Struggling to kick some bad habits in your solo career or take things to the next level? A mastermind could be the answer you’ve been looking for! In addition to the many benefits associated with the practice, we’ll explore below how to find a mastermind group, tips for creating and organizing one and how to run a mastermind group your own.

As solopreneurs, we put such a burden on ourselves to succeed that we often feel paralyzed and stifled without the support and council of the peers we might have had in other more traditional realms of employment. You are not alone in braving the unknown and a familiar practice business owners have used since antiquity to give their careers an edge could make all of the difference in combating your isolation and reinvigorating your productivity.

Enter the mastermind group.

What is a mastermind group?

Popularized but certainly not invented by renowned self-help author Napoleon Hill, the mastermind group “consists of two or more people who work in perfect harmony for the attainment of a definite purpose.”

In more concrete terms, a mastermind group is a specialized support team of likeminded individuals — be they CEOs, freelance designers or race car drivers — who provide each other with a critical system of accountability, professional guidance and creative problem solving.

Growing a stronger professional network is always an asset, but the freelance lifestyle can make it difficult to connect with peers in a meaningful way. The mastermind group bridges this gap.

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What do you get from a mastermind group?

Many advantages of the mastermind group are so obvious that they are often overlooked: the emotional release and comfort of confiding in others — the value of multiple constructive perspectives — the crucial networking opportunities.

Of all of the benefits, accountability reigns supreme. The simple fact is, when we talk to others about what we’re doing and what we aim to do, we have a much greater chance of keeping ourselves on track to accomplish these things!

Whether it comes down to pride or our desire not to let others down, the regular act of sharing our goals and progress on them is often the push we need to make serious headway in achieving our dreams.

Nation1099 contributor and solo consultant Curtis McHale refers to this benefit as “crowdsourcing your coaching.” A coach will keep you in line — but five will make sure you do what you say you’re going to do! His full interview with Cory Miller of ithemes is an excellent window into this unique dynamic.

Read Curtis’ post on strategically getting more freelance consulting jobs.

How do you find a mastermind group?

Naturally, you have two choices in pursuing a mastermind group — join one or create your own. LinkedIn, and Craigslist are some of the best resources available for these purposes.

You may also wish to tap friends and peers in your area and inquire as to whether they know of any local mastermind groups or if they have any interest in joining one.

Your group can meet electronically via Skype or phone, but I strongly suggest going with an “in-person” format. As self-employed individuals, we do so much work at a distance that it’s truly a treat to meet with peers face-to-face. You will find that you form stronger relationships with your team when you are breathing the same air and not experiencing digital lag.

Some mastermind groups do charge a membership fee, but this isn’t necessarily a bad a thing. As those of us with gym memberships can attest, having even a little money on the line can help us treat our goals with greater seriousness and increase our personal accountability. Also, having a small budget can allow your group to do some pretty cool things with your mastermind group, like taking field trips or attending educational seminars.

Other ways to find a mastermind group:

• Post a flyer in your favorite coworking space or coffee shop

• Look for relevant groups across your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and make a post inquiring about starting a mastermind group

• Go to a local networking or professional learning event and ask around

• Reach out to local or remote individuals that you deeply respect in your field (they might also be trying to find a mastermind group!)

Freelancer who couldn't find a mastermind group, asks a creative in his network to create a group with him.

Who should you team up with?

The average mastermind group has between five and eight members, but they can be as small as two and as large as 20.

In the case of busy solopreneurs, it’s best to start small and build it out from there. Too many members may dilute the intimate nature of the mastermind group and disorganize meetings.

It’s also crucial that you and your team be a little picky about who you admit. Members do not need to work in the same industries, but need to have enough common ground to present mutual benefits to each other. Having many different kinds of freelancers involved helps all parties grow their professional networks.

Commitment is non-negotiable, though. The effectiveness of a mastermind group hinges on the respect all members have for it and their ability to treat it as a high priority. Even one member who does not share this same vision (even if they’re very nice otherwise) threatens to undermine the entire collaboration.

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How to run a mastermind group

Perhaps you’ve chatted with a few friends and have generated some interest in creating a mastermind group — great! But what do you do now, and how do you actually run a mastermind group?

Most mastermind groups need some kind of facilitator. This designated person keeps meetings on task and on schedule and also helps ensure that members are comfortable and in good spirits — all simple goals that are easier said than done. Fortunately, there are many effective ways a facilitator can run a mastermind group and can structure meetings to best suit the needs and preferences of its members. Let’s dig in below.

Model 1: 1 Success, 1 obstacle and 1 resource to share

One of the simplest but most effective models for mastermind groups is the three-topic breakdown. While these topics can essentially be whatever you want them to be (or whatever your group agrees to), these three are as good as any.

The one-success, one-obstacle, and one-resource model gives concrete structure to the mastermind meeting and pushes members to deeply evaluate their progress in the act of presenting it to others. Put simply, this model emphasizes accountability, which we mentioned is crucial to the ROI of your group.

The one-resource dimension is also a great addition — this guarantees that members not only gain insight into their problems, but also proactively facilitate in the collective learning of the group. This is our most highly recommended approach to running a mastermind group, especially for those who are new to the practice.

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Model 2: The hot seat

There is always so much to explore in a mastermind meeting — inevitably there are many topics that get skimmed over when resolution might require deeper analysis. The hot seat model makes room for this kind of deep-diving.

In this format members go around in a circle reporting on their problems and successes for the week, just as in the former example. However, each person is limited to 15 minutes — and then the hot seat begins.

The group chooses a member to take the notorious seat and that particular person has an audience for 30 minutes to talk in depth to about major difficulties he or she may be having. The exercise cycles through one member a week, giving the participants the ability to work through their high-level-thinking problems that can’t be solved with just a few minutes of feedback. This model is best tailored to small, intimate groups.

The ideal scenario is that each member gets one hot seat per month.

Freelancers discussing how they plan to run their mastermind group

Model 3: Beginning, middle (topical), end

Diversity is the spice of life — and the spice of your mastermind group! Things can get a little stale if every week feels like a repeat of the last. This model gives the group and the facilitator the ability to vary the content of each week’s meeting and perhaps create a livelier routine for the mastermind group.

Professional blogger Tom Ewer captures a good breadth of these growth activities on his freelance blogging website, Leaving Work Behind.

“This could be featuring one member who is launching or struggling, a guest speaking to members or one member instructing and answering questions on a particular area of expertise, such as productivity or auto-responders,” says Ewer.

As you can see, flexibility and variety account for the biggest pros of this approach but stability and consistency can be difficult to maintain. This method may also require some additional planning on a weekly basis. For these reasons I wouldn’t recommend this model to groups that are new to the mastermind club, but it can be a great way to shake things up once a month when the familiar model begins to feel stale.

Model 4: Rotating facilitators

And no one says there has to be only one facilitator! You might have multiple members who are able to deftly run a mastermind group, while each bringing their own strengths to the table. This flexible dynamic can also can help break more timid members from their participation anxieties.

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It may very well pay to have a couple things you cycle through each week — whether hot seat, topic or moderator. Each of these models have unique strengths, so consider giving them all a shot. Take the things you like most about each and build them into your unique mastermind process!

A set up for success

As with solopreneurship in general, you get out what you put into a mastermind group. The great thing about this tool is that, by its very design, you are given many of the necessary motivations you need to do your best.

Humans are social animals (even if some of us are also kick-butt solopreneurs), and the power of community is still essential to our success. You may be independent, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find the people that turn your passion into action — find a mastermind group and take your career to the next level.

Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician, and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond (ask him about tracking drums in the studio where Europe recorded “The Final Countdown”). Ben is a tried and true “coffee rings on his notepad” freelancer, and wouldn’t have it any other way.