Monday, March 17, 2008

A Plug for Action Partners

Remember back when we had to do homework in school? It would go something like this: We'd attend a class where the teacher would lecture on a specific topic, (ah, how I miss Biology and Accounting - not!) then there would be several chapters of new material to read followed by an exercise related to it. By the end of the semester - whether we liked it or not - we would have gained knowledge on a whole new subject matter.

That's kind of what I'm experiencing with my action partner, Nicole Rose (that's her below, photo credit: David Garvey, What's an action partner, you might ask. Well, before I go into that, let me give you a little background.

I met Nicole about 4 1/2 years ago when we both attended a course for entrepreneurs. She was just launching ODM, her graphic design and web development company, and I was in the initial stages of exploring the possibility of working for myself. It would take me a few more attempts before I took the plunge, but Nicole has had her business up and running since then. We've bumped into each other through the years at various networking events, but when I saw her in January I was going through a bad case of "generalized business plan preparation anxiety", so I asked her for a little guidance. She pointed out that she was actually in the process of revising her own plan, so why not work on them together?

We immediately agreed to meet the following week. After our first session, however, doubts started popping up. Was I ready to divulge every little detail of my master plan to someone else? Were our businesses too similar? Wouldn't we be going after the same clients? Wouldn't that be a conflict? Trust has always been an issue for me - it took me years and a few painful market downturns to finally admit I needed to hire someone to assist me with my investments. I do my own manicures and pedicures because "no one can do them better them me" (yeah right). And I could have avoided one or two painful heartbreaks had I listened to my friends' dating advice. But I am getting better at it. I brought up my concerns to my new action partner, and Nicole, so much the wiser, confidently allayed my fears. She didn't see conflicts, and, realizing I had much more to gain than to lose, I jumped on the bandwagon.

Little did I know how effective our arrangement would be. We've had about 7 meetings so far, each time tackling a different section of our business plans, sharing our "homework" and giving each other feedback. If we feel stuck on something we ask for help and usually find a solution between the two of us. Then we plan our assignments for next time. Having that task in mind helps to spark ideas during the week, and even more stuff pops up when I'm doing the research and writing it down, so it's like my brain is on steroids. This week I came up with a novel approach for art galleries to promote their openings, which will help me target them as clients, and I've added a few more elements to a proposal I have for a magazine I'd like to prospect. Sometimes these new ideas seem too big for me, like a beautiful gown that doesn't quite fit. But I'm not judging them. My task is to put them down on paper and then let the Universe conspire to help me "grow into" my fancy dress.

Nicole and I have also decided to swap some services, like she'll help me with the design of my logo and signature, and I'll help her with her e-newsletter and online social networking strategy. We're doing this as if we were each other's clients, so we get to test out our services and give ourselves feedback on the process. Nicole, for example, has amazing customer service - from her follow-up communications to her proposals - even the recording on her voice mail makes her look and sound professional.

On my own, working on my business plan felt like lifting an 800 pound gorilla. But together with Nicole and our weekly meetings I'm making major progress. In fact, it's been such a positive experience that I've taken on another action partner (yes, I admit it, when it comes to business, I've become a polygamist!). Constance Gustke is a writer and journalist who, like me, got her start in Wall Street but has since moved on to cover design, technology and the luxury lifestyle market. We both have separate web business concepts that we'd like to develop, so for the past three sessions we've brainstormed and plotted and mapped out ways to make things happen for us. Constance calls us the "Laverne and Shirley of the 21st century."

So if you want to get things done, my advice is don't do it alone! Find someone you have something in common with and then, buckle up for the ride! Do you have structures in place to help you with your projects? Please share them!

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