Need Help With a Career Second Act? Tap Into the Mastermind
One of the daunting things about going into business for yourself is the feeling of panic that sets in when, for the first time, you find yourself in the midst of an unexpected crisis and you realize that being your own boss means there's no one to come to the rescue if you mess up. Or perhaps I should say when you mess up, because we self-employed people all do. The glorious freedom and autonomy of self-employment comes with an unavoidable downside. Our ambition and restless urge to experiment inevitably leads us to paddle out into the middle of some big, deep, scary lake.
But there's an answer. When I recently talked with corporate telecom marketer-turned-toy and game inventor Mary Doherty Ellroy (here's the SecondAct profile of her), she impressed upon me that her success hasn't just been the result of her own effort and ingenuity. She described a seeming paradox: Second-career entrepreneurs who leave the corporate world and strike out on their own -- as individualistic and autonomy-craving as they might be -- need to have a group of peers to turn to for advice, help, inspiration and support.
Ellroy found this in a type of organization called a mastermind group, a sort of hive mind composed of fellow entrepreneurs who meet regularly to brainstorm and collaborate on solving one another's business problems and learn from others' examples. "In terms of the transition of starting a new business, nothing has helped me more than being in a mastermind group," she says.
It isn't a professional association -- her fellow group members are in a wide array of different fields, from a chiropractor to a marketing consultant for gardening companies. What they have in common are business issues and challenges.
"We discuss things like 'How do I get this guy to pay?' and 'Where do I find somebody to set up my booth at a trade show?'" she explains. "It's a wonderful place to get practical advice and support and reassurance."
As it turns out, the mastermind group concept has been around for ages. In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin started his Leather Apron Club (also known as the Junto), in which he and other skilled tradesmen -- a shoemaker, a surveyor, a cabinetmaker, and a glass-blowing artisan were the initial members -- got together regularly to discuss topics and problems of common interest. Franklin, who liked to make rules, eventually developed a system in which each member had to give a presentation four times a year to trigger discussions.
Napoleon Hill, author of the motivational classic Think and Grow Rich, advised would-be tycoons to learn from the example of 19th-century steel-making mogul Andrew Carnegie, who had a staff of 50 experts in various fields that he called his "Master Mind." The group spared Carnegie from having to know everything about running his business because he could rely upon each person's specialized knowledge. Budding entrepreneurs, of course, likely can't afford that sort of payroll, so Hill suggested they seek out similarly ambitious peers and form alliances that met regularly to help one another plot business strategy. Hill explained:
It is a well-known fact that a group of electric batteries will provide more energy than a single battery.... The brain functions in a similar fashion. This accounts for the fact that some brains are more efficient than others, and leads to this significant statement -- a group of brains coordinated (or connected) in a spirit of harmony will provide more thought-energy than a single brain.
Hill envisioned a mastermind group as functioning almost like a corporate board of directors for each of its members' businesses, checking, reworking and approving whatever plans an entrepreneur came up with. He even advised entrepreneurs to run any and all plans they had past their mastermind groups, and to seek their agreement before proceeding. That's a bit further than most contemporary self-starters would want to go. But seeking input and suggestions as you develop and execute your business strategy seems like a smart approach -- particularly if you seek counsel from people who are in different lines of business than yours, and who have varying types of expertise, as Ellroy advises. A marketing specialist may be able to steer you toward a way of selling your product that you never would have thought of by yourself. Similarly, that marketer might benefit from advice from another member on how to improve his or her logistics or how to outsource back-office functions.
Marketing consultant and business-book author Lisa Nirell, in this blog post at FastCompany.com, offers some useful suggestions about how to set up your own mastermind group and keep it focused on useful problem-solving. When you're recruiting members, for example, limit the group to a manageable number -- six or seven is good -- and take care to find people who share the same basic business values, even if they're in different fields. Otherwise, you're going to have a tough time getting members to respect one another's views and not just argue endlessly. Members also have to have some "skin in the game" in terms of time and energy commitment -- participating in the group has to trump social commitments or golf outings with clients. The group should have a written purpose statement and guidelines so everyone knows what is expected -- and what isn't tolerated, such as criticism that devolves into a personal attack. Finally, she says it's essential for the group to celebrate milestones that members achieve as the result of their group efforts.
For more of the nuts and bolts, here's a 2006 book, Meet & Grow Rich: How to Easily Create and Operate Your Own Mastermind Group, by Joe Vitale and Bill Hibbler.
If you feel as if you're too busy to go somewhere for a meeting, the latest wrinkle seems to be mastermind groups that use online videoconferencing on Skype or another platform, as this YouTube video describes.
From Entrepreneur.com, here's a good article on how to leverage both mastermind groups and other sources of free expertise to help your business.
Mastermind groups sound like a great tool for anyone who's trying to launch a second career in a new field. If you're already in a mastermind group, we'd love to hear about your experiences. Please tell us about them in the comments section, or post a comment on SecondAct's Facebook page.
Previous Post: Dressing for Success After 40: Yoga Pants Be Gone!
Next Post: Finding a New Calling in Yoga