Does Your Networking Group Do More Than Share Leads?

While networking is a great way to generate referrals, consider joining “mastermind” groups—which offer peer-to-peer problem-solving, learning, and business opportunities.
Business people talking at conference

© Sam Edwards - Caiaimage/Getty Images

Chike Uzoka, a sales associate with English Realty in Englewood, N.J., joined a local networking group called Network Newark last year to get involved in happenings in his city. While his intention was to connect socially with neighbors and like-minded business leaders, Uzoka found that the group, which meets weekly, also provided support for his real estate work.

The goal of the group is for members, who come from diverse business backgrounds, including waste management, auctions, furniture retail, and financial management, to help each other grow their individual businesses. They often help Uzoka stay accountable for meeting his sales goals, develop consistency in his marketing, and brainstorm solutions to transactional hiccups. Uzoka says he also has received at least 35 referrals since joining the group. “It’s a family now, where we trust each other’s work and feel great when we refer business to each other,” Uzoka says.

This isn’t your typical networking group. While many real estate professionals join business societies for the simple benefit of exchanging referrals, Uzoka’s is what’s known as a “mastermind” group—specifically designed to encourage partnerships between businesspeople to brainstorm and learn from one another. “[Mastermind groups are] actually built more on coaching and relationships rather than just passing leads,” says Christine Wier, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners in Jacksonville Beach, Fla.

Benefits of a Mastermind Group

In January, Wier joined a mastermind group with 10 members, including a wealth advisor, insurance agent, business attorney, funeral advisor, and business advisor. They meet regularly and plan on teaming up to do seminars covering retirement planning from the financial, legal, real estate, and end-of-life perspectives. “We work on perfecting each other’s value propositions,” Wier says, adding that real estate practitioners would be wise to network with professionals outside their field “because they represent those who could be future customers.”

Joining a networking group with professionals in fields other than your own is key, says business coach and serial entrepreneur Tim Kerin, who owns an organization called Core Networking. With noncompetitors, you can be more honest about your business issues without worrying that other members of the group will take advantage of your situation, he adds.

Kerin says his networking contacts, who introduce him to new prospects and others, have helped him generate more than $29 million in business, relieving him of having to hire a marketing specialist. Through networking, he has connected with HGTV’s “House Hunters International” to feature a villa he built in Costa Rica—where he also owns a tour company; develop a six-year relationship as a preferred vendor for a Fortune 500 company; and create and maintain a 14-year relationship with the Washington Redskins, an NFL team, as a service provider.

It’s also helpful to generate creative ideas from professionals in other industries. When Uzoka was having a problem with a seller whose property title was at risk of becoming invalidated, he took the issue to his networking group. “Long story short, my client’s mom didn’t file the correct paperwork, and my client doesn’t technically own the property, even though she’s been paying more than five years’ worth of mortgage payments, property taxes, and renovations,” Uzoka says. “[A title expert in my networking group] helped me figure it out with a solution that no one else had come up with, and it worked.”

Want to Be the Organizer?

Some real estate professionals take it into their own hands to create a mastermind group. If you want to start your own, first issue a call-to-action for new members, and look for a maximum of two—but ideally one—person per field, says Shlomo Bregman, founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network who has started many mastermind groups. Then, Bregman says, screen every prospective member to see what kind of expertise he or she offers, and make sure no two offer the same services before getting them together in a small group setting.

Most successful groups meet weekly for no longer than an hour, as repetition and consistency are important. Start with four or five people; a good group should grow to about 30 people, says Timothy Kennedy, director of business development for the U.S. Mortgage Corporation in Melville, N.Y. At each meeting, suggests Kennedy, who has belonged to several networking groups throughout his career, one member of the group should be the guest speaker and have additional time to talk. But every group can follow its own rules.

Katherine Paterson, business strategist and author of Lunching with Lions: How to Survive and Thrive at Networking, says she offers small group masterminds with five or six women in non-competing fields. They meet monthly for 2 ½ hours, and members are assigned accountability partners between meetings. Those partners can meet as often as they want but are expected to connect at least once a month to touch base on goals and progress. In addition, members have a workbook they use to track goals and successes.

During the meetings, they spend 10 to 15 minutes focusing on each member’s issues, while one member each month receives additional time to tackle their challenges. They have a professional coach who facilitates the meetings and doesn’t participate as a member.

Patterson says that before starting a mastermind group, you should determine what you want out of it. “Just like anything in your business, create a list of goals and a strategic plan for what you want to achieve,” she says. “Those groups that are formed with purpose and intent generally last longer and have more engagement and buy-in from members. Those that are started on a whim with no direction tend to fizzle out.”