Whenever I tell the story about the moment that I realized I could grow and sustain myself by running my own event agency, I always talk about a little email I sent in January of 2015 to 10 women who I knew somewhat loosely.
I hope you all are doing so, so well and had wonderful holiday seasons.
I've mentioned this to a few of you, but a HUGE thing on my business project list is to have a real live group of entrepreneurial women in this little town of Bozeman that I can rely on, and in turn, who can rely on me. To come together to celebrate the HUGE, enormous wins. To feel safe and supported when you want to talk about the struggle (because when being a business owner, the struggle is REAL, y'all).
Each of you are doing monumental things in the Bozeman community. I am in awe of every single one of you. You all are creative and smart, produce beautiful things, create strong communities, inspire others to live well, and are so incredibly humble.
You are all a part of the dream team answer to that question "If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?"
So, I thought instead of dreaming I'd just ask you all: would you like to be a part of a group of women entrepreneurs in Bozeman with me?
The goal would not be networking: there are already enough groups in Bozeman that do that sort of thing. The goal is to form strong friendships, a community of women who are hustling their buns off to live well, as a business owner. To sit down together once a month and celebrate our peaks and help each other through the troughs. Also, to drink wine, which is a good a reason as any to get together.
That said, I'd love to invite you all to a little wine + cheese gathering at my house on Thursday, January 22nd at 6:30pm.
If you're interested, just reply back to me singularly (no need to mass email unless you want to) to let me know you're coming. If not, no pressure at all! I know you're still going to do wonderful, amazing things in the Bozeman community and I can't wait to watch it happen!
I look forward to seeing you all on January 22nd!
I sent the email out, with very small expectations; not knowing if it would be well-received, but I thought at least a few people would be interested.
Turns out, everyone but one person came. And we've been meeting almost every month since then.
However, not everyone has the chops or the desire to set up an accountability group. Some people prefer to participate in an accountability group. Some people don't want the hassle of managing a group.
HOWEVER, an accountability group can work wonders for your network and for your business' growth. Here are the best tips that I've learned so that you can actually set up an accountability group that is intentional and grows your network.
Identify Diverse Members
Unless you're going for a "photographer's group" or a "designers group", I recommend being very, very intentional about the people that you choose for an accountability group. Try to pick some extraverts and some introverts. Choose people who have a different lens on business that the norm. Pick people who are friendly, nice, and not overly negative.
The one thing I will say is to try to keep everyone's scope of business within a year or two. Most individuals on a high-level want to learn from other peers, but if a member has been in business for 15 years, and everyone else has been in business one or two, it's going to create a difficult power dynamic that limits the growth of the person who has more experience.
Keep Groups Limited
The first group I started had 10 women, which I thought was small, but was in fact ENORMOUS. I recommend keeping groups limited to 6 or fewer to make sure everyone gets air time and feels heard and respected within your group settings.
That said, what if someone flakes out a bunch and never comes? Can you expand your group? Read on...
Set Ground Rules
These can come in two forms: ground rules for basic participation in the group and ground rules for discussion.
Ground rules for participation include rules that keep everyone accountable to their commitment. Perhaps it's a six-month trial period and if it goes well, then you can go forward and continue for one year.
Set monthly meeting times and make sure you have one person facilitate and possibly a different person host each month. Have an incentive or a consequence if people skip 2 meetings in a row. Tell people that they need to host and facilitate at least once during the calendar year.
Make sure people take this commitment as seriously as you do, and try to manage their expectations as much as you possibly can.
Ground rules for discussion include deciding what you'll be talking about each month, setting a time limit for each person to chat about their specific take on the discussion point, and proactively creating a bit of structure to each event so everyone's needs are being met.
Some other ground rules that I like are these:
a) We're not here to fix each other's problems, we're just here to ask questions and be curious
b) You can suggest solutions, but sometimes people just want to be heard instead of being told what they should do
c) Be respectful of all experiences and ideas. Just because you don't agree, doesn't mean the point of view isn't valid.
Recognize Your Role as a Facilitator
As a facilitator, the truth is that you have to care a little bit more about the rest of the room because the bottom will drop out if you aren't the one setting the schedule, sending emails, and making sure people show up on the days of the facilitation.
One way to allow there to be more diversity in facilitation is to let other people facilitate or co-facilitate the discussion based on the goals of the group. This can go well or it can go poorly, but the important thing is that you can read your group. Are people frustrated? Maybe you step in and help steer the conversation. Are people having fun, but it's not the way you'd do it? That's okay; there's more than one way to skin a cat (unless you want control over every single detail, in which case, more power to you sister!)