Mastermind groups, a concept coined by Napoleon Hill's classic business strategy book, Think & Grow Rich, help small-business owners share ideas in a creative and confidential environment. Where networking groups can vary in member attendance and serve more as informal meetings for business leads, Mastermind groups are a clique of a half-dozen committed members. Each brings his or her own goals and professional insights to a regular meeting.
In running Global Connections Speakers Bureau, Lisa Bell regularly battles isolation and motivational issues. To stave off the loneliness, Bell attends meetings of the local chamber of commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners and Meeting Professionals International.
In 1997, she went a step further, and created her own Mastermind group to feed her need for creative and critical input on such projects as marketing materials, business positioning and strategic planning. One winter morning, Bell sat with four business compatriots near a pond, opened a bottle of champagne and let the ideas, news, successes and concerns flow.
Their Mastermind meetings are now monthly, four-hour events. Uninterrupted, they share ideas, offer suggestions, inspire and motivate each other, and "recharge [their] batteries," Bell says. "It's a creative process. When you try to figure things out, instead of one mind, you have four."
Create your own Mastermind group as a sounding board for your ideas, using these steps:
- Draft a team. Contact about six peers in noncompeting fields. Make sure they're thoughtful, trustworthy, creative and inspiring. Keep the group small; larger groups tend to lose control, focus and intimacy.
- Set a regular schedule. Pencil in a regular day and time to hold the meeting-shoot for monthly at least. If the meetings become too infrequent, their importance and power may be lost. Vary the location-and open with a game-to spur creative thought.
- Prepare a game plan. Since each member gets some time to present and discuss his or her topics, bring a list of issues you need to cover (a new marketing or business plan, your Web site or collateral design, a new market niche you want to target, etc.).
- Act. Once you leave, don't let the meeting's power subside. Sit down with your notes and put your partners' thoughts and ideas into action. Next time you meet, report on your success.
Find Your Place
Where can you go to network, expand your knowledge, make allies and increase your professionalism? Try these resources:
- Read the business section. Scan your local paper to locate meetings of networking groups, industry associations or other venues to share and learn new ideas.
- Return to your roots. Ferret out your industry's associations or publications, peer groups and other professional organizations where people of similar backgrounds or interests meet and network.
- Get academic. Call the local university extension service, Small Business Development Center, SBA or Service Corps of Retired Executives office to inquire about seminars.
- Network online. Search the Internet using keywords associated with your industry or trade. Peruse Web sites and participate in discussion groups related to your area of interest.
Want to rebuild your "corporate" camaraderie? At-home workers can gather a clutch of confidants and peers with whom they can share ideas, rejoice in new assignments or lament about business lost. And, if you can't join one, you should start one.
Here are some tips to starting a networking group of your own:
- Start with a self-assessment. Why do you want to create a peer network? What are you looking for from the group? What should your members get out of it, and what can they give back?
- Develop your "30-second spot." Learn how to express what you do concisely, so others will be intrigued enough to join your network.
- Act as if you're looking for a new job. Spin the Rolodex, figure out those people you'd like to know better and believe you could learn from. Choose up to five you think would be interested. Talk to them about it; ask them whether they know up to three more who might be interested. Max out at 25 people. Meet regularly online or offline. Get enough people involved that, if you're meeting regularly, enough people will show up to make it worthwhile.