Two years ago entrepreneur Nika Stewart of Freehold, N.J. set a goal for herself: double the sales of her business, Laptop Mom, an information-product consulting firm. She had set lofty goals before, but hadn't achieved the kind of success she wanted.This time one thing was different: she had an accountability partner who was watching over her.
An accountability partner is a business peer who helps you grow your company by offering guidance and by holding you to your commitments. While it's similar to a mentor relationship, both partners work on bettering their businesses with the feedback and support of each other.
"Through her input, challenges and encouragement, I ended up taking asmall piece of my old business and turning it into new business -- Ghost Tweeting, a social media service for small businesses," she says. "Within four months, I was earning multiple six figures -- quadrupling my income."
Linda Galindo, author of The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success (Jossey-Bass, 2009), says accountability partners are an entrepreneur's secret weapon for quick growth. "Working with a partner prevents the ready-fire-aim approach that a lot of entrepreneurs use,"she says.
While being nimble is a small-business owner's advantage,important decisions, such as launching a new service or product, are best made by vetting ideas and thinking things through. An accountability partner can help you identify weaknesses in your business, make plans to overcome them and hold you accountable for action.
Galindo says finding the right partner is the key to your success. She offers four tips for finding a good match and making the most of the relationship:
1. Look outside of your industry.
Galindo suggests choosing a businessperson who lives in your community -- in-person meetings can strengthen your relationship. Look for potential partners at events such as Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club meetings, or through networking groups. It can be helpful to find someone outside your field because they will provide fresh thoughts about your industry.
Stewart found her accountability partner through Savor the Success, a New York-based group for women entrepreneurs.
2. Choose someone who will be (brutally) honest with you.
The most important quality in an accountability partner is that they're straightforward, says Galindo. "You're not looking for someone who will rescue, fix or save you," she says. "You want someone who will hold you accountable."
It's also important to know your strengths and weaknesses when entering an accountability partnership. "You're looking for someone who has the qualities you lack,"Galindo says.
A partnership means you’ll be giving back. Identify your strengths that might be helpful to your partner, and make sure you’re willing to provide constructive feedback even when it's uncomfortable to share.
3. Be clear about your expectations.
Before you get started, be clear about parameters. There are times you want input and times you just need someone to listen; spell this out in the beginning.To ensure your arrangement is mutually beneficial, allot an equal amount of time to spend brainstorming and discussing each partner’s business. Decide how often you will connect and whether it will be in person, over the phone or by email. Plan how many projects and commitments you're willing to discuss at a time. And be clear that whether or not you take your partner’s advice, each person is 100% responsiblefor their choices.
Stewart and her partner each set one goal for the year and broke it down into weekly steps. They kept in touch via email and phone three times a week: once to set a goal for the week, another time to check in and a final time to report on their results.
4. Agree on consequences.
Finally, Galindo says accountability partners need to hold each other to consequences if commitments go uncompleted.Whether there is a financial risk -- you owe me $500 if you don't complete your goal, for example -- or simply having to admit that you fell short, consequences keep you motivated and engaged, says Galindo.
"It helps if you have an accountability partner who is a go-getter because you hold yourself to a new standard," says Stewart. "I didn't want to disappoint her."
"We all can find a million excuses to not do what you say you're going to do," says Galindo. "An accountability partner keeps you on track and helps you move your business forward."