Not necessarily. In an article on advisory boards by Justin Martin in the April issue of Fortune Small Business magazine, Karen Usher was an interesting example. She founded TPO, a human resources outsourcing company. For the past 10 years, TPO has averaged a 30 percent annual sales growth to nearly $5 million in revenues last year. Better, yet, it’s “ultraprofitable” she says. Usher credits here success to her board of advisors – three veteran executives who guide her on everything from profit reinvestment to computer issues. She built her board by approaching her professional contacts and just 3 members have gotten it done.

In my nearly 40 years working with marine dealers, I have come to know so many great owners who can sell boats, rig boats, fix boats, love boats, convey the excitement of boats and make you love boats! But their Achilles’ Heel (a potentially fatal weakness in spite of overall strength) is that they are less than great business managers. Small business owners I know have been inaccurately fed some bull that they must be good at everything because they’re the leader. We’ve all heard it – you must be “well-rounded” to be the leader,” they say.

Whoever they are, they’re wrong! A good leader doesn’t need to be “well-rounded.” Instead, a good leader assembles a “well-rounded team!” That refers to employees, of course, but it also takes dead aim at creating an advisory board. Advisors will bring insight from outside your dealership. They will be able to share adaptable experiences you don’t have. They will have made mistakes you can avoid. Most important, they will bring a new perspective about the changes this current economic crisis will surely bring to the future of businesses, including yours.

If there has ever been a time to create your advisory board it’s now. Big changes are coming so consider inviting successful people you know or admire (could be a customer, supplier, neighbor, fellow club member, church member) with different backgrounds in different fields to join your advisory board. And, here’s some good news – most small businesses don’t pay their advisors nor are they expected to do so. Sounds advice at a low price – why would you wait?

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