Making mastermind groups work for your business takes a little bit of courage, an open mind, and strong commitment. The benefits to you and your business, however, can be great.

Napoleon Hill is credited with the idea of the mastermind group, which he defined as “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.” More colloquially, mastermind groups are typically thought of as business owners that come together to share best practices, solve problems and help each other to work on their businesses and grow them.

Video marketing expert Lou Bortone says, “Mastermind groups, when done right, can be the ultimate secret weapon in your business. Good mastermind partners help you gain perspective and get you unstuck when you’re second-guessing yourself.”

What to Consider When Joining a Mastermind Group

1. Find a Mastermind Group That Elevates You

Mastermind groups should encourage you to reach a little higher. The other business owners in the group should be at the same phase of their business – or even a little further along.

If you find a group of new business owners and you’ve been in business for five years, it’s probably not the right group. You need to be meeting with people who are wrestling with similar issues.

Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich and founder and author of Spin Sucks, puts it this way, “There are two ways we learn. The first is to talk about a challenge or issue out loud, and explain the intricacies of why you cannot find a solution. The second is to teach someone how to do something. If you can teach it, you know it better than 99 percent of the population.”

Dietrich continues, “It’s because of those two reasons that mastermind groups are so effective. When you belong to a mastermind group, you have the advantage of having other business owners in the room who have been where you are and can help with solutions. Most business challenges are the same, no matter what you do for a living. With a mastermind group, you begin to feel saner, find quick solutions, build camaraderie, and have a group of people who look out for your best interest, no matter what.”

But be on the lookout for any potential Debbie Downer members. One bad apple really can throw off the dynamics of the whole group.

2. Be Generous With Your Knowledge and Support

You may be familiar with the phrase “give to get”. This especially holds true for making mastermind groups work for your business.

This isn’t the place to get prickly about giving away free consulting because if it’s a good group, everyone will be contributing – and receiving – great ideas.

Tapping into the hive mind (or Borg Collective, as a colleague of mine calls it), is one of the top benefits of joining mastermind groups. While you may not see an easy solution to your issues, someone in the group may see it immediately.

You may have access to people you would not normally interact with – professionals from other industries or who are more financially successful.

You might even have access to people you admire and have been following on social media. In fact, many successful business thought leaders start mastermind groups.

An enthusiastic mastermind member herself, Victoria Cook, the founder of The Center For Guilt-Free Success, says, “I have seen firsthand what the power of a group of objective, like-minded business owners can do for one another. Being part of a mastermind provides support, accountability, and collective knowledge – important tools most solopreneurs don’t get on their own. I have seen a change in the trajectory of businesses for the better, and experienced continued growth in my own business as a result.”

3. Be Open to Connecting

Mastermind groups for your business will generally meet for a defined period of time. One year is often the time commitment for groups started by thought leaders.

Catherine Morgan, founder of Point A to Point B Transitions, joined a year-long mastermind program because of the influencer leading the larger group but found the other members in her individual group were an even bigger benefit.

Morgan said, “I was surprised to find that the overwhelming benefit of the year-long program was meeting the amazing business owners who were also drawn to this influencer’s methodology. I am still close friends with several people years later.”

The longevity of the connections formed while working with a mastermind group surprises many people. Not unlike people talking about their experience in the military, professionals tend to bond when they have been through struggles and growth together.

4. Collaborate With Everyone

Some of the best referrals can come from professionals who do something very similar to you. Don’t hesitate to connect with other small business coaches, as an example.

Within your mastermind group, there may be business coaches who specialize in different things, e.g., working with service providers, helping business owners who manufacture products, doing marketing for local brick and mortar businesses, etc.

Other professionals who do something similar but with a different target market may become a great referral source.

5. Share Your Vision

Joining a mastermind group can be just the thing when you are looking to make a big push in your business. You may know that you want to take your business to a new level, but not have any idea how to get there.

Alternatively, you may know exactly what it will take and be scared or overwhelmed – or both!

Fear tends to diminish when it’s spoken out loud. The mean voices in your head may lose some of their power (and volume).

6. Be Honest About Your Struggles

Failures are guaranteed when you’re running a business. Morgan says that the most important skill for small business owners is mastering the “graceful swan dive faceplant.”

Social media is the place for your shiny happy life, not your mastermind group. In order to maximize the benefits of joining a group, you will need to be authentic and share your challenges.

If you didn’t have any, you wouldn’t need to join a group.

In the beginning, it may be a little uncomfortable, but if you’re in a group with other small business owners, I promise you that someone else is either working through the same issue, or has faced it down in the past.

This can be quite reassuring and give you some additional motivation to tackle whatever is holding you back.

7. Be Receptive to New Ideas

You, like everyone else, see the world through the unique lens of your experience. Other members of the mastermind group may have different life and industry experiences. Be open to their opinions, even if they run counter to your own.

Occasionally, someone’s suggestion or opinion may hit you the wrong way. Try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of snapping at them, or of getting defensive or passive-aggressive.

Instead, stop and take a breath. Consider the idea or suggestion. Thank them for sharing and say that it’s interesting, that you’ll think about it or whatever else might be a reasonable response.

The improv tactic of saying “Yes, and…” can really come in handy!

Please remember that you are not obligated to take anyone’s suggestion. Your business is your business.

8. Be Accountable

Joining a mastermind group usually means that you will be committing to showing up for the group call or in-person regularly. This is a commitment that you should take seriously.

Other members are counting on you, so show up when you’re supposed to and be ready to work. Being on time and focusing on the group while you’re meeting is very important. The more effort you put in, the more benefit you will get out of your mastermind group.

One of the most valuable aspects of joining a mastermind group is accountability to your goals. Studies consistently show that people are more likely to follow through on their goals if they write them down and tell someone about them. Take advantage of this huge benefit and commit to yourself and your goals.

Depending on the type of business you have, you may end up joining a mastermind group and leading one or more of your own mastermind groups. Cook says, “I have been part of a business mastermind group since 2006. Because of my positive experience, I created two women’s mastermind groups.”