Get Under the Umbrella of Advice

An advisory board can be invaluable in making decisions and sparking ideas

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

The travel business gets more competitive every day, with changing market dynamics and a challenging economy demanding that every agency be a “best-practices” operation.

But how can you get solid business and professional direction without paying a lot for consultants and business coaches?

“Many of us don’t even realize we’ve got a constellation of advisors, but we do,” said Kirby Tepper, a Los Angeles-based organizational development specialist and executive coach.

And formalizing this group of friends, colleagues and acquaintances has helped many businesspeople to be more effective and successful.

To start, Tepper suggests setting a few goals: “Ask yourself about your core goal or value and if you don’t know what that is, it’s time to ask!” And then, he says, look at your professional and personal life to identify areas needing improvement.

Finally, determine whether you can take advantage of a board. “You have to be willing to hear what they say and then act on it,” Tepper said. “You don’t have to follow everything they say, but you have to listen and check it versus your core.”

“I use my advisory board for everything,” said Mark Weinstein, a Santa Monica-based real estate developer. “There’s nothing personal or professional that’s out of bounds.”

Weinstein’s board has advised him on issues ranging from cash flow analysis to business development and strategy, and tax planning.

“They give me accountability, structure and motivation,” Weinstein said. “They make me work.”

On the Board

And who are the right people to make up a board?

You could choose someone from your industry (Weinstein has a fellow developer on his board), someone from an analogous profession, or a person who has the skills and experience you lack.

Their profession is less important than their character, Tepper said. “You want to identify people who are knowledgeable, objective and trusted. Someone has to be able to tell you ‘You’re about to make a big mistake’ or ‘Try approaching that problem this way.’ ”

Good choices might be a personal mentor, a friend who is dealing with business challenges similar to yours or a fellow travel agent whom you admire.

Asking for Help

For many people, the hardest part of the process is actually forming the board. “You have to be willing to ask for help,” Tepper said.

Both Tepper and Weinstein advise asking honestly and sincerely for help in developing yourself and your business. After all, they note, you’re not asking for free legal advice or tax preparation.

The board members may benefit too.

“I’ve found that being on my board actually helps them with their own challenges,” Weinstein said.

Either way, forming a personal advisory board is a great way to improve yourself, stay competitive and manage both your career and personal life. “My advisory board is one of the most positive things in my life,” Weinstein said.


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