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I’ve participated in four different mastermind groups over the course of my self-employed life, and can tell you that they’ve always provided me with high value feedback, support and accountability.

Unfortunately, that high value didn’t always last. (Which is why I’ve been four groups over the last seven years.)

The first three groups ended for different reasons: people moved away or gave up their businesses; members got too busy to participate fully; and sometimes the energy of the group just shifted out of alignment altogether.

Things are never perfect. Let’s face it — life is messy. But I can tell you that the energy I’ve put into each group has come back to me at least two-fold over the years.

There’s just no substitute for the support you get from being in a really solid group.

My current mastermind (we call ourselves The Blog Posse) evolved naturally as a sub-group of another circle I started in mid-2011 (The Word Carnival).

And it’s for that reason, that I think it’s been the strongest group I’ve been in so far.

Why? Because we all got to know, like and trust each other over time.

It was only after I’d worked with these folks for nearly a year, that I reached out to a select few and asked if they’d be interested in forming a mastermind group.

The enthusiastic “Yes!” that came back to me was just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

Now, a bit over a year later, here are some things I can share with you about what works and what doesn’t — at least for us.

1. Keep your group relatively small, but not too small. We’ve got five really strong and committed members. It feels complete at five. If we happened to find one more person who could contribute something new and different, we might consider adding them — but at this point, we get just the right amount of time in the hot seat vs. not. So any new person will have to be really awesome.

2. Start off by developing your groups’ ground rules/guidelines together. Everyone should contribute to this. The points should be discussed until they’re agreed on unanimously. You must have full commitment to the boundaries. We only did this verbally the first time around and I think it’s what led to the early fallout.

3. Don’t let discomfort fester. If you’re feeling like there’s something amiss, it is completely expected that you should voice it for discussion by the group. For example, when we first started our meetings, there were a few other members (no longer participating) who found it nigh impossible to show up on a regular basis. After three meetings of the same, I put it out to the group for discussion: how do we resolve this? What kind of commitment do we want from each other? At that point, those who couldn’t commit, left and those that could became even more strongly committed.

4. Come prepared. Don’t waste your time in the hot seat. You’ll get the most help and valuable ideas if you can clearly and concisely state what you want help with. Given the limits of time and space, it behooves you to send out anything you can to your fellow members ahead of time so that you don’t have to spend any additional minutes explaining your situation. Thankfully, we’ve never had a problem with this one. Mainly because we use this form as a way to help summarize a hot seat issue. It’s meant to be completed and shared a few days prior to the meeting. Do we use it every single time? No. But it’s there to help us structure our conversations.

5. Ask for what you need. There are occasionally days when someone in our group isn’t feeling 100% there. And even though we encourage each other to “spill it” during our check-ins, that doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, at some point either that person will speak up or one of us will ask kindly about what might be going on. It’s been a learning experience to listen to those requests — and for some of us to make those requests. All great practice for real world relationships.

6. Decide on an agenda and honor it. Yes, other things come up and you want to be able to get help if you’re in crisis (and it’s not your turn in the hot seat). But unless it’s life or death, it’s best to reach out to your group and either 1) ask to be next in the hot seat or 2) ask for help via email or social media. Our group communicates almost daily which makes it much easier to stick to our meetings and help those who need it in between. Plus, we don’t tend to find ourselves in too many crises anymore — mainly because we plan ahead now and address issues via our group meetings before they become monsters.

7. If you aren’t meeting in-person, try to meet by video conferencing. Looking people in the eye tends to keep you twice as accountable than just a verbal promise. It shouldn’t, but it does. And meeting by video (I highly recommend Google Hangouts) means you can take visual cues from each other. You can see body language. You can tell if someone frowns. It helps keep people from talking over each other, too.

But video conferencing requires a high speed internet connection and the right audio/visual equipment — two things that not everyone in your group might have. So be flexible if that’s the case and just make an extra effort to keep conversations from overlapping or progressing too quickly, if you must meet by phone.

What My Group Has Helped Me With

Over the last year or so, I’ve gotten input and ideas for projects like Prosperity’s Kitchen, Creamed, various sales pages, branding for my email newsletter (yes, the PB&J was born out of the Posse’s brain); and even pricing for my services.

And even though 80% of our group is made up of marketers (or marketing-related professionals), our focus has still been mostly marketing-related. Yes, even marketers need help with their marketing.

But beyond my (very valuable) time in the hot seat, my business is stronger because I’ve developed close relationships with people I trust. I know I can call on any of them in a pinch and they’d have my back. That, my friends, is a priceless business asset!

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What questions do you have about the Mastermind process? Are you unsure about how to approach potential group members? Let’s discuss everything when we meet again on Monday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m. PST. RSVP here.

If you missed the meeting, you can watch the replay here: