Tech Notes with Stephen Slater

June 18, 2012

FOR any ambitious management team, gaining access to the right kind of outside advice and expertise can be crucial in implementing business plans and securing commercial progress with maximum efficiency.

However, in the technology sector, where the smallest additional insight can make a massive difference to the development and delivery of a given concept, making the right choice can be especially important.

One of the functions of the successful development of the North East knowledge economy over the last decade is that there are a good number of successful entrepreneurs who have set up, established, expanded and sold on their own businesses, and who are now in a position to help nascent tech firms as non-executive directors (NEDs).

I’ve come across many examples of how an NED has helped a company overcome an operational hurdle, or been able to use their experience to suggest subtle enhancements to a business model that have then seen the business take giant strides forward in a short space of time.

So what should growing tech businesses who are considering this sort of appointment be looking for to give themselves the best possible chance of making the right choice?

First, deciding what you want from a NED will set the boundaries for your search. Is your ideal person someone who will be very hands-on and visible in your operations, or someone you’re looking to refer back to as a sounding board in an arms-length position? Are you bringing them in with a task in mind, such as fundraising, or looking for long-term input that will help see you through several different stages of development?

Finding out what a NED might want from working with you is important.

The “technology market” is, of course, a very broad church, even in our comparatively small part of the world, so finding relevance to your business model and target markets among any potential NEDs should be among the first things you do.

Just as you would when making any appointment or signing any kind of deal, the importance of doing your due diligence cannot be underestimated. Talk to people that have worked with your NED candidates, and find out as much as you can about their business history, their skills and ways in which they like to work, so you can accurately judge how well your knowledge and attitudes would dovetail.

Make sure you formalise your arrangements, so all parties know and agree what’s expected, what “success” is likely to entail.

Putting all these building blocks in place should give you the best possible chance to make the right NED appointment.

:: Stephen Slater is director at RMT Accountants & Business Advisors

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