Tip Sheets

Tips for finding and keepingĀ  accountability partners

by Barbara Mantel   


Freelance journalists usually work alone, often at home, without support from workplace colleagues. Many staff writers now find themselves in the same position ever since the COVID-19 pandemic made hybrid work — some days in the office, some days at home — the new standard.

An accountability partner can help with workplace isolation. This tip sheet provides pointers for creating, structuring and maintaining an accountability partnership. 

What is an accountability partner?

According to the employment Indeed, accountability partners typically:

  • Meet regularly.

  • Listen and offer one another advice.

  • Offer support in difficult situations.

  • Remind one another of important deadlines.

  • Point out self-defeating behaviors.

Journalist, author and podcaster Christie Aschwanden runs workshops about the business of freelancing and book proposal writing and regularly matches attendees as accountability partners. “The partners share goals and assign each other deadlines for meeting them. The goals that they use are actionable ones — things like sending a pitch or completing an interview or outline,” Aschwanden said. “Many of these relationships last well beyond the workshops, and some have lasted for many, many years.”

Characteristics of an effective accountability partner

Several journalists and coaches suggested traits of an effective accountability partner. Partners should be someone who:

  • Meets deadlines by showing up for meetings and taking goal setting seriously. Is trustworthy and will keep confidences.

  • Inspires respect so that you will not want to disappoint them.

  • Provides honest feedback with kindness.

  • Is positive and encouraging and wants you to succeed.

  • Is curious and open-minded and interested in learning and growing.

  • Is flexible.

“They are not there to be your drill sergeant. They are there to support you as you reach your goals,” said Rebecca Clark, a podcaster, coach and advisor,  “And you can change your goals anytime you want. You need to find an accountability partner who can flex with that,” Clark said.

Freelance journalist Bara Vaida, AHCJ core topic leader for infectious diseases and COVID-19, added one more characteristic. “Pick someone who can make you laugh,” she said.. “Freelancing is hard, so find someone with a sense of humor.” Full disclosure: Vaida is my accountability partner, and she does laugh at most of my jokes.

Finding an accountability partner

It is not always easy to find someone who will make this commitment to you. Here are some suggestions.

  • Mine your contacts at professional membership groups, such as AHCJ.

  • Join the local chapter of a professional organization and ask the leaders to organize a meeting about finding accountability partners.

  • Search for Facebook groups related to your speciality and let them know you are looking for a partner.

  • Talk to members of your online groups.

  • Spread the word among colleagues, friends and family.

  • Attend a relevant Meetup to see if any members might want to partner.

“How I found her… I just asked!” said freelance editor and writer Erin Boyle about her accountability partner. “She’s a dear friend and a talented writer. It was a great fit for us both. I hope we can keep it going as long as it serves us both.”

However, working with a close friend may not be for everyone, Clark said. Close friends may be too easy on one another about canceling sessions or veering off into personal discussions, she said. On the other hand, you may be a bit embarrassed to do that with someone who is less of a friend and more of a professional contact, she said.

Structuring the partnership

Set parameters at the beginning of the relationship:

  • Pick a regular date and time, for example, the first Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m.

  • Decide if you will talk over the phone, video chat or in person and for how long.

  • Set general goals for the partnership, for example, to encourage one another to increase the number of pitches you send to editors each month or to encourage each other in your reporting and writing.

“Make sure you clearly state your goals and objectives upfront and you also hear theirs, advised performance coach Clara Capano in a Forbes article. “Do not set goals that you think they will approve of or agree to do items because you think they are the “right” things to do — this is your life and business and your goals need to be specific to you.”

Clark strongly suggested setting a deadline for reexamining the partnership because sometimes they do not work out. “For example, in an hour-long meeting, one person may need 45 minutes, and the other person might only need 15 minutes. But, if over time, the same person always needs 45 minutes, this is an unbalanced interaction,” Clark said . To give yourself a polite way to end the partnership, “establish ahead of time that it may be temporary and that you’ll revisit the partnership in, say, three months to see if you both still want to do this.”

The actual meetings

Clark said there is no right or wrong way to structure meetings. Vaida suggested that each partner pick two achievable goals at each session and report on their progress at the next one.  She also suggested devoting half of each meeting to each partner’s needs and perhaps setting a timer.

Boyle has a different approach. Boyle meets with her accountability writing partner once a week over video chat. “We talk about our writing for two minutes each, then we spend a block of time writing while ‘body doubling,’” Boyle said. A body double is someone you work alongside, either in the same room or through video chat. “This is a way of supporting each other by being ‘beside’ each other in the moment, both writing, virtually,” she said. When the timer goes off, they talk about what they wrote and also about other projects. “We finish the time by saying what we will work on before we meet again — and we stay accountable by checking in periodically and then at the top of our weekly call.” 

Maintaining the partnership


  • Show up, don’t cancel.

  • Accept your partner’s feedback.

  • Take the partnership seriously and try hard to meet the goals set in your meetings.


  • Only focus on your writing and your problems.

  • Get sidetracked into talking at length about personal matters.

  • Shame your accountability partner if they don’t meet their goals.

  • Focus only on your goals and writing.

“I learn so much from her and her work and take inspiration in what she’s doing,” said Boyle about her accountability partner.