Accountability: Taking Responsibility for Success and Failure
Accountability is holding yourself responsible for your actions, regardless of whether you succeed or fail. This can be problematic for solo business owners, because we are responsible for all facets of our business. We need to fully embrace our successes and not credit luck. We also need to fully accept our failures and take responsibility for what we could have done better.
In my experience, people vary widely in their level of responsibility. In my case, I tend to take responsibility for things for which I have no control. For instance, I was involved in a car accident in 2010 that herniated all of the discs in my neck. Although the accident was not my fault, it caused enough pain that I had to shut down my quilting business. The closure of my business made me feel like a failure. I blamed myself for not doing enough to save my business, despite my physical limitations.
On the other hand, I’ve met business owners who falsely blamed external factors – including poor clients, a bad economy, or shoddy workmanship – for business decisions that were caused by their disorganization or inattention. These business owners would do well to re-think their personal responsibility.
Solopreneurs lack accountability
Unlike other business organizations, the solo business model does not include accountability. There is no boss, supervisor or manager to critique our work. There is no board of directors to review or approve our decisions. Unless we have a bank loan, there is nobody monitoring our financials.
To be successful, solopreneurs need to build accountability into our business. In this article, I’ll share some of the ways that I’ve created accountability during my 25 years as a solo business owner.
There is no shame in needing accountability
In 2019, Weight Watchers reported they had 4.6 million members worldwide. (Source) My guess is that most of these members already owned a bathroom scale and knew how to eat healthy meals. So what were the members paying for? Mostly it was accountability. Losing weight, which is hard and not particularly fun, is a great example of using accountability to our benefit.
Accountability will benefit your business if there are areas that you have been avoiding. In my experience, these tasks include creating content, reconciling finances, and updating websites. If you aren’t making the progress you would like, consider adding accountability to these areas of your business.
Start by creating goals and deadlines
The first step in accountability is defining your goals. These goals can be based on your effort (I will spend 30 minutes today marketing on LinkedIn) or the results (I will acquire 3 new clients today using LinkedIn). Make sure your goals are reasonable, achievable, and have enough time for success.
Record these goals in a planning system that works for you. You can use a low-tech method such as a paper notebook. You can use a Google document or project management system. Or you can use one of the many goal achievement apps that are available. (I’m still old school like writing my goals on paper. Choose whatever works for you.)
How to create accountability in your solo business
Here are 15 ways that you can create accountability in your solo business.
Reward yourself. Once you meet your goal, reward yourself appropriately. Allow yourself to watch a favorite TV show, read for 30 minutes, play a video game, have a hot bath, or take a nap. You could reward yourself with chocolate, a lottery ticket, or a beverage from Starbucks. Bigger rewards might include a manicure, massage or mini vacation.
2. Punish yourself. There are many options if you don’t complete the task. Make yourself perform a chore that you detest doing, such as washing windows or cleaning the fireplace. You can also donate to a cause that you find repulsive. Another option is to give away something painful (for example, giving 5 books to charity).
3. Commit to public humiliation. Choose a punishment that is publicly humiliating and tell people what is happening. For me, this would be singing karaoke or wearing a bathing suit in public. Allow your audience to celebrate if you meet your goal – or to view the consequences.
4. Find a buddy. Find one-to-one support and accountability. This might be a friend, family member, or another business owner. You can also find a coach, join a mastermind, or find a meetup. You can participate in an online Facebook or LinkedIn groups. The Small Business Development Center has highly trained counselors (who are free) that you can meet with regularly.
5. Share with your tribe. This works really well if you have an interested community. Publicly share your goals at the beginning of the year (or each quarter). After the appropriate period of time has lapsed, share what actually happened. Did you do better or worse than expected? Did you make any changes to your goals? What did you learn? Not only does this method build in accountability, it also creates a lot of trust as you “pull back the curtain” of your business.
6. Make a To Do list. Start with your long-term goals, broken down by quarter, month, week and day. These should be doable and realistic. “Write a book” is a great long-term goal that can be broken down into smaller weekly goals, such as writing one chapter per week. I personally find just the idea of crossing something off a list to be super motivating.
7. Honor your deadlines. The Solopreneur Academy has four live events a month that are at specific times. All of these events have deadlines that I prepare for and do not miss. In addition, blogs are always posted on Monday. Solopreneur Academy newsletters are completed by Monday at 5:00 PM and delivered on Tuesday at 8:00 AM. If you stop honoring your deadlines, it is very easy for them to slip and slip again. For instance, missing a weekly newsletter is not a big deal. However it makes it easier to miss the next one, and the following one, and eventually you realize that you haven’t sent a newsletter in eight months.
8. Eat the Frog. This strategy is from Brian Tracy’s book — Eat the Frog: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time — that was originally published in 2001. He acknowledges that nobody wants to eat a frog. However if you’re going to do it, Brian Tracy suggests that you choose the hardest, ugliest, most difficult task first and get it out of the way. Develop the philosophy of getting the hardest work out of the way first.
9. Make a commitment that quickstarts your goals. If need to clean your house, invite your mother-in-law to dinner. If you want to finish your taxes, make an appointment with your CPA. If you want to prepare a webinar, advertise the date. This adds urgency to your goals and makes sure they will happen.
10. Pretend you’re an employee. What would happen if you had a performance review? Are you working as hard for yourself as you would for a boss? How would your boss react if they found out you hadn’t balanced your bank book for six months or were neglecting to backup your computer? Remind yourself that you be working as diligently for your own business as you would for someone else’s.
11. Make achieving your goals easy. One of my goals is to do more quilting. However it’s much less likely to happen if my cutting table is covered in filing, I’m not sure what I want to work on, I’m out of sewing needles, and my iron is broken. Those issues make my quilting goal seem insurmountable. Make sure that you have everything needed to achieve your goals.
12. Schedule a Get It Done Day. I’ve used these personally, in addition to with members of the Solopreneur Academy. Choose a project – bookkeeping, content writing, office cleanup – and set aside several hours for uninterrupted work. You can do this by yourself or with a friend. I like to meet up via Zoom (an online conferencing platform) and then leave the meeting open in the background. Knowing that someone else is also working on their project makes it more effective.
13. Use timers and alarms. Instead of working when you feel like it (and stopping when you don’t), learn to work using a timer. You can start with the Pomodoro Technique, which recommends working in 25-minute segments and then taking a 5-minute break. Personally I like to work for 45 minutes, then take a 15-minute break, and start again at the top of the hour. Figure out what works for you. When you get used to this pattern, it makes it much easier to get work done and stay focused on each project.
14. Identify and overcome obstacles. One of the reasons we postpone tasks is due to obstacles such as time and knowledge. If you don’t have time, do some problem solving – hire a babysitter, spend the day away from distractions, or hire a professional. Another obstacle might be lack of training. Figure out how to fix this knowledge gap through training or online courses (such as Udemy.com).
15. Find an app. There are many productivity and habit tracking apps. These can make habit tracking easy and fun. For instance, in Plant Nanny, a plant gets more healthy each time you record drinking 8 ounces of water on your phone. This process is reinforcing and can make accountability fun. Here are some recommendations for habit tracking apps.
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