Informal advisory boards

Written by Susanne Baillie
Debi DeBelser

NWP Inc.
Blackfalds, Alta.

Xchange asks Canada’s top women entrepreneurs to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue we bring you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Debi DeBelser is president of NWP Inc., a Blackfalds, Alta.-based service provider to the oil and gas industry. The group’s four operating companies — Northwest Pipe Ltd., NWP Trucking Corp., NWP Industries Inc. and NWP Construction Ltd. — employ a total of 150 people and provide a range of services from manufacturing oilfield production equipment to transporting pipe and equipment to locations.

BEST ADVICE: “Put together an informal advisory board.”

“As your business gets bigger, there’s more and more of a realization that having an advisory board is the way to make the next leap from small business to mid-size,” says DeBelser. She has heard that advice time and again over the years. With the help of a board, she says, “you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Whether you have a formal board of directors or an informal advisory board, its members can evaluate your ideas, offer management guidance and provide industry information based on their own experiences, says DeBelser. Having such support has worked for her. DeBelser relies on a group of 14 business owners who make up what they call Success Lab. The group, which meets once a month, has helped her work through such issues as hiring, delegating, strategic business planning, getting staff buy-in and accountability, “all those fine points,” she says, “that we tend to do in our heads and not quite so formally.”

How do you connect with potential advisors? “Just look around,” recommends DeBelser. Gather advisors beyond the level of professionals such as lawyers and accountants. Look up male and female entrepreneurs from a variety of industries located in your area. “Call them,” she says. “You don’t even have to know them — just ask them if they would mind sitting on your advisory board or ask if you can pick their brains over lunch.”

© 2004 Susanne Baillie

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com