How being part of an accountability group can improve your business

Hands next to each other signalling support on the trunk of a tree

About a year ago, I set up an accountability group of fellow editors. I wanted some support with setting marketing goals and putting them into action. Normally a confident self-starter, it was something I was struggling to do working alone and stuck at home.

What does this have to do with editing and writing and why should you even care about it, you ask? If you would indulge me over your coffee break, I will explain.

A year we want to forget

At the height of the pandemic, last summer was not a fun time for anyone. Where I live in Georgia, USA, we were out of lockdown, but I was being extra cautious with how often I left the house and how I interacted with others. After all, we didn’t know much about the virus, there were no known treatments, and the media was full of scaremongering.

I cancelled my co-working space subscription and set myself up with a new home office. All cafés were drive-through only, and it was getting too hot to be outside.

As an extrovert, I found it particularly difficult some days to motivate myself to get anything done, and I missed interacting with others. While I knew freelance life would be different compared to working in an office, cafés and co-working spaces had given me the interaction I needed. I even began making connections with others which could potentially lead to new work.

I lost four regular work contracts in 2020, all related to the pandemic. Times were getting tough, and I needed to get back out there and market myself.

The motivation factor

As many of you know, I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). In fact, it was a CIEP blog post about accountability groups that introduced me to the whole idea. Within that, I am also a member of the Cloud Club, the ‘local group’ for those scattered around the globe, or far from any other group holding regular in-person meetings. With the pandemic, we soon moved our monthly meetings to weekly ones, which helped immensely.

I still struggled to get going, though, when it came to marketing. So I put out a call to my fellow Cloud Club members to see if anyone wanted to set up an accountability group.

If you do not know what an accountability group is, it is a group of people who get together and hold each other accountable to things they say they will do. This could be anything at all; there are no rules, other than those you make up in your group. In my case, the focus was on marketing and training – the two areas where I felt I could make the biggest changes, and the ones that would help me with replacing those lost contracts and move my business forward.

The Happy Editors Club

Five other editors said they were interested (and one more joined a few months later). And just like that, what we now call the Happy Editors Club* was born.

It just so happens that we are all women. We are spread across three continents. We are at different points in our careers and with a variety of experience. We serve different clients and different genres – some edit fiction, others work in non-fiction, a couple do both. Some of us have made the switch from another career while others are career editors.

Yet we were all interested in marketing ourselves more (or better) and developing our skills through further training. With those goals in common, it did not matter where we lived or who are clients were. In fact, it has turned out to be beneficial!

Setting things up and getting going

We are all busy professionals, so we chose Slack as our means of communication and Zoom as our meeting platform. We set ourselves some loose parameters, knowing that we could discuss and change things at any time. None of us had done this before, so we were open to anything and everything.

We started off with fortnightly meetings, thinking we could change them if necessary. Each of us would fill out our accountability sheet in advance of each meeting, noting what we aimed to achieve and ticking things off as we completed them. I remember leading our first meeting, setting out what I had in mind for the group and opening it up to what others thought. We did the rounds, saying a little about ourselves.

It was the only meeting we ever had that was formal. We have tried having an agenda, or picking a topic to talk about, but we have never stuck to it. Our meetings have become the place where we catch up. Almost like a kitchen catch-up or casual meeting during a lunch break.

Turns out that we use Slack as the quickest and easiest way of solving queries or problems we have. From time to time we may need a place to let off steam; a safe space where we will not be judged, a space with like-minded professionals who know what we may be going through.

Our meetings are for checking in with each other. Talking through any problem, professional or personal. Celebrating our wins and commiserating our losses. More often than not, we don’t even talk about work!

How it has changed the way I work

A year on, I realise just how much the Happy Editors Club has changed my business, my mindset and how I work.

  • I have more confidence, especially after the events of 2020.
  • I am a better editor.
  • I have the motivation (not to mention the confidence) to put myself out there with my marketing.
  • I have six editors I know and trust to guide me when I need help.
  • I found new and better clients – some as a result of referrals from this remarkable group of editors.

Quite simply, I am a better person, a better business owner, and much better editor.

Would an accountability group be right for you?

As I said earlier, an accountability group is what you make it. If you work alone and struggle to get motivated or need that push to get going, it may work for you too. My advice on what to look out for when setting one up? Here goes:

  • People who are in the same, or similar, line of work. While we are all editors, some of us double up as writers and translators as well.
  • A similar level of experience. It should be a group of equals, not one where one or two people are acting as advisors – that would be a mastermind, not an accountability, group.
  • A variety of other skills. We all have our strengths, and they can be very effective in helping group members learn, develop and grow.
  • A friendly environment. No one person should be consistently hogging the limelight or needing a shoulder to cry on.
  • A safe space. It is not a competition, it is a support group.

I was wary of joining initially as I thought it would mean extra work (meetings, writing/updating accountability sheets) when I already felt overwhelmed and lacked confidence, but it has taken the pressure off as I can ask about something that is bothering me and get an immediate response, rather than spending hours on my own googling and trying to fathom something out.

Michelle Ward, Brook Language Services

I’ll never work alone again

I may be alone in my home office most days. (Well, I do have the dog for company, but she doesn’t say much.) If any one of us is struggling to focus, we jump on a Zoom call. Cameras on, microphones off, we get to work, and before you know it, an hour has gone by and we have got a whole lot of work done.

I used to love being part of a team when I worked in an office. That camaraderie with people you have worked with for years. The colleagues with whom you can bounce around ideas and problems, knowing that together you will be able to work through any issues.

That was the one thing I missed when I went freelance. And the one thing I found when I set up the Happy Editors Club.

 

* Initially we called ourselves, rather unimaginatively, the Accountability Group. We realised it was more than that when Michelle’s partner commented that our calls were the only Zoom meetings she had where she was happy – her happy Zoom call. And so we became the Happy Editors Club.

 

If you are considering setting up an accountability group or want to know more about them and how they can benefit your business, just ask. I may not have all the answers, but I can always open it up to the Happy Editors Club and see if they do!

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Christina Petrides is a writer and editor who works with small businesses and academics, helping develop and create copy and content and editing documents for publication. She works across most industries, and has a particular love for the environmental and travel sectors. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and Full Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES). Connect with her on LinkedIn or sign up for the Last Glance monthly newsletter

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