5 Reasons Every Freelancer Needs An Accountability Group

A few months ago, I fell into one of those ruts that every freelancer eventually lands in. You know the one. Business is okay–it’s neither up nor down. Your clients seem to dictate your schedule and “tyranny of the urgent” feels like your new business motto.

These phases of your career are deceiving. As you sit there in your underwear putting out client fires, you think to yourself: “I’m busy, so what’s there to complain about? Plus, I’m working in my underwear.” Yet, deep down, something feels amiss. You’re slogging along–and you know it.

I knew something had to change. I also realized I couldn’t do it on my own, so I recruited the help of another freelancer and we started meeting every Monday morning to set goals, provide encouragement, and hold one another accountable. Our group has now grown to three and I’m convinced every freelancer needs a group like this. It was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself and my business.


What Is An Accountability Group?

Before we explore why you need an accountability group, I want to clarify what an accountability group is and is not.

  • An accountability group is structured–This is not a meetup. It’s not open for anyone to attend. Our group is invite-only and has a set of guidelines we all agree to.
  • An accountability group is selective–We want only the best in our group. This is not mentoring. This is peers pushing each other to grow.
  • An accountability group is honest–Honesty is critical to the success of the group. We don’t let each other slide and provide half-hearted excuses. We also don’t toss needless niceties at each other when what we need is real feedback. We tell it like it is.
  • An accountability group is trusted- – Nothing is shared beyond the group. Period. We reveal things about our businesses to get help. Sometimes this is sensitive. Hence the aforementioned selectiveness.
  • An accountability group is committed–This isn’t an “if I feel like it” meeting. This is a come-hell-or-high-water meeting. Start slacking off and you’re out.

Realize that an accountability group should be hardcore and made up of people who are serious about success. Now, let’s take a look at five reasons every freelancer needs a butt-kicking accountability group.

Reason #1 – It’s Incredibly Fun

Right about now, you’re wondering if I’m bipolar. Serious is fun? What?

Absolutely! Because success is fun. When you start seeing the positive impact that a group like this has on your life and career, it’s exciting. I look forward to these meetings and I always walk away energized and focused to start the new week.

Having a group of people who are serious about success is an often-overlooked joy in life until you no longer have it. I love working from home due to the flexibility it provides me. But, let’s be honest, the hum of a refrigerator and laptop hard drive are poor substitutes for office friendships and human interaction.

Ask any member of our group and we’ll tell you that some of our best ideas have come from, and been developed, in these meetings. And, it’s been the accountability that’s given us the needed discipline to execute on them.

Reason #2 – It’s Challenging

When you work in the world of pajamas and teleconferences, it’s easy to let yourself slide. Not having someone to report to is both a blessing and a curse. Remember when you first went out on your own and swore to yourself that you would keep the same schedule you did at your “office job”? How’s that working out for you?

Accountability is a healthy way to challenge yourself. If you’re surrounded by people who are pushing you, you’ll find it impossible not to feel motivated. When you sit down each Monday to review your goals from the previous week, you’ll realize that it’s uncomfortable (in a good way) when you have to admit to others you slacked-off. That alone can keep you focused.

Reason #3 – It’s Encouraging

It’s no secret that the majority of your friends and family have no idea what it is you do. Many think freelancing is a nice way of saying “unemployed” and is the first step on a path that will have you selling drugs in the alleys.

Working from home tends to put you in your own little bubble. It’s easy to forget there are others out there who are experiencing the same highs and lows that you are. Having a routine meeting where you give yourself the freedom to share your stories from the battlefield can help you stay encouraged and motivated.

You’ll find that others in your group have gone through similar experiences and can provide valuable insight to help you move through a rough patch more quickly. Additionally, we often can’t see the forest through the trees in our own business. Gaining an outsider’s perspective on our opportunities and obstacles can provide much-needed clarity in situations.

Reason #4 – It Will Grow Your Business

You’ve heard the old axiom that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Well the same is true for your group. If you can find freelancers who are in complimentary fields and explore ways to partner on projects, you now have the potential to grow your client base overnight–as do the others in your group.

Our group will refer clients to each other, speak on panels together, make introductions, and find ways to help each other succeed. Members in the group often partner on projects while still maintaining their autonomy. Joint ventures are underutilized by freelancers as a way to grow their business. Freelancers tend to view other freelancers as competition rather than finding ways to work together and compliment each other’s skills.

Reason #5 – You’ll Learn to Work on Your Business

Your “tyranny of the urgent” motto? That comes by not setting proper goals and boundaries for yourself. You let others set your priorities and your days quickly spiral out of control. An accountability group can help you fight this trend by ensuring you set and achieve goals that take your business to the next level.

Working on your business– not just in it–is vital if you desire a healthy business that grows. Too many freelancers limp along, barely surviving because they focus too narrowly on tasks and not enough on goals. Your group won’t let this happen.

Share Your Experiences and Thoughts

Do you have an accountability group? Do you think you could benefit from one? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts below!

Comments

  1. says

    Wow, this is one of the best articles I’ve read! I do not have an accountability group but I now know that I should and that it’s important.

    I’m glad that you separated out what an accountability group is. It’s more than a social get together. It’s a group for like-minded freelancers to come and encourage each other and keep us accountable.

    This will definitely be going in my delicious folder!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    @Jan – Thank you so much! I highly recommend an accountability group – it truly has been an incredible experience. If you have any questions about how to get one organized, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’m in the process of creating a “How To” post with tips and tricks for success.

    Cheers,
    Travis Robertson

  3. says

    Your so right about reporting to someone, the accountability is motivating. I sometimes miss having people to bounce ideas off of. Then all the times I make mistakes I feel if only someone had given me their point of view. I would have saved money, time and embarrassments.

    It’s hard to start a business alone and lonely at the top oh and in the middle and at the bottom. Thanks for the advise.
    Gloria

  4. says

    @Gloria – Thank you!

    You are spot on about saving money and time with my group. I can’t tell you how many times I was headed down a path only to have one of them suggest an alternative that resulted in saved money and time. Often, it’s not just saved money, but an increase in revenue that results.

    I also think you make an excellent point. It can be very lonely starting a business and I think it’s one of those hidden traps that nobody talks about much. An accountability group really does help to combat the loneliness and the despair we often feel. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “Nobody understands what I’m going through.” But that couldn’t have been any further from the truth.

    Let me know if you have any questions about how to get one launched!

    -Travis

  5. says

    A “How to” post on how to set up an accountability group would be great. Look forward to reading it!

    I went to a 2-hour workshop the other day where we (we were all freelancers) had to start thinking about what our goals were and what steps we’d need to undertake to achieve them. It was suggested that we buddied up with someone to ensure we kept our goals front of mind but I think a group is a much better idea. It’s all too, easy, as you say to focus on tasks and not the bigger picture when you’re freelance.

  6. says

    @Sponsi – Do it! You’ll love it – I promise.

    I’m working on a “How To” post that will give tips and tricks so if you have any specific questions you want answered, leave them here in the comments and I’ll make sure to address them in the post.

    -Travis

  7. says

    @Freelance FactFile – You hit on something that’s so critical – proper goal setting. It took us about 4-5 weeks to figure out that we were doing it wrong. We were simply listing tasks out for ourselves (that we had to do anyway) instead of looking at what really needed to be done to grow our businesses.

    In fact, when I sent my group this post to proofread before I submitted it, they all said I should have put more on goal setting in it. I assured them I would address it in my next post. :)

    Thanks!
    Travis

  8. says

    @Dave – You’re right. Most freelancers are extremely self-motivated. That’s usually not the problem. The real question is “Are we working on the right stuff?” That’s where an accountability group can be extremely valuable.

    -Travis

  9. says

    This is quite a smart idea, but it is actually rather common among small business owners and serial entrepreneurs. Generally these types of groups are called “mastermind groups.”

    And as this article states, they do work quite well. Being a freelancer is very similar to being an entrepreneur, and so sharing thoughts and ideas with like-minded individuals is a great way to get things rolling in a different, smarter direction.

    It’s like when you work in a company, you will most likely not be the only designer. I have often found having a fresh mind to bounce my design work off of can make it much stronger.

  10. says

    This is a fantastic post. I know first-hand the power of an accountability group – I been doing this over the phone with a friend once a week and we have both achieved so much more this year than we would have alone!

    I’m so in love with this idea that I have started offering it as one of my services for my clients – everyone who has signed up now swears by it as a way to achieve the seemingly impossible.

    Everyone needs an accountability group!

  11. says

    @Chris – You’re right. It is quite common among entrepreneurs and small business owners. I’ve noticed, though, that it’s different with freelancers. I wonder if it has something to do with the different objectives: entrepreneurs often want to build a company with multiple people so they’re more inclined to find groups to join whereas freelancers are generally more interested in being “self-employed” and just assume they have to “get used to being alone.” I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

    @Elinor – That’s fantastic! I love hearing stories like yours! You raise an excellent point: these types of groups don’t necessarily have to be in-person meetings. While ours is and we all prefer that method, you could do a Skype meeting or conference call using a service like FreeConferenceCall.com. Virtual meetings will have some different challenges and it may take a little longer for the “comfort” level to grow. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a viable option.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments!

    -Travis

  12. says

    @Travis

    You’re right about freelancers tending to go it alone, but there are a number of communities springing up or that are relatively new (Dribblr, Forrst, Codesnippr, etc.). These communities show that there is still a greater need for socialization among peers as well as affirmation (I think the latter being the greater desire of most people).

    While clearly, these sorts of sites can’t provide all the benefits of a mastermind/accountability group they certainly do provide a lot in so far as making the design community feel united. For instance, I would never, ever reveal a screenshot of my business plan on Dribblr, heh.

    My mind is pretty scattered right now so I’ll shut my face, but I do believe accountability/mastermind groups should be used and promulgated throughout the community as they are highly effective tools for focusing one’s business.

  13. says

    @Chris – Thanks for sharing. Great point about the communities springing up that are intended to give people who are part of a community (such as coders/designers) a place to share and inspire one another (as well as receive affirmation). :)

    It just goes to show that we need community and interaction. And I agree that accountability/mastermind groups should be one of the tools we use to grow.

    Many thanks!
    Travis

  14. Maynard says

    Accountability groups (authentic community) is a basic human need. Accountability groups beget authenticity, which leads to true community. Therefore not just freelancers, but everyone needs an accountability group!

  15. TLC says

    While I heartily agree that support is necessary, this creepily reminds me of my not-so-greet experiences in evangelical churches that were big on accountability. Very often these groups became excuses for judgment and emotional abuse.

    I am glad this has worked for you and others. But due to past experience it is NOT for me. And if you could feel the anxiety and anger rising as I write this, you’d understand.

  16. says

    I’m actually looking for a group of like-minded people with whom I can hang around and call them as you said above. In fact, I don’t find any in my place of living. I like to know if we can form as a group and discuss many things and help each other in our tasks.

    Thanks for the wonderful post, Travis!

  17. says

    Wow Travis! You are spot on! You are tottaly right saying that joint ventures are underutilized by freelancers as a way to grow their business.

    I’m about to establish myself as a proper freelancer very soon and setting up my accountability group is one of my priorities.

    Awesome article. Best regards.

  18. says

    @TLC – Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience with a church group. I’ve been in a few bad ones myself. I would encourage you to not throw the baby out with the bath water though. Like anything else in life, there are healthy boundaries to set and we make sure not to cross them.

    @Solomon – I’ve seen some people talking on Twitter about trying to organize some virtual groups. If you can’t find anyone where you live, you could try joining a virtual group or starting one of your own.

    @Emil – Thank you so much! I wish I had one out of the gate like you will. It would have saved me a lot of heartache (and money). Good call and good luck on launching! Email me if I can help you with anything.

    -Travis

  19. says

    I’m currently “shopping” these groups. There are many in my little town. I’m trying to decide between a Metro “chamber” or one the the new community chambers. I acknowledge the need for a kick in the butt.

  20. says

    “Having a group of people who are serious about success is an often-overlooked joy in life until you no longer have it.”

    Excellent point. Looking forward to your next post elaborating on how we can get started effectively. Thanks Travis.

  21. says

    @ J – We all need that kick in the butt. If I were you, I would also look for something a little smaller than a chamber type of group. There’s nothing wrong with those groups and I think they can be valuable resources in your growth. However, they won’t be able to provide the type of accountability I’m referring to. Now, they could be a great place to meet others with whom you can form a group.

    @ Kevin – Thanks! I’m working on it right now. It’s a bit larger of a post since there’s so much to cover. Trying to edit it down a bit. :)

  22. says

    I can’t wait for your “how-to” article! I don’t know many freelancers in my area, and I’m not sure how to go about finding them. I am a member of the local Chamber and other networking groups, but I would love to be in a group of freelancers. We are a different breed, and I wish I knew some who I could bounce ideas off of.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing something right, and I’m not sure why, but I have no one to ask or talk to about it.

    THANKS!

  23. says

    Whether it constitutes an a-team within the context of this article or not, having a reliable pool of people to whom one can outsource and delegate tasks for bigger projects is something a lot of successful freelancers do. Therefore, I feel both pressured and motivated to consider doing so myself. I’m not entirely introverted, but I do love working alone. It’s one of the reasons why I became a freelancer. I like working on the design, the front-end, and the back-end. I think it’s possible to be all three, contrary to what many think, but it’s not easy when everything rides on your shoulders. Telling a client you can’t offer feature X with Y because of time, cost, or your specialties really blows. Most all freelancers I know, especially front-end developers, who make good money and always get done on time…all do so because they outsource stuff they cannot or won’t do.

  24. says

    I have recently started an accountability group with a few fellow Realtors within my brokerage. The idea came to me through an in house training program that I went to for 6 weeks. In the training program we shared our plans, goals and experiences daily. By the end of the meeting I felt motivated and through out the 6 weeks of the program I was extremely productive and SUCCESSFUL. This gave me the idea to begin a group of my own. Being self employed it is so easy to lose track and forget the important things that need to be done. So my accountability group was born. We have just started it. So I was researching ideas and came across this article. I am excited to share it with the members of my group. This is exactly what my intention is with the group as I strongly believe supporting each other is one of the most important ingredients in the receipe for success.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    Rachael

  25. says

    I didn’t hear about an accountability group until I read your post, Travis. It sounds like something I kind have have amongst other Realtors in my office. Sure, we’re all working for ourselves, but we’re still there for each other as a team.

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  27. says

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  28. says

    I agreed. Technology grows fast. It is impossible to know everything that is currently happening. We definitely need somebody to help us and keep us on track. Accountability Group is a great source for that.

    Even the Lone Ranger has Tonto. Great article.

  29. says

    I met a wonderful friend at my first wholesale trade show and although she is in Canada and I am in Florida we are so like minded and have businesses that intertwine nicely so we can help support each other. She found this website and it has completely motivated me to do the accountability group with her and whomever we encounter in our learning that is a good fit :) I’m SUPER excited right now! I’ve owned a retail store for over 3 years now and am starting to wholesale my products…I greatly believe this is going to be a big help!! Thanks for the input!!

  30. says

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