Are Business 'Masterminds' a Scam?

When they fail, they fail big. But a well-run mastermind can transport your startup into the future.

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By Jay Fiset


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Is a mastermind your ticket to transporting your business into the future? Or is it just a ridiculously expensive networking opportunity?

Related: A No-BS Framework to Having an Effective Mastermind Group

A mastermind is the term for a high-level support group for entrepreneurs. And when it works, it works well. Take the example of a client of mine, whom I'll call Maya.

In January 2015, Maya found herself standing in front of a room of 17 business owners and Internet marketers, asking for advice on how to scale her brand new online course. The advice they gave her in the next 15 minutes added $18,000 to her bottom line over the next six weeks.

Maya had just gotten a taste of what it's like to be part of a mastermind that works.

Unfortunately, here's what happened next . . .

Maya was so blown away by the results of that first only-too-brief masterminding session that she accepted a business coach's invitation to join his mastermind group. For a monthly investment of $1,000 on a 12-month contract, she would meet with him four times a year (once each quarter) and pay for her flights and hotel, in addition to the monthly fees.

The first meeting with this group did not go well.

"I was expecting rocket fuel. Instead, I got a cup of watered-down Kool Aid," says Maya. "The group was very poorly curated, so despite the fact that everyone genuinely wanted to support each other, we just didn't even understand each other's businesses."

She ended up cancelling her membership and leaving the group, but not before sinking more than $4,500 into the process.

The lesson here? Maya's story is all too common, and it has given masterminds a bad name.

What exactly is a mastermind?

If we refer to Napoleon Hill and Andrew Carnegie, the godfathers of the mastermind concept, the definition they give is this: "a small group of people that meet to grow, learn, evolve and support one another."

Members of a mastermind should offer reasonably equal contributions of wisdom, experience, networks and resources for the benefit and support of the individual who happens to be the group's focus at given time. The group can address any topic, have any meeting length and use virtually any format. And here's where it gets interesting: Both Hill and Carnegie considered masterminding to be a spiritual practice.

As Hill supposedly said, "No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind."

There is no 'guru' in a mastermind.

Rest easy, however: A mastermind is not small-group coaching opportunity or premium-priced course where one person is the source of all information and content. In other words, no "guru" will hold forth.

In my experience, as someone who's been a member of various masterminds for the past 25 years, and has run a fair number of them myself, the most successful scenario is where members pay dues to be a part of the group and there's a facilitator who curates the group, as well as the overall experience.

I want to clarify the distinction between a leader and a "guru." The leader -- usually the person who collects the fees -- gets to be the gatekeeper when it comes to forming the group. This ensures that people don't end up in a situation where there's not enough common ground or where a huge discrepancy exists in the level of experience and success people bring to the table.

Related: 5 Secrets to Creating a Successful Mastermind Event

The leader's job is to make sure the group runs smoothly.

A mastermind entails a very intimate process; high-performing folks bare their souls and ask for help. This often leads to a certain emotional rawness and volatility, and it falls upon the leader to address any conflicts that arise. Of course, should overly chatty Uncle Bob go over his allotted time, it's the leader's job to bang the gavel and move things along.

In today's world, masterminds can be in person or completely virtual. The format is less important than the quality of the group, the synergy created and people's commitment to one other.

The members' job is to think big, and then bigger.

Done right, a mastermind becomes a safe space where you can share your wildest dreams, most audacious goals and paralyzing fears. You can talk cash flow and name real numbers. In fact, anyone who's been in a good mastermind will tell you it's the closest thing to transporting yourself into a more exciting future. The reason for that is partly the tactical assistance you receive from the group, the access to a high-level network and the pooled resources.

But the other reason behind the value received -- perhaps the more powerful part -- is harder to explain in cold, hard business terms. It involves how you feel in a room of people smarter than you, who are all jazzed about your idea. It's about learning to think way bigger than you could have on your own. It's about peering into the core of someone else's business and realizing that there are others out there who are exactly the same flavor of crazy as you and are not just making things work, but are making millions from the effort.

Further, when you are in a roomful of people like this, there is a feeling of coming home that is like no other, on the long, often lonely road that is entrepreneurship.

Have you ever been part of a mastermind? What was your biggest learning from the experience?

Related: Masterminding With 'Turnaround King' Grant Cardone

Jay Fiset

Founder of Mastermind to Millions

Jay Fiset is the founder of Mastermind to Millions, an online course to help coaches grow their businesses.

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