How to Run a Mastermind

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How to Run a Mastermind

I’ve developed the structure for my mastermind group after decades of experience and experimentation. Not all mastermind groups run the same way, but I will show you how I organize mine.

Currently, my mastermind group is comprised of 12 people or less. Enrollment is always open, but a three-month minimum is required to lessen churn, which can harm group morale. Interested authors must fill out an application because I always have more demand than I can meet, and I have learned that once you have more than 12 people in a mastermind group, it becomes less personal, less effective, and generally not as helpful. I have been in Facebook groups with a few dozen to a few thousand people, and my personal threshold seems to be around 30 people. Once the group expands to 30 people or more, I always feel a shift in the energy, and I’ve noticed that I’m much less likely to engage just because the sheer volume of communication generated by 30 people can often be overwhelming. Therefore, I keep strict upper limits on the number of people in my mastermind groups.

I’m looking for people who are dedicated to their craft and who are willing to learn. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that joining a paid mastermind group is an investment in both time and money. Therefore, I try to weed out hobbyists or people who are not serious about becoming a career author. That doesn’t mean people must quit their day jobs to become part of my mastermind, but it does mean that I’m expecting a certain level of ambition and desire to get better, to grow, and to thrive as a creative. I have interviewed potential applicants who have felt combative or had expectations that were unreasonable, and those people, I turned away. There is no measurable financial ROI for being in a mastermind group unless it is designed that way by the person leading it. I focus on process over outcome, and so, I rarely expect word-count goals or revenue projections.

It usually takes a few weeks to a few months for me to find the right 12 people to be included in my mastermind. Once chosen, these authors show up for a weekly one-hour videoconference call, three times per month. Also, they are expected to participate and engage in a private Slack channel regularly. There are writing prompts and requirements, as well as an expectation of being present at every videoconference call. I make it clear to anyone applying that although things come up and you might not make every session, the expectation is that you are doing the work and engaging. Otherwise, you lose all the benefits of the mastermind, and your lack of participation can negatively affect the people who are motivated to be there.

I typically don’t haggle or negotiate over the cost of the mastermind because the people who are applying understand the value and know it will be worth way more than what they must invest up front. If you are questioning the value of joining a mastermind group, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, it means you probably shouldn’t. You’re simply not ready to make that kind of commitment, which is fine. You’ll know when you are.

But once people have signed on and have agreed to honor the format and spirit of my mastermind group, that is when the real fun begins.

On that one-hour call, I divide the time into roughly 3 segments. The first 10 minutes or so is what I call “weekly wins.” In a minute or two, I ask each member of the mastermind group to tell us about a win they had during the previous week. It can be related to their writing, their business, their family life, just about anything positive. The idea is to celebrate those little wins that we often allow to go unnoticed, especially the ones which only other authors would appreciate. Writers can tend to work in a vacuum, and even our spouses and significant others don’t often understand the wins and losses of our profession. “Weekly wins” gives everyone a chance to start the session on a positive note.

My job during “weekly wins” is to not only celebrate and encourage the positive energy shared by that person, but I also look to ask clarifying questions or prod them to expand on something they said. Often, finding those little nuggets within the small conversations can not only build trust between myself and the participant, but it allows the other members to bond with that person who we now see as part of the family. “Weekly wins” would be an easy thing to brush off as some “woo-woo” activity, but I believe it sets the tone of the mastermind from week-to-week and reinforces the positive nature of the support we are giving each other.

The next 20 to 30 minutes is spent doing a scene analysis. Because I am a professional writer and certified Story Grid editor, I believe it is extremely important to do scene work regularly.

The core element of any story is the scene. If you cannot write a compelling scene that turns on a specific value, then your reader will stop and put down the book. So, I think it is critical for each writer in my mastermind group to be constantly working on the quality of the scenes that they write, whether that is fiction or nonfiction.

There are several ways to do scene analysis, and this is much different than what is done in a traditional writing critique group. I’m not a fan of critique groups because I feel writers will often inject their own subjective opinions about the piece, and those can be colored by the interpersonal connection between the people in the group. Some writers join critique groups simply to put down other writers, and I’ve never found that helpful.

Therefore, I provide a weekly writing prompt that is based on a specific commercial genre. It might be a romance prompt one week and a horror prompt the next. I also give participants the option to ignore my prompt, and instead, work on a scene from their current work in progress. The bottom line is that each participant must be writing a 1,500-word to 2,000-word scene weekly.

Every week, one of the authors is designated to share the scene with the group before the call. Then, in that 20- to 30-minute window on the call, I go through a high-level analysis of the scene with him or her while the other members of the mastermind group are listening, taking notes, asking questions, or making suggestions.

This is an invaluable practice whether you are the one on the call whose scene is being analyzed or whether you are observing it. Because I am a developmental editor, I can include insights and suggestions, as if I was working with the mastermind participant in a writer/editor relationship.

Also, every member of the mastermind group has the option to submit their analyzed scene to me privately where I will give them feedback on their own scene analysis.

Often, the writer who submitted the scene for analysis will go back and rewrite the scene, based on the feedback that came out of the mastermind group. This is an absolutely critical component of the author mastermind group because it provides immediate feedback.

One of the difficulties with the traditional editor/author relationship is that an author completes an entire manuscript and then sends it to the editor. The problem is if something isn’t working early on, it will be a problem throughout the entire manuscript, and a writer has no way of knowing that until an editor is working on it. Therefore, being in an immediate feedback loop gives authors the ability to learn as they go, correcting mistakes and getting better at craft while writing the manuscript instead of waiting until the entire thing is done before discovering that the same problem was present throughout all 75,000 words.

The authors in the mastermind group who routinely send me their scenes get better at their craft exponentially.

Once we finish with the scene analysis, the next 20 to 25 minutes is spent doing what has been traditionally called the mastermind “hot seat.” Much like the scene analysis, one person is scheduled to be on the hot seat each week. They are tasked with bringing an issue, problem, or question to the group. They can either ask the group themselves or have me ask on their behalf because they are required to send me their question or issue in writing before the videoconference call. Once the person on the hot seat asks the question, they are not permitted to speak again until the end.

Jokingly, I always say, “Now it’s time to talk about the person like they’re not here.” The idea is that it forces the person with the problem to listen without being defensive. It is also interesting to see how that question or problem is interpreted by the rest of the group, who then begin to brainstorm ways to solve that problem.

As the leader of the mastermind group, it is my job to know when to begin that conversation and when to stay out of it. There are times when I feel as though, based on the question, that I should speak first so that I can set the example for the type of feedback I believe would be helpful. But there are other times when I feel as though there is someone else in the group who might have a better perspective on how to solve this problem, and sometimes I will even call on that person to speak first. This is an intuitive skill that takes time to learn, but you can learn it, and when you do, it makes the mastermind group that much stronger.

For example, once, an author on the hot seat asked a question about daily discipline. It just so happened that one of the mastermind participants had spent his entire career in the military. So, I asked him to speak to the notion of daily routines and habits, knowing that it is a foundational element in the armed forces. He eloquently described how the discipline he learned in the military was easily transferred to his life as an author. This is the power of the mastermind, the ability to draw from other people’s backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge in a way that would not even be possible in a one-on-one coaching situation.

I save the last 5 to 7 minutes of the hot-seat segment to unmute the person on the hot seat and allow him or her to now ask follow-up questions or to clarify anything that came up in the group brainstorming conversation. Every single mastermind session has ended with the person on the hot seat feeling as though they now have actionable steps they can take. It doesn’t mean their problem is always solved, but now, they at least know how to frame it to come up with the best solution possible.

And in the last five minutes or so of the videoconference call, I will set the table for the following week, explaining what the prompt will be, who will be on the hot seat, etc.

It’s important to resist the temptation of shoving too much structure into a one-hour videoconference call with a group of 12 people. However, it is just as important to have a guiding structure as the leader of the mastermind group because having a free-for-all conversation will typically tend to be more social and less productive. I believe by having just three basic segments, that I can make sure I’m providing the opportunity for the participants to become better at their craft and at their business.

As a personal point of pride, I start every mastermind exactly on time, and I rarely run over. Although it may appear on the surface that you are providing more value by going longer, you are, in fact, disrespecting the time of the participants. Remember, most of us have other lives, spouses, significant others, families, commitments, and so, by keeping the start and end times sharp, I believe you are honoring those other commitments that people have.

Outside of the weekly videoconference call, there are a few other touch points for the mastermind group.

Something relatively new that I have experimented with is creating what I call accountability trackers for each member of the mastermind. It is a simple spreadsheet with formulas already in place to keep track of various aspects of living the author life. For example, one of the accountability-tracking spreadsheets is for daily word count. If an author wants to track and reflect upon daily word count, all they have to do is type in the number of words accrued on that day, and the spreadsheet will then tally it up and show them their daily progress over time. I’ve also included prompts that force them to reflect on their success or failure of hitting those word count goals. For example, if you came up short in your word count goal, why? And what are you going to do differently next week? These accountability-tracking spreadsheets are shared privately between each mastermind participant and me and are completely optional, but they provide another level of personal accountability and reflection.

Although the logistics on this might not be possible for everyone, I also offer an annual gathering for all mastermind participants for that calendar year. I host the weekend event, and the cost of it is completely included in the monthly mastermind dues. The participant must simply get to the location and pay for their lodging for a couple of nights, but the entire two days of programming are free. The idea is to foster an even deeper connection between these people who have only seen each other on a videoconference call but now can get to know each other face-to-face, in real life.

And as mentioned earlier, each mastermind participant is required and encouraged to be part of the conversation that happens in our private Slack channel between video calls. Personal responsibilities and time constraints will dictate how much or how little folks can participate, but the idea is that it is a way to touch base during the week, to ask clarifying questions, or ask for feedback from the group members. This can be done with any online tool, but I prefer Slack.

Also, as mentioned, each participant can submit a scene analysis to me privately, which I will then comment on and give back to them that same week before the next call so that they will get immediate feedback on their scene analysis. Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/

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