Mastermind groups for freelancers: what and why?

You’ve probably already heard about mastermind groups and how great they are. I know I kept hearing about them. So, last year, I started a mastermind group to find out what it was all about. And the verdict?

Being in an active mastermind group – with the right people – is one of the best ways you can invest in yourself and your business.

In this two part blog post, I’ll share what I’ve learnt about mastermind groups. In this post I’ll explain what mastermind groups are, why you should be part of one, and how you might go about starting one. In the next post, I’ll share the format we use in our mastermind group.

Let’s start with the obvious question:

What is a mastermind group?

A mastermind group is a group of like-minded people who share a common goal. They meet (physically or virtually) on a regular basis to discuss what they’re working on and what problems they’re facing.

You could think of it as a circle of professional friends. They might not be people you know to start with but over time you will become friends. You’ll help each move forwards by holding each other accountable and by providing support.

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, wrote “the key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” And in a nutshell, that’s what a mastermind group is all about.

Mastermind groups come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve heard of groups ranging from 3 people to as large as 15. Some are held weekly, others monthly. There’s no one format that will work for everyone, so each group will need to experiment to see what works for them.

Why be part of a mastermind group?

Earlier I remarked that mastermind groups are one of the best ways you can invest in yourself and your business. Why is that? Well, here are some of the benefits I’ve found from being in a mastermind group:

An incentive to be more intentional about your business

As freelancers or business owners, it’s all too easy to get caught in the trap of “working in the business, not on the business”. We spend all of our time working for our clients, but very little time looking at the big picture or asking important questions. Regular mastermind meetings are a great way of breaking this habit and encourage you to start working on your business.

Makes you accountable for your actions

During each mastermind meeting, we share the things we want to accomplish by the next meeting. We write down these goals and they’re the first thing we review at the next meeting. You don’t want to be the one missing their goals. It’s a great incentive to not only make sure you’re setting the right goals, but also making time in your schedule to work on them.

A private support group

If I have a difficult situation with a client and I need some advice, or I need some feedback on something I’m working on, my mastermind group is the first place I turn to. It’s far more powerful than asking for advice from people you don’t know in forums or online chats who can only offer generic advice (that may or may not be useful). Over time, your mastermind group will learn more about you, your business, and your goals. They can then offer their own experience and expertise against your current situation.

A place to have deep discussions about your business

While I have lots of friends in the industry, there’s very few people I feel I can chat about the intimate details of my business with. Being able to vent and speak about things on your mind with others who have similar problems is both therapeutic and immensely valuable.

It’s motivating and encouraging

Working for yourself is difficult. We all encounter difficult days or weeks. Sharing small wins with the group can really help you see the bigger picture. Everyone in a mastermind group wants you to succeed and they’ll both help inspire and encourage you. I often come out of our mastermind calls excited about what I need to work next.

Moments of clarity

When you’re in the trenches, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. The path to where you want to be isn’t linear and it’s often hard to know what to work on next. It might be through the entire group brainstorming around a problem you’ve got, or might just be during a private session of exploration, but a mastermind group will help you find moments of clarity. The fog suddenly shifts and the path becomes clear. Sounds dramatic but this happened to me several times last year.

Starting a mastermind group

Sold on mastermind groups? Great. So, how do you become part of one?

You have two options: you can either join an existing mastermind group or start a new one. I took the latter option and started my own, and, unless you know of an existing mastermind group that you’d like to join, that would be my recommendation.

Find the places where the kind of people you want to connect with hang out and go ask. Freelancers Hub, for example, is a group of freelancers on Facebook and would be a great place to find like-minded people. You could also try on forums, Slack groups, or at conferences/meetups.

I tweeted asking if anyone was interested in starting a mastermind group. I had 5 responses and that was it; our group was born. It was that simple, so just go ask.

It’s important, however, that you find the right people. Your mastermind group will only be as strong as your weakest member.

Here are some thoughts on the kind of people you want:

  • Reliable and punctual. You’ll be meeting on a regular basis so you really don’t want anyone that’s flakey and keeps missing meetings.
  • Driven and motivated. The group benefits from positive energy. You want people who are getting things done, because that motivates everyone and helps drive the group forward.
  • Are already in business. You want people who are already running a business and not wanting to start a business. If they’re not yet running a business full-time, they’ll have a different set of problems and priorities.
  • Similar businesses. If one person runs an online store and another runs a brick and mortar shop, there’s a good chance that they won’t have enough overlapping experience to help each other. You’ll want to find others that run similar businesses, so you can share problems and experiences.
  • Diverse skills. You’ll want to find people with diverse skills and interests. The more diverse the skills are within your group, the better the group will be at problem solving, giving feedback, and providing solutions.
  • Make sure it’s the right time for them. A mastermind group isn’t right for every business owner, all of the time. People have personal lives and personal issues. There are times in one’s life when joining a mastermind group isn’t the right thing to do. Make sure they have the time and energy to invest in the group.

You’ll also have to consider how many people you’d like in your mastermind group. I would recommend a minimum of 3 people. Our mastermind group of 4 works well. If one person can’t attend a meeting, there’s still 3 of us. As the group gets larger, you’ll have less time focused on you and your business. I would recommend setting a limit of 5 people – at least in the early days while you get the group started.

Running your first mastermind session

Once you’ve found a group of people to start a mastermind with, schedule your first meeting. Your first meeting will be about setting expectations. Here are some things to consider:

Have a facilitator

One person needs to keep an eye on the clock, keep discussion focused, and move the discussion along when needed. We rotate the facilitation role for each meeting.

Set the group rules

Our own group is very relaxed and we have very few rules. But you do need to make a few things clear. You need to turn up regularly. You need to do a little prep work before each meeting. And it’s important that what’s shared in the mastermind group remains in the mastermind group. To get the most value, you have to be honest and that means sharing sensitive information from time to time. You have to be able to trust those in the group. If you’ve set the group up with people you don’t know, this trust might take a while to establish. Straight forward stuff, but worth making clear.

Have a cooling off period

The only way to know if a mastermind group if right for you is to try it. For that reason, make it easy for people to leave the group if the fit isn’t right. The general rule I have is: make it easy for people to leave, but hard for new members to join.

Find a fixed meeting date

Find a set date that you can meet on that works for everyone in the group (ours is every other Friday at 9:30am). Don’t deviate from that time unless absolutely necessary. Trying to schedule each individual meeting is a nightmare and will lead to missed meeting. Set a time and make sure everyone in the group sees it as a priority on their calendar.

The first meeting agenda

I suggest keeping the first meeting agenda short and sweet. Write up a set of questions and send it to everyone in the group so that they can prepare. Some questions could be:

  • What do you want to get out of the mastermind?
  • What are you working on?
  • What do you need help with?

Wrapping up

I’ve found that being part of a mastermind group is absolutely worth the time and effort it requires. If you’re an independent worker (freelancer, consultant) or running a small business, I really think you’ll get a lot from it. Not only is the insight you’ll get incredibly value, it’s also inspiring to see the behind-the-scenes of others on their journey.

If you have any questions, or if I missed anything, drop me a line at [email protected].