Who’s on your personal board of directors?

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

As Mark Zuckerberg awaited, hoodie-clad, today’s IPO of Facebook, The New York Times did an interesting dissection of the wise and powerful players who helped refine his thinking and strategy over the years, adding value to his vision and therefore adding value to today’s offering:

But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.

One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the V.C.’s money. He wanted an introduction to Mr. Gates. (He eventually got one, on his own. Today, Mr. Gates regularly advises him on philanthropy and management issues.)

“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”

Here’s a fun post on a similar idea by a young Australian businessman, Jimmy Florida:

To make life really interesting a friendship group would have at least one of everything including a doctor, global wanderer, nutritionist, entrepreneur, writer, stripper, drug dealer, dentist, restaurateur, stock broker, accountant, recruiter, masseuse, farmer, banker, bum,  blogger, athlete, celebrity, venture capitalist, monk, artist, politician, Chinese doctor, arms dealer, people smuggler, politician, and rock star  –  you get the idea. This mix would make for a hell of a dinner party and some great conversation!

Whatever you choose to call it — brain trust or friendship group or board of directors — everyone with a shred of ambition needs one. This can start as early as high school if you seek out and cultivate a few wise mentors.

No matter what you know or have studied formally, there’s always going to be a pile of stuff you don’t know, and may actually need to learn (let alone use or publicly discuss or present persuasively) within a few hours or days.

Then you need access people who know this stuff who will help you.

Unlike Florida, though, I don’t just turn to people I know socially. I’m completely fine paying people for their expertise and usually turn to those with excellent references from my posse; I write off their fees as a cost of running my business.

Until or unless you’ve amassed a ton of social capital, do whatever you need to get the smart advice you have to have.
In my 30+ years working as an author and journalist, here are some of those I’ve assembled:


I’ve been through seven. ‘Nuff said.


Useful for scaring the shit out of greedy lying publishers and others who’ve tried to stiff me out of fees they owed for work I completed under contract — and they reneged. It works. Also useful for reviewing the work of your agent(s.)

Speaking coach

I was about to go on the Diane Rehm radio show, with 2 million listeners — live for an hour, with call-ins. No pressure! I spent two hours the day before with a speaking coach. Helped a lot. Here’s the transcript of that show. Here’s my coach, Christine Clapp. A lively and lovely young woman, she works in D.C. but can work with anyone anywhere via Skype. She’s great.

Career coach

Whenever I or my husband feel like we’re hitting a wall, we give her a call.

Massage therapist


I’ve done a lot of public speaking, teaching and TV. I also live and work in New York, where appearance matters a great deal. A reliable and affordable hair salon (I have two) is a must.

Investment adviser

Personal shopper

When my newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” came out last April I was catapulted from home-in-sweats-world to being photographed for national media and being well-paid to speak at conferences and events all over the country. I needed a professional wardrobe, stat! I did something I’d never done before and it was wise indeed — I went to an upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus, and threw myself (not literally) into the capable hands of the department manager. I felt fat, horrible, insecure. With calm, cool competence, he brought into the dressing room three dresses, two pairs of jeans and two sweaters. I bought everything! And when Marie Claire magazine asked me, with two days’ notice, to speak to their advertising staff — talk about fashionable women! — I felt completely confident and ready to rock.


Even New York dogs have therapists. If you can afford the help and need it, go! Nothing wastes more time and life energy than wallowing in misery and repeating self-destructive behavior patterns.



Book publishing PR experts

I have two dear friends who both work in publicity for major commercial houses. I’ve learned a lot from them that helps me position and sell my books.


Physical therapist

After four (!) orthopedic surgeries since January 2000: both knees, right shoulder and left hip replacement this past February, I know a lot about PT. I like and trust my PTs and they’ve taught me a great deal about my body. I even wrote about them in The New York Times. You can do a lot of good for an aging/weak/injured body before and after surgery. You can even prevent it.

Who’s on your “board”?

11 thoughts on “Who’s on your personal board of directors?

  1. This is a great concept! I never thought of seeing my massage therapist on my board, but yep, she definitely belongs there! I would add the woman who does my facials, too — I have skin problems that I’m sensitive about, and she helps a lot with that.

    I would definitely say my editor, too. As an indie author, I need to rely heavily on a good editor. We did reasonably well on my first novel, but our relationship has deepened as we work on the second one, so I think we’re really hitting our stride.

    Since I’ve been blogging, I have become close to a few of my fellow bloggers who are dedicated to their craft and often give me great advice. I had no idea what wonderful relationships I would develop with people in cyberspace, and I am grateful!

    Currently, I’m looking for people who can provide me with better marketing skills…some definite openings on my team! I’ve found a woman who does a good job with my hair. I stopped coloring it a few years ago by choice, but I’m thinking of letting her have a go with it again since I’m going to be “out there” more with my writing.

  2. I think it’s a bit of a conceptual leap to create such a group — but one that every self-employed person really MUST make. We all need expertise.

    Your appearance is crucial, even if we don’t normally focus a lot on it, once you develop a higher profile.

    So I need to add — photographer. I have one in-house (!), because my husband is a pro and he does all my headshots free. But everyone in the public eye needs a good one.

    Do you read Seth Godin’s blog? It’s daily and often smart about marketing.

  3. thomasmedlicott

    This is definitely stuff the average guy or girl does not think about. My board would include my glass and materials suppliers. There are commercial glass people, art glass reps, machinery, metals, glass paint professionals. My wife and daughter would like to dress me – I’m sort of a Big Lebowski type of dresser. In the past year my spin class instructor has jumped into the team cleanup spot. Thanks for sharing about your career. I think all of us cyberspace pals are rooting for you, and each other.

    1. I think anyone with a cube job has less need to be as vigilant. But those of us who are self-employed have no in-office mentors or colleagues or different departments of the same company where you can seek pockets of expertise.

      Thanks for the support….I think it’s helpful to share strategies.

  4. A very thought-provoking post, Caitlin. Right now my board is pretty minimal – in fact, the only one I have right now from your list above is the hairdresser! But really, at this point, she’s the only one I need.

    Definitely filing this one away for later perusal.

    1. Thanks! It’s not something many of us focus on specifically, but I’ve assembled mine organically.

      The most important — and often used for me — agent, lawyer, hairstylist. I rely on others’ expertise but I need them to be aware I am keeping watch on them as well!

  5. Hi – great post. My board is kinda weird, I guess. My immediate board (other than my wife) includes a mathematician and several computer programmers. Evenings when we get together are a bit scary (my wife calls herself “Penny”). The point being that they are outside the writing business and have a great perspective “from the outside in”.

    I have an ‘in house’ web designer – my brother, though he lives in a different town, does that professionally. My sister, who lives on the other side of the world, is a professional artist (and she’s illustrated kids’ books I’ve done). My brother in law is the official RNZN artist, and he’s done covers for me. My circle also includes a lawyer – always handy. I have an accountant, who I hire. But I also have a pretty wide range of other people I know and can talk to when needed for everything from photography to the ins and outs of publishing. The curious thing is that most of them are friends I’ve accumulated organically, rather than sought out.

  6. Fun topic.

    Currently my board consists of an indentured servant, my Indentured servant’s therapist, a real estate agent, a mortgage lender, a termite company, and a yoga teacher.

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