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Q & A

Mastermind groups

Many organisations run “mastermind” peer support groups for small-business owners. Alex Butler, founder of Kindred HQ, explains what they are and how they can help you meet your business challenges.

What is a “mastermind” group?

Alex Butler (AB): “Masterminds are a well-established way to get peer support for your business. The premise is very simple: you get a small group of business owners together and they collectively discuss each other’s problems and come up with practical solutions.”

So it’s a chinwag about business?

AB: “No, not at all. It’s an action learning technique where the secret is in the structure and the facilitation. Good facilitation will ensure that everyone has their equal moment and that everyone both gives to and takes from the group. What’s special about it is that if you have a diverse group of businesses, as we do at Kindred, then you get that incredibly mixed lateral thinking when an issue is raised. The secret is that you draw on the experience and skills of a very diverse group.”

What actually happens? What’s the structure?

AB: “You have preliminary introductions and everyone explains what they do. That’s important – it helps bond the group because you want a group that’s going to stick together through this. Then you ask whether people have an issue that they want to discuss.

“Each person then has their own 20-30 minute slot where we explore their issue as a group. So, you would start by articulating your problem in deeper terms. Then the rest of the group will ask clarification questions so they can really understand what your issue might be – it’s rarely actually straightforward. You will then answer their questions and there’s a further round where you have to listen while people feed back with what they think you need to do.

“After that you could respond to the group and let them know what you think. Finally you would decide what your actions are going to be. That’s the important bit.”

And that’s that?

AB: “Not at all. At Kindred, for example, we encourage people to sign up for four sessions at a time and we have a fluid group of people who dip in and out of our monthly mastermind group. This means that people get to know each other and each other’s businesses over time. There’s a big trust element to this and people need to be comfortable.

“We see all sorts of spin-offs as well. We share contact details and encourage people to support each other in-between groups. Then, at the beginning of each session, we’ll have a quick review of how everyone has got on since they were last here.”

How is this different from mentoring or professional business advice?

AB: “Well, you’re not going to someone who has a lot more experience than you. You’re going to people who, although they might be doing something different to you as a business, will almost certainly have gone through the same phases as you have.

“It’s not a substitute for professional advice and certainly not for legal and financial advice. This is peer support and it comes with that caveat. But the advice that you are getting is more likely to be practical, supportive and based on life experience. It’s complementary to legal and financial advice; it’s confidence building.”

Why should a small-business owner consider joining a mastermind group?

AB: “Particularly when you work on your own, as lots of independents and small businesses do when starting out, it’s very easy to become insular and so focused on getting the money coming in that you start to lose touch with other people.

“But there’s a lot to be gained from collaborating and co-operating. It can save you money and it helps you realise that you are not the only one who is suffering moments of loss of confidence. It’s someone to bounce ideas off.

“This is something you take for granted when working for a company and it’s the thing that most people miss when they start working for themselves. It’s like having a replica team, but with all the best bits and none of the rubbish bits. I find it really helpful.”

Is it expensive?

AB: “There’s usually a charge and that varies from group to group. We charge £20 a session, for example. But a lot of people regard this as part of their training budget – it’s tax deductible and VAT exempt. If you see it like that, you see it as an important part of running your business rather than something that’s just nice to have.”

How do I find out about mastermind groups?

AB: “Quite a lot of the business networking groups like 4N do mastermind groups and it’s also worth taking a look at the many mastermind groups on Meetup. You just have to do an internet search and you’ll find lots. Then there’s Kindred’s, of course!

“You could also set up your own, although a mastermind does need proper facilitation. You don’t need to be trained, but it’s a good idea to learn the techniques before you start running a mastermind – it makes for a much better session.”

Alex Butler is the founder of Kindred HQ, a small-business community for people who work for themselves or who want to work for themselves.

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