When I first heard the quote, “No one of us is as strong as all of us,” it really struck a nerve. It made me realize that I wasn't really leveraging my best resources — my top clients. While I had always asked them for referrals, I realized there was even more we could do. That's when I decided to start an advisory council.

An advisory council is a small group of top clients who meet periodically to help you improve your business. These are clients who have a sincere interest in helping you grow and who enjoy acting as a sounding board, mentor and referral source.

Initially, I was concerned about asking our A+ clients to take half a day out of their busy schedules. Instead of resistance, however, I found they were flattered that we asked. And some say they get just as much out of the meetings as they give.

Although it's relatively new, our advisory council has already delivered numerous benefits. Previously closed doors began to open. We started getting new referrals. And, the council has become a valuable medium for exchanging ideas and testing them before we make a mistake or spend money in an area that's not going to give us results.

For example, the door to a Fortune 500 company opened when one of our council members lined up a brown-bag speaking engagement for us. And one council member gave us a referral that resulted in a $1 million rollover.

Council members pass on referrals because they feel they are interested in our success. They've invested their time, which makes them feel closer to us. In addition, they now have a clear understanding of our mission and vision and they're more aware of the types of prospects who fit our ideal client profile.

Here are just a few thoughts to keep in mind in establishing a council. First, we've found the most productive size is about six to eight members. This is large enough to give us a good cross section of our clients, yet small enough to ensure a healthy dialogue.

Second, we limit our members to a 24-month term. This ensures that we have a continual stream of new members who bring fresh perspectives and additional referral opportunities. It also allows us to get even more of our top clients involved.

Third, we look for diversity. Our council includes three men and three women — a mix of young and old entrepreneurs, corporate executives, dot-com winners and wealthy retirees.

And fourth, key employees are included as council members. I was pleasantly surprised at how creative they become once they step out of their day-to-day routine.

There are three ground rules: Every comment is valid. What's said here, stays here. There are no taboo topics. I told the council we wanted them to be brutally honest because their feedback will help us get better.

The meeting starts with a catered lunch at our office, costing us about $18 a person. After the meeting, cocktails and dinner at a local restaurant costs about $45 a person. Our council members represent about $30 million to $35 million in assets under management so we want them to enjoy the experience. At the conclusion, we present them with a gift, such as a monogrammed leather portfolio.

Creating an advisory council has been a real winner for all involved. We benefit by having a sounding board for new ideas, a source for new referrals and a partner in helping us develop a more effective and profitable business. Our clients benefit by sharing their wisdom and experiences with us and by having a direct impact on the quality and type of services we deliver to them. And together we benefit from the enhanced fellowship and camaraderie.

Writer's BIO:
Ron Carson
is the top-rated producer at Linsco/Private Ledger and president of Peak Productions, a coaching organization.