Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you’re alone.
Having an accountability buddy (AB) is like having a partner in crime, and it’s a surprisingly powerful method that can help you become incredibly productive and follow through on all those projects you’ve been postponing.
If you ever had study sessions with a classmate or partnered up with a colleague to try a new workout routine, you already know what research has proven over the years: pairing up with someone else to tackle a challenging or less-than-exciting project can make the process seem easier and more fun.
The difference with an AB is that you aren’t working toward the same goal—you work side by side on your own projects and support each other every step of the way. Isn’t that nice?
Megan K. Ball, illustrator and owner of Buck And Libby, a greeting card and paper goods company, found the perfect AB match in her good friend, a professional photographer who lives in the same area. By having an AB in her life, Ball says her productivity has greatly increased, and she has been able to accomplish more of her goals.
“Not only do we encourage each other and cheer each other up, but our sometimes brutal honesty helps to make sure we’re moving in the right direction. While it is great to have someone there to say, ‘You can do it!’ whenever you’re feeling stuck, it’s even better to have someone who can say, ‘This isn’t working. Have you tried doing it this way instead?’ It’s a fresh, constructive perspective,” she says.
Ball admits she can often talk herself out of getting things done “but having my AB there to say, ‘Did you email that shop you said you were going to contact?’ or ‘How is that new holiday line coming along?’ makes it impossible to avoid the things I said I’d do. It’s like being in school again and having the teacher check that you did your homework–better get it done!”
As an illustrator, Ball feels at ease having an AB who is a photographer—someone who is also a creative business owner but in a different field from hers. She believes that it’s more important to find someone with similar goals and expectations instead of someone in the same industry—which could be cause for tension or unwanted competition.
“We do have things in common that allow us to help each other out. We both sell our items wholesale to shops, have an online presence, do local craft shows, etc. We can share information about these common aspects of our business without feeling like we are stealing the other person’s ideas or their customers,” Ball explains.
Three heads are better than one
If one AB isn’t enough to help you meet your goals, why not try two, like health and wellness coach Kylie Bevan? Bevan is a huge fan of working with an AB–in fact, for the past 3 years, she’s been working with two different ABs and has seen huge leaps in her productivity and self-discipline.
Because Bevan and her ABs live in different parts of the world, sessions are held over Skype and Zoom. Bevan points out that it’s important to read facial expressions and other non-verbal clues from your AB.
“Accountability buddies often help each other move out of their comfort zone, so it’s good to know when you might have pushed a little too far. Encouraging the other person to stretch is often fine–setting them up for failure is not,” she says. Bevan adds that she likes to evaluate and give feedback using what she calls the sandwich approach: mentioning something positive, then something challenging and ending with something positive.
Paying the price
But what’s an AB to do when you don’t follow through? Bevan believes that ABs are more about “listening, helping clarify, checking in on progress, celebrating when that goal is achieved and chatting about why when it’s not. Perhaps it’s wrong timing or the wrong goal, self-sabotage or change of direction.”
Others, however, may agree to some kind of disciplinary action for missing a deadline—and what better motivator than money? Because Megan and her AB meet at a cafe for their check-ins, the one who didn’t meet her goals ends up paying for the other’s coffee. If a coffee doesn’t sound convincing, you can always up the stakes and pay your AB’s monthly phone bill instead. Goal-tracking apps, like Beeminder and stickK, will also gladly eat away at your cash when you fail to meet your goals.
Meet your match
Like any relationship, finding the right match in an AB is a matter of trial and error. Being clear with expectations and boundaries is very important for both people to gain from the experience, Bevan points out, so set your ground rules from the very beginning. But don’t be afraid to “break up” with your AB if it’s not working out. Ball says that social media is a great place to start your search and has this advice to offer:
“A Facebook group search can be broad, like ‘Creative Entrepreneurs’ and ‘Ohio Crafters’, or it can be more specific, like ‘Etsy Stationery Designers’ and ‘NYC Fitness Bloggers’. Just see what pops up, join the group and join the conversation. Instagram and Twitter are also great for organically developing long-distance friendships with fellow creatives. Whose photos do you ‘like’ often? Who seems to have a similar sense of humor? Whose lifestyle seems most similar to yours? Start a dialogue and get to know each other.”
A successful AB relationship is a two-way street, so you should both be equally participating by connecting regularly, being reliable and giving honest feedback when it’s needed. If one person is not putting in the same amount of effort, then the AB method won’t work.