[This piece I wrote originally for Forbes but I’m sharing it here for you]
Let’s face it. Entrepreneurship is lonely. I would never do anything else, but it can often feel like you’re running a race that nobody else even knows is happening. You can talk to family, but most people don’t truly get it. Reid Hoffman once said, “An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.” How can we expect the nonentrepreneurs around us to relate to that and understand why we run toward it? That’s where a mastermind comes in.
Belonging to a mastermind is an excellent way to keep you on the right path to your goals while connecting with other like-minded entrepreneurs who are also running their own invisible race.
What is a mastermind?
A mastermind is a small group of people with similar business goals, and often the group is clustered into similar businesses. Ideally, a group of four to 10 people is best. Too few members, and it only takes one absentee for the mastermind meeting to need to be rescheduled. Too many, and each person's challenges won't get the adequate attention to make any significant impact.
What is so good about a mastermind?
When you are part of a mastermind, you are surrounded by like-minded cliff jumping entrepreneurs who understand what the process is like. They know what it’s like to make decisions that can boost or ruin your company — like walking on a tight rope with no safety net.
Your close-knit group can give you new ideas to tackle issues you struggle to figure out on your own. They give you new perspectives and challenge you to approach challenges with an open mind. It’s like a think tank for your business. They understand you and your business so they can suggest new ideas that you may not have thought of because you’re too involved in the business to take a step back and look at with a different set of eyes.
Where do you start?
Often masterminds form organically after similar people have been hanging out in the same place, either in person or online. Then one member of the group suggests they all make a more deliberate, conscious effort to connect and plan ahead and arrange meetings to discuss each other’s ideas and challenges.
A good place to start is joining things like Facebook groups for your type of business. If you are in e-commerce, for example, there are thousands of e-commerce specific groups. You can connect with some of those members and suggest forming a mastermind of your own, or find out if there are existing mastermind groups looking for new members.
Whether you choose to start or join a mastermind, keep in mind a few aspects that will make it fun and easy.
If you are all in the same or similar time zones, it will be easier for everyone to keep the commitment. If some members are in Europe and others in the U.S., it will be a lot harder to find a time that works for all, and it's likely the group will split into a U.S. group and a European group anyway.
If you’re trying to find e-commerce people so you all understand the intricacies of the business, you don’t want to have a group of four e-commerce business owners and one person creating the next Uber. The challenges are so different it will be hard to relate and be truly helpful. And you definitely don’t need anyone in the mastermind who sells a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product to e-commerce businesses and is always trying to sell you on it.
You need to surround yourself with other members who are at least at your level. If you bring on members and you are by far the most experienced, then you just created a free coaching program — and you’re the coach. You’ll get no benefit from that and grow to resent the group. Likewise, you should look for people who are above your level, but not so far ahead that they are coaching you. You should be adding value for the group, and you should benefit from the others too.
No Competing Niches
While you should look to stay in a certain business model, try not to surround yourself with your competitors. If you dropship 3D printers online, don’t have another 3D printer dropshipper in the group. The competition will lead to not being open about what is working for you, and you’ll be afraid to reveal your numbers.
Just because you've joined a small group of like-minded entrepreneurs does not mean you all have similar personalities. But you should be able to recognize the dynamics soon and decide if the personalities in the group are complementary or volatile. Of course, you want a well-balanced group who all come together for the greater good and help each other at every obstacle. But some people are so involved in their own business that they can monopolize the meeting for their own gain, knowingly or most often unknowingly.
Set guidelines. Mastermind meetings can quickly turn into a free-for-all chat about the sports results or the pandemic. Make sure everyone is clear on the time, duration and topics to be discussed.
The Hot Seat approach is a good way to keep people on track. Each week a different member of the group is on the hot seat; they highlight their biggest challenge, and the group rallies around to brainstorm how to solve the problem. That is an effective way to ensure everyone gets heard. Whether you start or join an existing mastermind, keep these aspects in mind to be happier and more fulfilled. You will make new friends and maybe even future business partners.