On Accountability with Nancy Ruzow of Creatives Roundtable

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When I ask creative professionals, “What kind of help do you need?” most will say, “I need to be held accountable.”

But, what exactly does it mean to be held accountable?

And to whom should you be held accountable?

That's just one of the things I discussed on Episode #432 of the Marketing Mentor Podcast, with Nancy Ruzow.

Nancy is a designer in one of my small coaching groups. She also runs the Creatives Roundtable —which is an accountability group for creative professionals.

So, if you need accountability, then listen to this episode, then head on over to see The Creatives Roundtable Black Friday Sale.)

Their events are free for members -- and that includes my next webinar on Friday, Dec. 3, "Anatomy of a Winning Proposal." 

(Find it on the "past events" page -- a binge-worthy treasure trove.)

So listen here (or below) and if you prefer to read than listen, scroll down for the transcript of our conversation:


Transcript of Podcast #432 – If you need accountability with Nancy Ruzow

ilise benun

Hello, Nancy, welcome to the podcast. Please introduce yourself.

Nancy Ruzow

My name is Nancy Ruzow. I am founder and principal designer of Ruzow Graphics, which I founded in 1985, which means I've been in business for 36 years.

ilise benun  

Longer than me— a little bit longer than me. 

Nancy Ruzow

Crazy. I was at a HOW Design Conference once. I met this very lovely woman, Damien Golden, who introduced me to the Designers Roundtable, which I started attending and then started moderating and took it over.

And now I run the Creatives Roundtable, which is an accountability and community business for those in the creative industry, such as graphic designers, illustrators, writers, web designers, developers, social media specialists, marketers, and we even have a shoe designer—who started an on-demand alteration company. Yeah, she's great. We have yet to have a photographer join us, but we did have one join our Happy Hour and start collaborating with one of our graphic designers. So that was fun. 

ilise benun  

And, so you run two businesses? 

Nancy Ruzow

I run two businesses. Yeah. It's hectic. The  Creatives Roundtable members are located in the US and Canada, and have been in business or working as freelancers for at least three years. And, we have always been a virtual business.

ilise benun

So, your business, that particular one of your two, is all about accountability. And, my business, Marketing-Mentor.com, is also about accountability, but in a slightly different way. So, I want to talk a little bit about the differences there. But, I also want to talk about, what is it that makes accountability work, when it works, and what is lacking when it doesn't work? Because there are, as you know and probably a lot of my listeners know, I also run groups—and sometimes I call them “accountability groups.” Sometimes they're not exactly that, although they serve that purpose also. Some run better than others. And then there are lots of classes that I teach that have an accountability element to it, and some work and some don't. I'm really on a mission, at the moment, to understand better, what is it that makes good accountability work. So, maybe if I asked you that question first, you can tell me what you think. 

Nancy Ruzow

I feel like I have a very clear vision on that. I feel like people sign up for things and they're either going to do the work or they're not. You have to be accountable to yourself, and then you're accountable to the people you're in the group with. So, if you say you're going to do something, you got to get it done.

ilise benun

Do you think, then, if we could just speculate about when accountability doesn't work, do you think part of it is because each person has the wrong idea about what accountability is and to whom they are needing to be accountable?

Nancy Ruzow

I do. I think they're also not necessarily good jugglers. I think when you are an independent business owner or a small studio owner, you have to be able to juggle. You have to be able to juggle your several businesses, your side hustle, your family, you’re marketing your business as well as doing work for your clients. I think that people don't always focus on giving themselves the time to work on their business.

ilise benun

Are there certain types of people or certain personality traits that make them more likely to succeed in an accountability environment versus something else?

Nancy Ruzow

I don't know. We have almost 50 members in the Creatives Roundtable. Very, very different personalities and running some successful businesses. Some people just meet their goals, every time, because we do monthly goals. Some people just are overwhelmed; need help. I don't know if it's a specific type of person. Maybe their goals are too big. But I think that all people can rein it in. 

I know when I first joined the Designers Roundtable, my goal was to redo my website. I made more excuses than anyone. And I was just designing it; I wasn't doing the development. I saw everybody having these smaller goals and getting things done. And, I think that breaking them into piecemeal made me be able to focus, which is something that the person who was leading my group didn't encourage. I think she's a great person, but she didn't explain that to me. 

That's something that when somebody tells me their goals, I often say, “I think that's a lot to do in one month,” or “I think that's a lot to do in a six-month term.” So, I think you have to find someone, or you have to be someone, that can be realistic, as well.

ilise benun

Also, you're bringing up now the question about the leader of an accountability group, because there are all different types of accountability groups. It seems to me that the ones with a leader are more likely to succeed, and then the ones with a really good leader are even more likely to succeed. And the ones without a leader, from what I can tell, only succeed if someone steps in and plays the role of the leader.

Nancy Ruzow

I agree. I agree 100%. I know that I'm in one of your accountability groups. I do call it accountability. And, I'm in one because I found the benefit of one, but I couldn't be in one that I was running. And, you're definitely a different type of leader than I am.

ilise benun

How so?

Nancy Ruzow

Well, you do a little more of an educational component. You're a little more passive and you encourage the answers to come from within us. Maybe I don't have the patience for that. I'm like, “What if you did this?” and “What if you do that? What does everybody else think?” I think that is a difference, where I start coming up with ideas for the person, and you like to drag them out of us.

ilise benun

Yes, I do. It’s funny, actually, that's triggering something I've been thinking a lot about. Maybe we can connect it to the idea of accountability. Because someone, just today, sent me a message on LinkedIn, asking a question about when to follow up on a particular thing or prospect. And I'm not going to tell her the answer. I'm going to say, “What does your common sense say? What does your intuition say?” Then she's going to answer me, and I will happily correct or give a different perspective, if that's required. Or I might say, “Perfect, do that. Let's see what happens." 

The idea that people really need to figure it out for themselves, I believe, that that's the best way to learn. And getting ideas from other people, definitely, is always helpful. But, can we connect this idea of, or this balance maybe, of being accountable—being accountable to oneself, being accountable to a leader, being accountable to a group—and learning to trust our own intuition or common sense? Because the place this idea in my mind is coming from is the fact that marketing—what I teach—is really just common sense. And for some reason, people think there's a ‘right way’ to do it. And if only I would tell them the right way, which there isn't, so I won't. And so, I'm trying to foster this environment where you can figure it out yourself, with accountability.

Nancy Ruzow

Right. I think that's great. I think that some people don't have the confidence in themselves. There are some people in our groups who come in and they know what they're doing. And they might say that, “work has gotten in the way” and to me, that's an acceptable excuse. But, you know, you still have to spend a little bit of time on your accountability. 

But, there are definitely some people who can use the encouragement; who could use some ideas to spark something within them to come up with what they need. So maybe I don't drag it out of them. I try to just give them little nudges, to say, “Well what if you tried something like this?” Or, and that's when somebody speaks about what they need to be accountable for, I will say, “Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?” Often, other people give some great ideas, and it helps the person.

ilise benun

Say a little bit more about how the Creatives Roundtable accountability process works, because I know you have a little Black Friday sale coming up, which we can certainly share. So, talk a little bit about the logistics of how it all works; especially, you mentioned goals, that people are accountable for goals. But specifically, what type of things? And  one more question, what do you do when people just never do the thing they said they were going to do?

Nancy Ruzow

I'm going to start with that. So, there are definitely people who don't do what they said they're going to do and there's nothing that I can do about that. I will remind them that that was their goal. And they will make an excuse and they won't get it done. And that's their loss. They do see other people moving along. There's nothing you can do for someone who can't do the work themselves. 

I do reach out to them on Slack. I tell them that if they want to hop on a call at any time, I'm happy to do that. I don't think you can make somebody do their accountability, make somebody do their homework, basically. 

The Creatives Roundtable is a real community. And to me, that's one of the things that I love about it most. 

We have two different levels. We have our people who are in our groups. So, we have these accountability groups that are the maximum of six people. When it was being run by the person I took over from, she had at least 10 people in a group and I thought it was a little unwieldy and I saw myself and others just kind of floating away and not listening to the person talking. So, we really, really do engage with one another. 

So, we have six people in a group. We meet once a month for an hour. If you can't meet for your hour, you do have the option of rotating into another group, if it's not full. Three people wanted to rotate into this last Monday's group. I let one in; the other two, I'm basically just giving them their own session, which you know, I don't have to do, but I like them. So, I’m doing it.

So, we have these groups, and in the beginning of this term, which is six months, but people sign on for a year; in the beginning of the term, you set your goals for the six months. For instance, “I want to do a website. I want to get all my contracts done. I want to put up case studies. I want to start doing social media.” Anything that really will benefit your business. 

Then, you break it down by month. What am I going to do this month to work towards achieving the six-month goal? So, it becomes a little bit less onerous, then. 

We help one another. By putting things in Slack—we have a very active Slack group —“Could someone look at this? What do you think of this contract? What do you think of this case study?” Everybody shares. 

We have private channels for the groups and then we have a ton of channels for the other people who are in the Creatives Roundtable that are just Slack members. They get to participate in everything on Slack. And they get to participate in our monthly Happy Hours, which I do not usually attend myself, but tell everyone they can talk about me during them. It's a good day to complain about Nancy. Although I hear they don't. So, we have the Happy Hours once a month. And those are usually about an hour, an hour and a half. 

We also have an open access accountability group once a month, which people from outside the Creatives Roundtable can join in, just to see what it's all about. 

And then we have special events where we have great speakers like, in December, we have you giving a talk on "Anatomy of a Winning Proposal." We have Michael Janda coming up in February on how to win the creative entrepreneur’s game. 

So, every month we have a special speaker. These speakers are free to anyone who's in an accountability group. And then they're 50% off to people who are in our Slack group. 

People attend conferences together. When you're in a city where another Creatives Roundtable member lives, people get together—the community aspect is amazing. 

People learn from each other. They share resources. When people were redoing their contracts, everybody was uploading their contracts, so people could check on what was good, what was not good. 

There is advice for technical questions. Very recently, I was having a problem with something in Adobe Illustrator. I was working on it late at night, and I put it in the Slack channel. Someone else was there who said, “Well, I think I can solve this.” And together we worked this problem out. So, it's just kind of fun doing these things with one another. And that's really what the group is about.

ilise benun

Nice. I'm not going to ask you how much it costs, because I think we can share that, but it doesn't need to be broadcast publicly. But, suffice it to say, there is a sale for Black Friday. And we'll post this podcast before Black Friday so that people can take advantage of that.  

I had one other question. I'm curious also about the structure of the hour. So, you've got six people. How do you divide the hour? What happens during that hour?

Nancy Ruzow

Well, first thing that happens is we generally talk about life. What's going on in your life? One of the guys has a young daughter. He'll show pictures; he’ll say what she's doing. We talk about personal stuff for a little while. A lot of parent conversations in the groups who only have women. But, we talk about life. That usually takes about five minutes. 

Then, the order in which people sign on is the order in which you get to go. We have a few people who always try to beat me onto the call because they know that I don't like when people are late. So, everybody is generally on time. It's just a lovely thing. 

So, the first thing we do is, in the order in which you signed on, we say how you did this month on your goals. And so, we go through each person and we ask if anyone has any questions. Do they have questions of the people, like something they could need help with, or why they didn't get their goals done? And then once everyone's had their turn, we talk about what the next month’s goals are going to be. 

And then we go on to ‘hot topics’; the hot topics can either be something that come from within. They say, “I can't do this” or “I'm having a problem with this client.” Or, “What social media posting tool do you use?” It could be anything. 

And then when there aren't hot topics that they want to bring in, I will do things like run everybody through their elevator pitches. I will say, “Let's look at your LinkedIn pages, your websites.” And we'll go through those things. We usually fill up the hour. And, it's just all about the business, their business, and how everything's going. If someone really, really is having a problem with something, we will focus on that for a while.

ilise benun

So, the accountability part sounds like it doesn't take all that long. You either accomplished your goal or you didn't. It's not like you're presenting anything.

Nancy Ruzow

Correct. Although we do allow that. When somebody is working on a project and they want to show and share it with us, they can share their screen. That's absolutely fine. In the monthly accountability groups, the open access, we do encourage people to share what they're working on. So that’s from anyone and anywhere, they can just share the work they're working on.

ilise benun

Beautiful. All right. We're going to have to wrap up, but let's do one last question. I want to step back and come back to the bigger idea of accountability. 

One of the things I find really interesting when I talk to prospects—people who I've never worked with before, but are curious about working with me, whether one-on-one or in my coaching groups—I call them “coaching groups”; I used to call them “accountability groups,” but they're more coaching than accountability, I think.

So often, when I ask, “What kind of help do you need the most?” the answer I get the most is, “I need accountability.” So, I want to ask you, Nancy, because I'm sure you hear the same thing and the Creatives Roundtable is about that, why do you think people need accountability so desperately?

Nancy Ruzow

I think some have never worked in an office or they kind of miss the whole traditional employment. Their family or friends, if they aren’t self employed, don't understand it. The don't have anyone to say, “I'm doing this project and I need to get it done.” 

You can have a checklist, but it doesn't give you any satisfaction. Showing your peers that you're doing the work, it's a great feeling, and you get people to cheer you on and having a whole roomful of cheerleaders is always fun.

ilise benun

I think there's also a misnomer in some of the language we use, or people use, about accountability, because when they say, “I need someone to hold me accountable,” the truth is, you're holding yourself accountable and we're there to witness it.

Nancy Ruzow

We're there to witness it. We're there to be their community. To have people bounce their ideas off of. To answer questions. And, to just know that we'll support you if you don't get it done, but we'll really, really cheer you on if you do.

ilise benun

Excellent. All right, tell the people where they can find out more about you and the Creatives Roundtable.

Nancy Ruzow

Well, my graphic design company is RuzowGraphics.com. 

My Creatives Roundtable is “creatives” with an “S” Roundtable.com. We are having a Black Friday sale for yearly memberships, which will be on Black Friday. And if you go to the contact page of CreativesRoundtable or you sign up for our newsletter, you can get more information on that.

ilise benun

Beautiful. All right, thank you, so much, Nancy.

I do hope you learned a little something. Little by little, I promise it will get easier, and before you know it, you'll have more and more confidence. Speaking of confidence, if you cringe when a prospect asks for a proposal, or if you can never come up with the right thing to say in the moment, I think you'll like my latest ebook: “Worth It. How Getting Good at the Money Talk Pays Off.” It's packed with case studies, resources, and plenty of “what to say when” scripts for tricky, in real time conversations and email messages. So, you never again say the wrong thing. You can find it at Marketing-Mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are practicing what I preach to overcome, once and for all, the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.

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