- Michael Thompson
Building a small, exclusive tribe is the ultimate career move
At the beginning of 2018, I set a challenge for myself: reach out and speak to one new person a week whose work I admired.
This exercise alone was worth its weight in silver. But what turned it to gold was eventually asking all of the people I’d been meeting to come together under one roof so we could all get to know each other better and share ideas.
Fast-forward to today, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt this has been the best decision I’ve made in my career. When I began the group I was a struggling writer. In all of 2018, I had 150,000 views on all of my articles and I earned $621 for the entire year.
As I sit here writing this today, my monthly views are just under 400,000, and yesterday alone I earned more than I did all of last year. Not only that, but my work has been featured across various mainstream business publications, my coaching practice has a wait-list, and I’m a week away from signing on with a book agent. Most importantly, I can’t remember having as much fun as I’m having right now.
This is all thanks to spending a few months connecting with people whose work I enjoyed. Then taking it one step further by asking them if they wanted to make cool things together.
The words “Your network determines your net worth” are cliché for a reason — they’re grounded in truth. If you take the time to build your own tribe, I’m convinced you’ll never have to worry about work opportunities again.
I could write a book about this experience, and maybe one day I will, but in the meantime below is a collection of best practices and tips to begin building your own online mastermind group.
Quick aside: Our tribe is full of writers and coaches, but the tips below can be applied to any sector.
1. Do Not Open Your Doors Until You Have 10 Committed Members
I began talking to people in my network in the late spring about starting a Slack channel to share ideas, but I didn’t open the doors until the fall. This wasn’t part of some master strategy — summer was coming up and I wanted to spend more time with my family. But in hindsight, it was the best thing I could’ve done to ensure that when the doors did open the members would be immediately connecting with each other.
Throughout the summer, I spoke with every member and got to know more about their professional and personal goals. Not only that, but the other members took time out of their day to speak to each other as well. As a result, when it came time to join forces, the conversations were flying.
Waiting 90 days to start your mastermind group once the seeds are planted isn’t necessary. But I can’t recommend enough taking the time to get to know the members on a more personal level and facilitating group calls before you begin to ensure people are already cool with each other.
Yes, this takes time. But engaged communities are built by real human connections, and calls or group get-togethers greatly speed up this process. Plus, the last thing you want to do is open the doors for a few people and have the conversations run dry after a few weeks.
2. Start Fast, but Grow Slow
When building a mastermind group, your goal should be to create a culture of trust, where members not only support each other but are also willing to put their own goals aside from time to time to help other people reach theirs. From my experience, building trust with people takes time, and this becomes very difficult when new people are constantly joining the group.
My only strategy when starting the group was to make sure every single person felt comfortable and wanted to be there. I wanted to create a space where people were proactive in not only sharing their work problems but also their life challenges. As a result, I took things slow, and for the first six months, I asked only two new people to join a month.
This gave the new members some time in the spotlight to get to know the other members. At the same time, it didn’t overwhelm the existing members with a never-ending stream of new faces and questions.
On paper, I’m the leader of the group. But if I were to step away tomorrow, I have no doubt that the group would live on. I think a big reason for this is because when someone joins they immediately feel like they’re joining a family — and they can’t tell the difference between someone who’s relatively new from someone who’s been in the group since day one.
So move fast when it comes to truly getting to know each member and creating an environment that encourages deep conversations. But move slowly when it comes time to build it out. Your engagement will thank you for it later.
Quick, but important aside: Every time I speak to someone new, I ask myself who I think they would hit it off with. Then I do whatever I can to encourage both parties to get to know each other immediately. I’ve been told multiple times that this has helped people to feel comfortable from the word go.
3. Remember This Equation When Thinking About Inviting New Members
Legendary MMA fighter turned coach, Frank Shamrock, instills the following equation into the minds of his athletes: “Plus, Minus, and Equal.”
The “Plus” represents that each person has someone to teach.
The “Minus” represents that each person has someone to learn from.
The “Equal” represents that each person has people around them who are around the same level so they have someone to push them.
I use this exact same method of thinking when considering new members:
- Does each person have a skill or unique way of seeing things that the other members of the group can benefit from?
- Does each person need help with something that the other members of the group can provide?
- Are there people in the group who are around the same level that each person can compete/practice with?
This creates an environment where everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. And beautiful things happen when a group of people comes together and are willing to help one another while being comfortable enough to ask for help.
Quick, but important aside: Remember that teams that win championships are rarely filled with only all-stars. Having people in your group with large followings is helpful as it gets people motivated to up their game. But if this group has taught me anything it’s that absolutely everyone has something they can teach me. That being said, follow your gut when you feel a connection with someone’s work or personality regardless of their following.
4. Create a Common Goal When the Group Begins
When the group started, the original plan was to help each other grow on LinkedIn, as well as gain exposure for the services each of us was offering. Having this common goal was good. But what moved it to great was creating an initiative that motivated each of us to share the work of the other members of the group.
After a group brainstorming session, we created a hashtag for LinkedIn called #quoteyourconnections. Every Monday, each member shared a thought or article from someone else in the group. This not only helped to raise awareness for what each person was doing, but it also served as a way for each member to learn more about the work of the other members.
Over time, the energy from this idea began to fade, but not before the relationships of the people in the group strengthened. So in order to keep engagement up, think about short-term initiatives that can get everyone involved so everyone feels like they’re playing on the same team.
5. Set Up Group Calls Each Week to Get to Know Each Other Better and Share Ideas
Every Thursday afternoon, anywhere between four and 10 people come together from all over the globe on a group video call where we discuss a predetermined topic. Sometimes we use the time to talk about writing and Medium. Other times we talk about how to make better decisions or marketing ideas. Or, we’ll simply have a “hot seat” session where people share their frustrations and we all play coach.
These calls have not only brought the group closer, but I’ve also learned a ton of interesting things in the process. Not only that, it’s a great way to get ideas for future articles and to better explore topics you’re thinking about writing about. Writing can be a lonely job — but it doesn’t have to be.
6. Keep Track of the Milestones for Each Person
Our group today has around 30 active members, and keeping track of the ins and outs of each of them takes time. But it’s worth it. If someone is getting close to reaching 5,000 followers on Medium, shine the spotlight on them. If someone is growing out a Quora space, check-in from time to time on their growth and let the group know what they’re up to.
This has become more challenging as the group grows, but if you keep a list of the items that are important to each person in the group, this little detail can really help to keep the engagement moving forward.
Hell, even if you don’t start a group, begin doing this for your friends. It takes a minute a day and letting people know you care about their progress matters.
7. Create Clear Channels for the Group
The first day I opened the doors for the mastermind group was the first time I’d ever been on Slack. This was a mistake. I should’ve learned more about the platform and read more about what people liked and disliked about it. Fortunately for me, I had some smart people around me who helped to get this right, and over time we’ve set up channels that didn’t overwhelm people.
This will vary depending on your sector, but below are the channels we currently have.
- General: Where we throw out congrats to people for hitting a milestone, introduce the occasional new member, and for whatever else falls outside the lines of the other channels.
- Mediumstrategy: Where we share our thoughts on how Medium is changing and toss around ideas so all of us stay relevant while staying true to our individual styles.
- Mediumarticles: Where we share our latest work for support and encouragement.
- Feedback: Where we critique each other’s work, and members ask for title advice, grammar help, idea confirmation, and etc. In my opinion, this is the most valuable channel we have, and it’s a must for aspiring writers setting up a similar system with your writing buddies.
- Growthhacking: All things marketing.
- Groupcalls: Where we schedule group calls. Actually, now that I think about it, this is the most valuable channel. Get to know your heroes!
- Randomthoughts: Where we share…drumroll…random thoughts.
- Retreats: Where we plan events and get-togethers when possible.
8. Trust People and Keep the Rules to a Minimum
The whole intention of starting this group was to create a place where people could hang out whenever they wanted and get to know other people doing similar things. The last thing I wanted to do was bog people down with rules and policies.
In fact, the only rule we have is that if someone wants to get to know someone else in the group, the other person has to make that happen in the near future. That’s it. There aren’t any reminders of how often someone has to be involved, and there certainly aren’t any reminders of what a decent human being looks like.
You may just find that by not having any rules, most people don’t break them. Not only that, but if you create a culture of trust, you don’t need to tell someone when they do something wrong — they’ll know it — and if they value the group they’ll do what’s necessary to make it right.
A year has passed since I started this group, and today I feel very honored to consider each and every person a close friend.
My friends from the group have given me the confidence to bet on myself. They’ve taught me that most people are kind and receive great pleasure from helping other people. They’ve taught me that the future is indeed found in collaboration.
Most of all, my friends have taught me that the fastest way to find the work you love is by surrounding yourself with people you love.