Reflections On Freelancing: Get In A Mastermind!
I joined a mastermind group last summer. We came together through a paid online community called Location Indie. I joined in February 2015, only a few months after leaving my magazine job. My knowledge of freelancing, let alone running a business, was minimal. My mastermind group has changed that completely, and here I will tell you how. I cannot recommend it enough- JOIN A MASTERMIND GROUP! If you need help sourcing one, do some google research. There are a number of sites, blogs, and online communities that can serve as a meeting ground and point you in the right direction.
Our group consists of a freelance grant writer/non-profit consultant, an IT consultant, a drop shipper of sorts, a couple running a food-based travel writing concept called Authentic Food Quest, and myself. Through several months of regular conversing, brainstorming, and networking, we've managed to change each other's businesses for the better.
What is a mastermind?
A mastermind group is a small group of professionals (4-8 people) who meet on a regular basis to discuss their business, help each other out with problems or questions, and network. Location Indie can help team you up with a group of business owners like yourself and provide some basic help with getting started.
So, what have I gotten out of my mastermind group?
In three words: accountability and outside perspective.
Part of my original business plan when I formed Inkwell was to consult with bands and artists to produce Electronic Press Kits (EPKs) for them, and offer other services of guidance based on my own experiences as a touring musician and editor at a music magazine. Quickly, I learned (by the lack of response to my marketing efforts) that independent musicians don’t have any money to pay for services like this. Other than a couple easy sales to people I know personally, I wasn’t generating much business at all.
Shortly after joining LI, I jumped in a thread of members talking about forming a mastermind, and our group basically formed out of the five of us that took it seriously enough to get started (technically six, because Authentic Food Quest is both Claire and Rosemary, but they’re such an amazing couple that they work together as one professional force). At about the same time, I did the ‘welcome call’ with Tiffany and expressed my frustration of not being able to land clients on the music front.
“Why don’t you write an e-book covering your points of knowledge, and then sell it at a price they can afford?” she said.
Eureka. I hadn’t thought of that before. It was totally scale-able! Problem was, I had no idea how to go about the task. I brought the idea to the next mastermind meeting. Claire and Rosemary had just finished their first e-book and offered some incredible insight and advice about the publishing process, who to work with, what to avoid, etc. Kelly helped me with formatting and submission for publication. I hired Cianos from LI (Korrection is the name of his business) to do the editing. The whole mastermind group, including Sarah and Julian, offered tips for marketing and promotion, gave me feedback throughout the entire process, and were super objective with my ideas and questions. Within four months, I had a book for sale.
Without a support group surrounding me (and telling me when an idea was either great or stupid), I doubt I would be halfway through the process of putting the book together. Having a group of professionals to hold each other accountable to their business goals is, in my opinion, the most important thing to be gained from a mastermind group.
How do you manage and run the meetings?
Ours are fun but focused, based largely around the rotating Hot Seat. Each meeting, one of us is in the ‘hot seat.’ This means that following the initial hellos and updates, the entire group focuses the bulk of the meeting on what the hot seat person needs help or guidance with. In order for this to work effectively, everyone has to be honest – we’ve had tears in our meetings on multiple occasions. Don’t worry- typically, it’s all very positive and the hot seat will inevitably provide each person with a fresh outlook on their business and its current situation. We dedicate anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes of each meeting to the hot seat.
Initial updates. We start each meeting by going around the group and providing updates on our goals and action points from the previous meeting. This is generally accompanied by funny travel stories and often sidebars into us talking about some crazy meal or experience that recently happened, and then quickly reigning ourselves back in. This usually takes about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Accountability. We close our meetings by going around the group again and proclaiming our steps and goals we need to accomplish before the next meeting. It’s important to do this last because throughout the meeting, you’ll likely pick up some ideas and outlook on what you’re working on that can better your plan for getting these things done.
Quarterly Long-Term Goal Meetings. We just started doing this for Q1 of 2017 and it’s shaping up to be a key addition to our schedule. We have created a Google Docs spreadsheet where we each list our professional, personal, and travel goals for the upcoming quarter. We dedicated a full extended meeting to covering everyone’s goals and providing feedback, advice, networking contacts, etc.
This episode of the Tropical MBA podcast does a great job of breaking it all down in more detail.
This all sounds too easy . . . is it?
There have been two main hurdles we’ve encountered since forming the group. First, finding a time that everyone is available. Since we’re spread around the world and travel frequently, this has proven to be quite a challenge. Sarah started running a Doodle each month where we’d all input our availability and she’d then select the times that worked out for the most people. If that time slot didn’t work for someone, they’d have to suck it up and rearrange their schedule or miss out. This method worked for a while, but we’ve grown into preferring a routine. Currently, we meet every other Monday at 8 PM EST, each one of us is responsible for taking 5 seconds to type that into Google and convert it to wherever we are in the world.
The second struggle, also a result of frequent travel, is internet connectivity. When I’m home, I try to always be at my house for the meeting. We use Google Hangouts (which seems to have gotten better since we started, we used to have more problems with connection and streaming) and have had members dial in from pretty much everywhere- airports, coffee shops, libraries, hostels, you name it.
A mastermind can easily fall apart if the members don’t take it seriously. I don’t know about you, but the biggest thing that keeps me going through the peaks and valleys of freelancing (or whatever remote work you’re doing) is the unwillingness to give up and fall in line with more traditional methods of work. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to way too much punk rock music to ever feel comfortable in a 9-5 life, but to me it’s not that much of a struggle to make this work because I regularly see the value I gain from being a part of the group. The beauty of it all lies in this: Making a mastermind successful is just like making a freelance career successful- you get out of it what you put into it, and when the entire group is stoked for the next meeting it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to make it a priority.
Are you sold?
Like I said before, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it. I will personally attest that being in a mastermind group has been a pivotal part of my business growth over the past year. I started my company with what I thought was a direct business plan, and I have almost completely reworked it, partly because of trial and error and partly because regular interaction with people running similar businesses has given me a fresh outlook on certain things I was or wasn’t doing before. On top of that, our meetings are typically pretty fun. It’s like being productive without actually working. The impact on my freelance business has been nearly incalculable. I've gained new insight on nearly every task I've undertaken.