Shortly after I started in the holy pursuit of advice-giving, I was lucky enough to meet a man, Jeff, who had been out on his own for some time. He offered to provide some consulting tips over coffee.
I arrived a bit early to find my friend in conference with another man. Both studied a pair of manila folders on the table in front of them. At the conclusion of their meeting, the two men agreed on a couple of next steps, noted these in their folders and shook hands.
I watched the man depart and said, "Client?" My friend laughed and simply said, "Partner."
But I thought he worked alone? Well, I soon learned this was not a business partner in the usual sense. It was an accountability partner. Jeff ascribed much of his considerable success as a consultant to this arrangement.
I had never heard of an accountability partner. How does it work?
It is a reciprocal arrangement, rooted in mutual respect and a desire to help each other. In the arrangement I learned about, there was only one rule.
In talking to your partner, treat the daily enterprise as a business. Never excuse lack of results because you are a solo, freelancer or without resources. You've started a business. Act like it.
This was a revelation to me, precisely because I had the opposite mindset. I was just a powerless freelancer, I thought, and I would be satisfied eking out a modest living. I was also living in a state of impoverished anxiety. But here was a guy, with the same qualifications as me, who was unlike me in that he stood tall with confidence in the future.
And he was generous with his success. He told me to simply honor my intention to be in business with the appropriate mental model.
But what about the accountability partnership? How does that work?
Here's what my friend counseled:
First, be a listener. This wasn't about giving advice. It was about asking the partner to set solid goals and then choose an avenue for getting there.
No "you shoulds" or "you oughtas" or "My brother-in-law could really..." Just listen and provide feedback.
Second, when thinking about your business, ask questions the way a business would. Like, what will your revenue be? What is your value proposition to customers? What about pricing and competitors?
At the end of this process, set a few goals. Like, revenue or number of clients, or target market.
Remember, these are not figures you pick at random. The goals must be researched and well-reasoned precisely because they are not a promise to anyone else but you. Don't make up foolish goals--you are only person you'd be cheating.
Third, determine your activity. Look, a revenue goal is nice, but we don't control revenue. We control what we can do every day. Make sales calls, write proposals, hit the bricks. Simply, do the work.
How much of the work are you doing? Nine-to-five? Or enough to make the promise you made to your self come true?
The strange psychology behind this is that we can always make promises to ourselves. We can always make plans. We can always do the work.
But we don't.
Not unless, it turns out, we report to a person we respect.
It is odd, isn't it, that we don't apparently respect ourselves enough to do it alone?
But the fact is that external authority, that person who will look you in the eye when you give a weak excuse, will make the difference. They may just say one skeptical word ("Really?" ) for your rationalizations to come before the hard truth.
In the so-called gig economy, there are many of us who work for ourselves. And it's a hard truth that those who work best for themselves find time to report to others.