You may have heard this before, but no small business owner is an island. You succeed or fail in large part thanks to the strength of the support network surrounding you. Notice I said “strength” of your support network, not “size.” It doesn’t have to be huge! In fact, when you’re just starting, one or two dedicated mentors/cheerleaders/advisors may be all you need.
I’ve discussed how I approach building my team, and you’ll see that I’m a huge fan of paying experienced professionals to take tasks off my plate – giving me more time to focus on the core work of my business. But, while I value the work my marketing team (for example) does, they aren’t the backbone of my support system.
Who is? The friends and mentors I’ve met through mastermind groups.
Mastermind Groups vs. Networking Groups
I think it’s important to take a moment and discuss the differences between professional groups and networking groups. Networking groups have one, clearly-defined purpose: helping business owners find more business. It’s that simple. Now, do I find value in networking groups? Of course. I’m a small business owner, wanting to grow and improve my business is coded into my DNA.
Having said that, I find more value in mastermind groups. Unlike networking groups, mastermind groups aren’t focused on helping you find more business. Instead, they are professional organizations filled with other business owners coming together to discuss challenges, celebrate successes, and develop new skills. I’ve been a part of the same community for years. The members know me and my backstory, and I know theirs.
Without them, I’m less good at my job.
Can’t I just hire a business coach?
You certainly can. And for some people, a business coach may be the right option. In my experience, mastermind groups keep me motivated, keep me focused, and keep me honest. But, I gain my energy from being around people. If you don’t, the experience may just be exhausting. If that sounds like you, I would suggest seriously considering a business coach. A good coach can be a sounding board, a mentor, a problem-solver, or just provide much-needed accountability.
Even the best coach, however, has one downside: there is only one of her.
In a mastermind group, strength truly comes in numbers – on a couple of different levels. The first is that different minds always approach problems in different ways. If I’m struggling to find a solution to a challenge I’m facing, a room full of different perspectives can help illuminate the path forward. Listening to how other professionals approach goal-setting or planning leaves me considering new ideas and how they might help me meet my professional goals.
Plus, there is a fringe benefit of spending years in the same group: you develop a shared history. Now, the other members of my mastermind group may not remember the nitty-gritty details of what I was doing in my business three years ago, but they will remember my overall highs and lows – and I’ll do the same for them. The end result: a depth of understanding that helps us give better advice and feedback. It can be hard for a business coach to replicate this type of relationship, at least at first.
Can I find an online group, or do I need to leave my house?
There are plenty of online mastermind groups out there, but I think in-person groups are the way to go. I find it’s easier to succeed when you leave your office once a month or so and direct your whole focus on your group. You’ll be able to contribute in a meaningful way when your group has your undivided attention. But don’t let that discourage you! If you’re somebody that expresses yourself better through writing and you have the time to really participate in an online community, it can work. You just need to be prepared to work a bit harder at finding your place in the community.
I’m sold, but how can I find the group that’s right for me?
First, identify your needs. Do you need personal direction? Professional development opportunities? Motivation? Different groups excel at different things, and understanding what you need will help direct you to the right one. Also, consider how important an affinity group is to you. Do you want to be surrounded by similar business owners (either demographically or in the same industry), or would you prefer some variety?
Then, work within the confines of your reality. Is your schedule so complicated that you need a mentor who will fit into your schedule? A business coach might be the right choice. Do you find social events draining? Look online. Are you a work-from-home small business owner desperate to interact with other professionals? An in-person mastermind group will have you covered. I found that I thrived with an in person group of talented women business owners dedicated to growing their businesses. A DC based organization called Her Corner fits that bill perfectly.
Most importantly, periodically evaluate what is working for you. Like anything else, your needs will change over time. Don’t be afraid to make changes down the road if you outgrow your current support group. There is almost certainly another option that will deliver exactly what you need to grow and evolve as a business owner and a person.
Are you feeling motivated to find a team? I’m glad. At Office Accomplice, we love being part of the team that drives small business owners’ successes. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you thrive.