I was at a doctor’s appointment once when an intern asked what I did for a living. When I mentioned that I own my own business, he simply replied, “You’ve got it made.” After a short pause, I asked him to explain what he meant. “You make a ton of money and get to do whatever you want,” he said. This time the pause was a bit longer.
To those outside the entrepreneurial world, owning a business is associated with glory—money, flexibility, freedom, power. With great power, however, always comes great responsibility. And I don’t know about you, but for me, the responsibility is usually the only thing I can see. We are responsible for putting food not only on our own family’s plates, but also on the plates of each and every coworker’s family’s plates. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, mortgages to pay and kids to clothe.
One way to lessen the weight of that responsibility is to set up systems for accountability. Entrepreneurs who own their business wholly, without partners, look at those of us with partners with a bit of a jealous eye when it comes to accountability. We have more than one person responsible and more than one person driving the business forward. This can be a very dangerous thing, however, when it comes to accountability. You may think your partner is taking care of something, and he may think you’re taking care of it. It’s easier to shift the blame and responsibilities when there is more than one person, making accountability even more important.
The question becomes, how do you keep your partner accountable? Lucky for me, I’ve got a partner who can help me try to get to the bottom of it.
There’s never enough time in the day to work in the business and on the business. How do you find time to do both of those and hold your partner accountable?
- Jamie. Time is precious. As partners and owners, we (Erin more than I) are consistently checking in on employees, but who is checking in on us? We are absolutely accountable to our employees, but we are accountable to each other as well, so making the time for check-ins is of the utmost Even though Erin and I focus on different areas of business, much of what we do eventually melds together. If we don’t know what is on each other’s plates or what’s being moved forward, then we make assumptions. For example: I am accountable for sales, and Erin is responsible for financials. In my world, I might not have time to work on a 2017 sales plan while I am busy writing proposals (more important to me to work in the business). However, Erin is working on the financial plan and assumes I have done the numbers when I haven’t. By having even a 15-minute accountability check-in meeting, we know what’s happening in each other’s world and understand the effect of not doing something.
- Erin. Amen to that. There is never enough time for anything! I think the key for us, when it comes to making time, is that we treat each other as employees rather than partners. We all know how important it is to lead our employees and spend time with them. We are no different. We schedule time with each other just like we do with our other team members. This allows us to check in with each other and make sure we’re driving our part of the business forward.
Being friends outside of work can’t make holding each other accountable easy. How do you handle disagreements or negative situations?
- Jamie. I prefer to call disagreements “creative friction.” At the end of the day, both Erin and I want what is best for the business and our team—we just might see it from two different points of view. In many relationships, this creative friction might become a power struggle, but not for us. Even though we both want to “win,” we trust and respect each other enough to hear out the other’s perspectives. After each side is presented, then it is ultimately up to Erin as the CEO to make the final decision. Sometimes she goes my route, sometimes it’s a hybrid of thoughts and other times it’s her route. The key thing is that once the decision is made, we present a unified front and fully support each other. I’ve always been told “the worst decision is indecision,” and Erin’s ultimate accountability as CEO is to make a decision, which is not always easy.
- Erin. I actually think that being friends makes it easier to hold each other accountable. True friends (and partners) want to make each other better. And you can’t do that if you beat around the bush or you don’t challenge each other. A business partnership is no different than a romantic relationship or a friendship. I know that when Jamie challenges me, she’s not attacking my character or saying I’m not capable of doing my job. She’s doing it to make sure our business succeeds and to make sure we achieve our vision for the business. As long as we both remember that, there may be disagreements, but there won’t be negative situations.
There’s no way you’ve always been successful at this. What’s one thing that has failed?
- Jamie. Making time—it’s so easy for day-to-day business to get in the way. At the end of the day, you are tired and want to go home. However, many times, the end of the day is the perfect time to have a quick huddle with your accountability partner. It gives you renewed energy, helps you sleep better at night and sets you up for success the next day.
- Erin. My advice to question 1 above, how to make time, comes from wisdom from failure. When we first started, we had a lot of time to talk to each other. We met every Thursday morning at Starbucks to just chat. And as we started to grow, those meetings stopped happening. And we realized we were putting each other alone on an island. We weren’t giving each other the support and help we needed because we weren’t communicating. We were simply expecting the other person to get their job done and expecting them to be able to do it on their own. And because of that, our growth was stunted a bit.
Now that we know what not to do, if you had to give just one piece of advice on the subject, what would it be?
- Jamie. Divide areas of accountability. When we first started out in business, we were small, and both of us worked on everything. The upside—we both had a full understanding of all areas of the business. The downside—we were both spending valuable time on the same things, or sometimes neither of us were working on key initiatives, as we assumed the other person was taking care of it. Upon realizing this, we divided up key areas of responsibility. Erin is in charge of overall business vision, employee development, financials and project management (very fitting of her type A personality!). I am responsible for sales, client strategy, creative process and ongoing marketing education (fitting of my social personality). We and other employees all have a clear understanding of what each business partner is accountable for. This has allowed us to divide, conquer and grow!
- Erin. Schedule time. Have regular meetings to work on the business. Have regular meetings over coffee. There is so much to do in each and every day that if you don’t make it a regularly scheduled part of your routine, it’ll be the first thing that doesn’t get done. And there is nothing more important when it comes to holding each other accountable than communication. Get time on the books to ensure you make time for each other.