Pamela Slim started out as a director at Barclays Global Investors and quit her job to become a consultant and found she was made to be an entrepreneur. Two books and a brand new startup space later, she’s working with small businesses across the nation to help them find their community and develop a local presence.
She talks with Clate Mask and Scott Martineau about how entrepreneurs—especially solo-preneurs—can find all the resources available to them, and finding their watering holes for community and customers.
Check out “Your Game Plan” in the sidebar for insights into how to strategically grow your small business.
Mentioned in this episode:
“Escape From Cubicle Nation” by Pamela Slim
“Body of Work” by Pamela Slim
“If I Ran the Circus” by Dr. Seuss
“Conquer the Chaos” by Clate Mask and Scott Martineau
“Quiet” by Susan Cain
“The Quit Alternative” by Ben Fanning
Watch the Facebook Live version of this podcast.
Pam Slim: Where you want to be for a watering hole when you want clients is you want to be the weirdo in the room.
Scott Martineau: That’s Pam Slim talking about why you want to be the weirdo in the room. To understand why and how it can help you grow your business listen to the full episode of the Small Business Success podcast. Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Small Business Success podcast. We are Facebook Live-ing today, and –
Clate Mask: You said you weren’t going to announce it. What are you doing?
Scott Martineau: I’m Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: And I’m Clate Mask. We’re cofounders of Infusionsoft and this is the Small Business Success podcast. And we are really excited to have Pam Slim with pamelaslim.com with us here today in person so it’s fun.
Pam Slim: In person. Thanks for having me.
Clate Mask: It’s great to have you. So why don’t you take a second and just tell everybody. I think a lot of listeners know who you are, but tell everybody a little bit about pamelaslim.com and about your business.
Pam Slim: Sure. So I am an author and a speaker and a business coach. And now I can proudly say I am also the founder of a start-up incubator in downtown Mesa, Arizona. I’ve been in business for 20 years. The first 10 were as a consultant to large companies and in doing that I found so many people who wanted to leave and start a business that in 2005 I launched Escape from Cubicle Nation and spent about 11 years helping corporate employees leave to start a business and helped launch thousands of early-stage start-ups.
And that led to my publisher finding me and so I wrote my first book, Escape from Cubicle Nation in 2009 and then Body of Work in 2014. And really what my focus is now, I think we share a long-time passion for small business owners, but I think the older I get – I just turned 50, which was kind of exciting.
And when you start to think about things like legacy and contribution I think the biggest thing is as much as I love and will continue to work with some individual business owners, especially in my own community of downtown Mesa,
I’m also really interested in sharing tools and frameworks and bigger picture things to help small business communities in other places. I’m really looking at helping people who serve small business owners just based on having a broad perspective of what folks need.
Clate Mask: Great.
Scott Martineau: I wonder if we’re going to be more aligned around serving small businesses or taking people away from big business? I think those are both areas that we’re passionate about.
Pam Slim: Well you know what’s so funny about that is when I wrote Body of Work in 2014 one of the reasons why I wrote it, which may be surprising having written Escape from Cubicle Nation is I’m actually work mode agnostic. It’s like we can – for some people the very best place for them to be is in a larger company. And if we look at the bigger ecosystem of our economy and what we need is there are definitely people who are happy being in big companies or certain things you can do at scale that really work.
And then there’s a whole bunch of other people I think who we
serve where that’s just not the way that they’re meant to work. And so that kind of work mode is one that makes them want to start a business. But what I’ve found, you’ve probably seen this too, is there’s so many people who are enthusiastic about starting a business that they say things like everybody should have their own business. I think everybody should have a side hustle.
I think everybody should have a way to make money in case their longer-term plan doesn’t work out. But I also know as a career coach for 20 years that there’s no one-size-fit-all. So my passion is there’s so much energy, there’s so much possibility for change and innovation when you’re smaller, but I also love to be that voice that says we don’t have to be the ones who are necessarily making it bad if people choose to work in large companies. Sometimes the small business owners, those are our customers and we need them to be in business.
Scott Martineau: Right. Yeah, for sure.
Clate Mask: That doesn’t work. I still –
Scott Martineau: I was going to say I think Scott and I have been on the side sometimes of being pretty vilifying to work in the corporate –
Clate Mask: This like our – this is our negative campaigning. Why do we have to tear down big business to build up small business?
Pam Slim: See, I am a coach so I’m going to start to like dissect that for all of you. But we won’t do that because it’s not about me coaching you today, right?
Scott Martineau: That’s right.
Clate Mask: So your journey – so let’s go back all the way to the beginning. So did you start with your consulting as kind of a side hustle?
Pam Slim: It wasn’t. I was the former director of training and development at Barclays Global Investors, a big financial services firm in San Francisco, which is where I’m from. And I, contrary to what I advise, just quit. I just said I – I turned 30. I was ready for something new. It was 1996 so the economy was great and booming, especially around Silicon Valley, and I had no intention whatsoever of working for myself at all.
I had been a volunteer executive director for a nonprofit martial arts organization for 11 years. What I didn’t realize was that was a very entrepreneurial thing even though I wasn’t being paid for it. But actually my first gig was –
Clate Mask: Which is a lot like most entrepreneurs too.
Pam Slim: Right? Exactly. The not being paid for it. That’s what we’re all trying to fix. But yeah, so my first client was Hewlett Packard and my old manager from Barclays had moved over there and so that was my first consulting client. It was one of those lightbulb moments where I had actually written the business plan for a class at UC-Berkeley. And the model for our business plan was Dr. Seuss’ book If I Ran the Circus. So I proudly say that’s where my business started.
And I just imagined what would be really cool? I’d work when I wanted and I’d travel the world and I’d work with all these different clients. So once I began to work there as a contractor and a consultant all of a sudden I was like oh my gosh I could actually do this. And more than that, I was made for this. And I haven’t looked back ever since.
Scott Martineau: I love it.
Clate Mask: That’s great. That’s awesome. So take us through – actually why don’t you fast forward to the business today and then we’ll probably go back and talk a little bit about the journey again.
So tell us where you are today. How is the business going? Obviously you wrote the books and that created a lot of opportunity for you in terms of consulting, but what’s the state of the business today?
Pam Slim: Yeah. So the state of the business. On September 1 I opened up a brick-and-mortar small business incubator in downtown Mesa. One of the reasons I did that, I actually did a 25-city tour. Infusionsoft was a sponsor – thank you for that – last fall. And I visited all these communities across the U.S. and one in Canada. What I found is there were these really vibrant communities of people who were working together. Actually Fargo, North Dakota was one of the places.
Clate Mask: We know it well.
Pam Slim: One of your investors, Doug, right, I know was there.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
Clate Mask: Yeah, yeah.
Pam Slim: And it was in a meeting in Fargo that was with somebody from the mayor’s office, the head of the arts commission, the start-up community, and we were all sitting around a table and we were talking about – they were talking about working together, the city planner, how all the projections for Fargo had switched. They were expecting older people to go there to retire.
And because of the vibrant start-up culture there and the creativity that all these younger folks were beginning to flock to Fargo. And then they said the thing that just sent shivers up and down my spine, which was after talking about the demographics and programs they said how can we really work together to drive kindness through our entire city and make every interaction that we have with people one based on kindness?
I just almost started weeping because it’s such a core value for me and I think it was an insight that wait a minute, there’s ways that we can work in a regional basis that can do more than just stimulate economic growth. And it’s also things that can help create an amazing culture and community which is something I’m passionate about. So that’s just kind of what kicked off this desire to have a local presence.
The way that I’m viewing what I’m doing there is seeing the space I call it an idea and community incubator. And because I’m an
author and I’m always working on books and doing research we are – we have this laboratory.
Scott Martineau: Say that again. Say that again. You call it a what?
Pam Slim: It’s a small business idea and community incubator.
Scott Martineau: Cool.
Pam Slim: When we think start-up incubator we think of having companies inside, right, just a few.
Scott Martineau: Right.
Pam Slim: This is a place that I want to create where people from all kinds of different backgrounds can come, work on ideas together, be creative, share with the other communities that I’m connected to nationally, and come up with working models and ways we can do things that we can share with other communities. So we’re going to be addressing our own local needs, but it’s also a chance –
You know, my favorite thing to do is figure out what problems we have and come up with tools and frameworks to solve them, you know, being a coach and a writer? And so I can do it while being a strong member of my community. So it’s a hard concept sometimes to explain, but since I’ve been there in September I’ve met with everybody you can imagine from people walking in off the street to the mayor, to the head of the arts commission, to artists downtown.
And my whole idea is really to have this living laboratory because in Main Street in Mesa, which is where I am, it really has similar dynamics to so many other communities across the country. And so that is a very exciting, somewhat daunting new experiment. But I do that also still continuing to serve my global audience which I’ve had for many years doing online classes, doing some consulting for companies that serve the small business market, and also sometimes working with certain individuals over time in order to grow their business.
So I’m just right at this point of transition of shifting what I’m doing so that I can help create tools that I can share more broadly. And really what that requires of me is a lot more collaboration, more investment, new ways of working. I’ve always kind of been that rebel creative, do whatever I want. And now I’m realizing all right, time to get a little bit more organized and structured.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Man, that is – sorry, go ahead.
Scott Martineau: Wait. No, you’d better.
Clate Mask: Well I’m – first of all I love the concept because you’re kind of talking about an incubator for incubators which is – and then helping that spread in communities across the country or world. And so it is a hard concept for people to get. People have a hard enough time understanding how does an incubator really work? To do something like that, to be an incubator of incubators, that’s a big ambition. So I love that you’re doing it.
I’m really interested in what happened in Fargo. We’ve been to Fargo. We’ve seen what’s happening in Fargo. It’s really incredible. I’ve been a couple of different times. And you’re right, Doug has – Doug Burgum is probably going to end up being their governor here pretty soon. He’s an investor in Infusionsoft and his V.C. firm invested as well.
So we’ve been there. We know that they’re doing. And I think they’re like the perfect case study for what you’re doing because
he just took, as an entrepreneur, he took that on and just said I love Fargo. We’re going to drive entrepreneurship and drive small business success. And he’s doing it at so many different levels. He’s doing it in a bunch of different ways and now I think he’s going to have an opportunity to get government support.
You know, get government involved which my experience has been that’s where either it’s lip service or it’s where the rubber meets the road. You can do a bunch of stuff with entrepreneurs and frankly I think you can be successful without government support, but when government support really gets behind it, when they really get it, some pretty cool things happen. So I’m excited to hear a little bit more about your Fargo experience, but I actually want to take a step back and talk a little more broadly for a minute about what you learned in that 25-city tour.
So you clearly picked something up about kindness and the potential to create some community beyond just the businesses that get started.
That’s really cool. Obviously that matters a lot to Infusionsoft. We run our culture – we’re big believers in that. What else did you learn when you went through the 25 cities? What other things jumped out at you?
Pam Slim: Well, it was – I called it the Un-Book Tour and I tease my friend Scott Stratton who wrote Un-Marketing. I kind of stole that from him. The purpose and the intent behind it was actually to do research for my next book, like doing a book tour before writing the book so that I could see the things that really resonated.
And it absolutely hit the mark because I got the exact idea, which was this core framework for understanding natural ecosystems that exist in all online communities, in all local communities where there are people who are connected to each other based on problems they solve, values they share. And they congregate in these watering holes, these certain places where great numbers of people really connect.
So in visiting a lot of the local areas, one of my hypotheses –
I mean I tend to take a lot of risk and be a bit spontaneous sometimes, which is when I started the tour I had the idea of sitting on my sister’s lakefront home in Lake Almanor, California in the summer and I posted on Facebook and I said, “Hey, you guys. I’m thinking about doing a tour. Where should I go?”
And I got all of these responses and then I went and I went and created a web page and a sign-up and I didn’t have any idea where I would be going. I mean I knew the cities I would be going, but I didn’t know where I would be holding the actual events. But I knew it would be a meta experience of using community-building skills in order to put the tour together.
And what I found when I did the tour, the process of connecting and learning about the resources that were there. In some cities I already had built-in contacts. In many others I had to approach people cold. And nobody knew who the heck I was. It’s kind of like Mesa. Nobody knew who I was in Mesa because I’ve never spent any time there. And the same thing was true in other places.
So I learned that in a lot of local areas people have no idea about the resources that are available in local areas. I also learned that people love to connect in person and get great value with sharing with others that share similar value. And it’s things that we know, but so often especially for people that might have a virtual business where they’re working in a home office, being able to get out and connect is really important.
Scott Martineau: Okay, so let’s pause there for a minute because your point about people not knowing the resources that are available, people running a business and being kind of in their silo. We know that in the U.S. alone 82 percent of small businesses that are on record with the U.S. through the census bureau, which means 82 percent are solo-preneurs. And then you’ve got a whole bunch more that aren’t even on record that are primarily solo-preneurs.
So we know that the numbers are 80 to upwards of maybe up towards 90 percent of small businesses that are solo-preneurs. Many of the listeners that are listening right now are solo-preneurs. And I’m sure they don’t know the resources that are available
to them. They feel very lonely. We hear this constantly. We know this. We’ve experienced it. You’ve experienced it. Loneliness is a part of small business. So is there anything specific or concrete that you learned that you can share with listeners? Anything specific that you saw that would help them?
Pam Slim: Yeah. I think in terms of a strategy on of the things that I said in each group is I happen to be the one – the commonality in this first kick-off case was me because they all knew my work and therefor they all gravitated. But the whole way that we designed it was to say now look at who it is that you have in your local community. And that’s what I tell every single client and as often as I can about building a business is a primary job is for you to build three circles.
You want to build a strong peer/mentor circle. Peers who are equally driven, who will give you honest, helpful feedback, who are committed to your success, who are on the path to get stuff done, right?
Clate Mask: Yep.
Pam Slim: That’s one circle.
Then you want your technical mentors who are people who have specific expertise that help you do the things you need to do and learn to do in your business. And then you have your high council of Jedi knights who are the people who not only have great technical success and professional success that you admire, but they also conduct themselves in a way that makes you feel absolutely comfortable and safe from a personal values perspective.
So I always tell the story, and I’ll probably embarrass him each time, of Dan Pink who is a famous author, amazing guy, who I spent some time with him in his backyard in Washington D.C. when I was getting ready to write Body of Work. And he’s this amazing guy. We had known each other a little bit through the inter webs. So I was talking to him about ideas for the book. We didn’t even have a title yet.
He’s like let’s go inside and let’s talk to my wife, Jessica. So we went inside and we were sitting at his kitchen table. His wife was making a pot of soup. And I started to sit back and watch the interaction between Dan and his wife. He was so respectful.
He said I never do anything without checking with Jessica. She’s just so smart and she understands so much. During the course of the conversation their kids came home from school, so I watched him stop, but really focus attention on kids.
And like I told him, I said in that interaction, in addition to just being so excited that Dan Pink was talking through book ideas with me, he went from highly-esteemed technical mentor to high council of Jedi knight member for me. Because I huge value for me is somebody who deeply respects their spouse, who has value on family, who doesn’t just get caught up in what it is that they’re doing professionally. And so for each person, based on what’s important to you, you’re going to define that.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. Your values with dictate what your high council Jedi knights is.
Pam Slim: Exactly. But you know really from the beginning, from the very first stages when you’re trying to start your business, part of the loneliness is people have this erroneous perception that first I
have to do it myself and if I show any vulnerability that I don’t know it all there’s something wrong with me. And what I always say is the greatest thing you can do to really strengthen yourself is to immediately surround yourself with people who can help you.
I remember when I started Escape from Cubicle Nation I’d been a very successful consultant. I had never worked with somebody to quit their very high-paying corporate job, putting their entire family at risk, to leave and start a business. That was a hypothesis I had.
Clate Mask: “But Pam, you said…”
Pam Slim: Right. Right? And so my favorite thing to say was you know what? I don’t know, but I’ll find out. And my finding out led me to so many amazing technical mentors – Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin and Nancy Duarte and probably you guys in that pursuit. That’s actually what allowed me to create the circle around me. Now one of the critical things I think about this process is really what your intention is when you’re in business is to solve the problems as Susan Byer says, right? You know Susan well.
Solve the problems of the people who you care to serve in your business. So when you are designing your ecosystem of these circles around you not only are you personally being helped by learning what you need to learn, you’re also surrounding your beloved customers with the very best resources and support. And that’s your job and when you start to do that then you notice that you have a shared mission with these other people and that’s where things just can become really natural and strong. You get more referrals. It just all works a lot better.
Clate Mask: Right. Right.
Scott Martineau: Pam, this is awesome. I feel like – I mean I’ve got three or four meta concepts in my head that I want to just talk through. One of them is I love seeing the application of entrepreneurship across what maybe most people don’t even think about the idea and we got to see Doug do this in Fargo. Usually there’s spots around Fargo. It’s probably similar to Mesa, Arizona. First of all where is that and wait, what’s happening there? No, there’s actually nothing happening. That’s the point.
But I love this idea that through entrepreneurship it’s kind of the melding or the collision of entrepreneurship and in this case community, right, and local everything, government. I just love the – Clate and I for a long time have seen the benefits of entrepreneurship on a whole bunch of different situations. I love this application to community, whether it’s local, whether it’s online.
I think from it come these really great innovations. Like I remember one of the top – we spent I don’t know, it feels like an hour with Doug just talking about this concept called Walk Score which I don’t know if he developed or he had seen it, but this whole conversation around suburban life versus urban life and this concept. Do I – we’re built – like you come out west and there’s so much space everything you drive to, right?
You go to Europe and it’s a completely different story. So how do
you take something like Fargo and change its entire culture and introduce this concept of Walk Score and you rank the restaurants and rank the places of living by Walk Score which is how much of my life can I live by just within walking distance? And the concept of interspersing housing with other commercial districts? It’s awesome.
I don’t know – I guess I should know more of the opportunities in Mesa, but I just love that. I love that application of entrepreneurship in really creative ways. Yeah, I just had the mayor of Mesa yesterday in my new space and the head of economic development for downtown Mesa and we were talking about these very things.
I just felt like I was floating I was so excited because they were talking about this very specific interrelationship between housing opportunities and arts and culture that draw people and draw families to a place which draws foot traffic which helps small business owners.
One of the things we identified is that relationship that you can have between government. They were saying we’re not entrepreneurs. That’s not our area of expertise. And one of the things that we recognize is probably the very best way that we can support things is not always by doing everything just directly ourselves, but by also collaborating with private people who come in with nonprofits so that we can all be working together toward this collective effort.
And Greg from Fargo, you know his Twitter handle, is another one in Fargo who has worked hand in hand with Doug. That’s the CEO of Emerging Prairie. It’s a perfect example of there’s often certain people who kind of see this connection. What I see from a small business owner’s perspective is we’re not really trained to think this way. We’re busy and we all need to focus on making our own businesses happen so we can feel sometimes like oh, I’d love to do all that community stuff but it’s extra work.
And part of what is my mission, actually, in the next book is actually an integrated way that you think about what your ecosystem is, which is a much more efficient and effective way to be planning your marketing. So instead of just waking up and saying hello internet, where are my customers? You know who are the influencers who are most directly linked to your customers?
Who are the tech companies that are serving your customers? You guys are part of the small business web, which is the trade association for SAAS companies that serves small business. And that’s such a great example. I go to the events every year. I’m always – I think this will be a chapter in the book. I’m always the weirdo in the room because I’m the only business coach amidst all these companies who are serving the small business market.
But to me if I’m trying to go build relationships with people who have access to millions of customers who I want to serve what better place for me to be than where everybody is already together? For me to think about the effort and energy it would take to
individually reach out to companies to introduce myself, to build connections for sponsorships or whatever, doing collaborative marketing campaigns, it would take me so much longer. So it’s actually not extra work it makes your job so much easier when you think this way. The added benefit is. You really do help your overall community and the economy and the country.
Scott Martineau: Let me say it this way. What I’m hearing you say is you’re trying to help entrepreneurs see how to put themselves in the flow for what their flow is, right? Depending on what your business is, where you’re located, what you do, what your values are, there’s a certain – there are a bunch of different characteristics that create your flow, your ecosystem, where when you get in the middle of that things just go so much more smoothly.
So how much of it are you teaching people how to get in it and how much of it are you teaching people to create it? And I think they go together. I realize that, but it sounds like you were
coming at it more from the standpoint of creating that ecosystem that works for you versus maybe identifying an existing one and jumping into it.
Pam Slim: Actually it’s the latter because it’s so much easier when you’re starting to be going somewhere where that already has a room crawling with people who are ideal customers.
Scott Martineau: I’m glad to hear you say that because that’s a much more pragmatic answer for our listeners than hey, in addition to your business make sure you’re creating the flow and the ecosystem that works for you. That’s just so hard. I’m glad to hear it’s the latter.
Pam Slim: No. No, it’s like you think of the watering hole is the metaphor that I give. Within the overall ecosystem of all the places where your customers hang out, where are those watering holes? Where are the places in person and online where great numbers of your ideal customers hang out. The story I always tell is Guy Kawasaki who is – I call him my link sugar daddy.
Scott Martineau: Link Sugar Daddy. Nice.
Pam Slim: I tease him now, because before anybody knew who I was, when I was an unknown blogger in Mesa, he kind of – I shared a post
with him and he posted it on his blog. And I went from six readers to 20,000 readers in one day because he at that time, in 2006, was sitting on this online watering hole of his blog of tons of people who were my ideal clients and customers.
So because I was able to connect with him and get that exposure, then that was a way that I immediately got so much publicity. I think that’s one of the things that my publisher eventually connected with me on. The same thing is true you look at ICON, the conference that you run every year. For me it’s a great place to be because everywhere I look there’s small business owners who I can help.
Scott Martineau: That’s interesting because we just got finished with our annual event for our partners so this is kind of our ecosystem of providers for small businesses. I had a really interesting experience talking with, I don’t know, call it 60 partners or so just one after another. They’re all coming to a watering hole and the thing about that is everybody’s thirsty for something. And what was fascinating was just to see. I got to observe first hand –
First of all, in all of our feedback from the event what rang out the most – had the most benefit was obviously the opportunity they had to network with other partners. Because you’d have one partner expressing a challenge they’re having in a particular area and literally two conversations later another partner is saying yeah, I’ve got that thing nailed, but I’ve got this issue who another partner has solved.
So there’s an immense amount of you could think of it sort of wasted opportunity that just exists and it’s not until we come together in this community way that we start to see where that stuff… It’s not – maybe the thinking is it’s only going to be a give-give situation or something instead of a give and take. But that’s my observation. That’s where the magic happens.
Pam Slim: Well, and here’s the thing you want to think about. In the example of PartnerCON it’s a watering hole for peer circles, right?
Scott Martineau: Right.
Pam Slim: It will help you to develop mastery and solve problems in your practice.
Where you want to be for a watering hole when you want clients is you want to be the weirdo in the room. You want to be the only person who knows how to get Infusionsoft up and running in a roomful of people who don’t even know what marketing automation software is so that everybody you bump into is an idea client. It’s actually very a very common kind of mistake where people spend a lot of time. I know a lot of folks in my coaching community. We love hanging out together.
Clate Mask: You’re lonely so you go to the place where you know peers are going to provide a little commiserating, a few ideas, but you’re right. If you’re lonely the natural tendency isn’t to go to a place where you’re the weirdo in the room. That’s not the natural tendency.
Pam Slim: Yes. It’s not the natural thing, but that is the very best place for you to be likely to get new clients if you have been thoughtful about where might be a place that would be ideal for you. So one of the clients I was talking to you today is a marketing consultant who does amazing work around branding and she loves serving
serving professional services companies so accountants and lawyers and consultants.
And so a great place for her to be would be the only marketing branding consultant at an association for certified accountants. Therefore she could be with people she loves. She understands their business, but she would be the great go-to person and that’s where you get really healthy referral networks. So I think we need both. We need professional mastery and peers and collaboration, but don’t mistake that for doing business networking for new business.
And you’re right. The how you begin to be the weirdo in the room feels awkward. People don’t know who you are, but what’s part of what I want to demystify so it’s okay. Really the best you can do is go in and listen, listen, listen and just ask great questions of people and build rapport and then be able to just clearly and succinctly say what you do.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, that’s awesome. Pam, how do you coach people on finding
their water hole? I mean there are so many things that come into play. You’ve pointed out that there are different kinds of watering holes. You’ve got one for peers. You’ve got – it’s hard to find watering holes for Jedi knight – the high council of Jedi knights because they’re pretty rare.
But there’s even a place where you could increase your odds of finding that. But what about – how do you help them identify their watering hole, whether it’s for peers or for – and maybe a few examples of sort of non-intuitive watering holes that you’ve observed people tap into too.
Pam Slim: Yeah. So the first thing, the foundation, you start first with yourself. So who are you, what is that root of passion that you have? What are your values that you use for sorting criteria for everybody, right? Know thyself.
Scott Martineau: Yep.
Pam Slim: And then you move to understanding the specific problems that your business solves. And Susan Byer of Audience Audits helped teach me that. Don’t define your audience in terms of
demographics, which will make this harder. Define it in terms of problems. So people who feel massively disorganized, who miss opportunities for following up with clients. That’s the way they describe their problem.
We may know their solution may be to use Infusionsoft to really organize things. But always defining the problems first and then you ask yourself there’s – actually there’s a whole wheel that I’ve developed of different dimensions of where you find people. So you could say what are associations of people who have this particular problem?
Who are other thought leaders and influencers that also provide solution to this problem? Who are other consultants or coaches who solve this problem? Who are technology groups that provide part of the solution to the problem you have for your customer? Because as much as we like to think we’re the only solution that a small business owner needs – like you all at Infusionsoft can be serving one part of the solution, but then people also need
accounting help and they need mindset and they need all these other things.
So it’s very specific in just figuring out who already is aligned and organized around your customer who shares that same target market. And then from there you say where are the most popular, best places in person and online? So in person tends to be places like association meetings or conferences. There actually is a conference which is a watering hole or high council of Jedi knights and that’s South by Southwest. And in particular it’s in the blogger’s lounge in the reception area at the Hilton Hotel.
I was there, sitting there having dinner with Guy Kawasaki after the book came out and Ann Handley of MarketingProfs came up – and who’s amazing, right? Content marketer. And then Ze Frank, who is an amazing genius and web stuff, very well known to people and was all talking at the table. And then I walked a few feet away as I was walking back to my hotel and Tim Ferriss was sitting there on the floor, right? And I plopped down next to him.
Where else can you have the opportunity of seeing people like that all in one spot? So when you’re thinking about it specifically like for each business owner you start to go through that process. What do I believe? What are my values? What problems do I solve? Who else is solving them? Where are the very best places? So let’s say you figure out what are the four conferences in any given year where there’s the highest likelihood of having people who have the problem that I can solve at that conference.
And then what’s often cool is the people who are speaking at that conference can then often be people who are influencers, who are kind of high council of Jedi knight members, potentially people who sponsor those conferences. Could be good partners that are also sitting on groups like that. So it’s actually a very pretty straightforward process. I mean it’s the foundation of what I aim to solve in the book is breaking it down so that there are steps and frameworks and tools to make it easy.
Clate Mask: And which book is that? That’s the…?
Pam Slim: This is the one coming up.
So I’m just working on it with Portfolio.
Scott Martineau: You’re not even going to tell us the title, are you?
Clate Mask: Yeah. [Laughter]
Pam Slim: Should I? Okay, so working title that actually Seth Gooden helped me come up with was Where are My People?
Scott Martineau: Nice.
Clate Mask: Great.
Pam Slim: So you’re sitting back and you’re like where are they? Where are my customers? Where are my partners? Where are my funders?
Scott Martineau: Love it.
Clate Mask: Right.
Scott Martineau: Where are my people? Love it.
Clate Mask: Yeah, that’s awesome. I love it. Very cool. Well, listeners, you heard it here first. When that becomes a New York Times bestseller and you got Pam Slim out there on the road getting all the acclaim you heard – it was on the Small Business Success podcast that you heard Where are My People? I love it. That’s great. So good.
Scott Martineau: So as you think about our listeners today, what’s maybe a first step? And maybe it’s jumping straight into the formula that you just went through, but what’s a first step for maybe getting outside of my lonely state and beginning to engage in community?
Pam Slim: Yeah. So I think just the very first step that you do want to do probably before you choose where you go is to define your customers based on the problems that you solve.
When you have that it just gives you a good criteria, which then you go to the Google. And Google has a very quick way. It’s so funny. I do this with clients a lot where they’re like, “I’m so overwhelmed! Where do I begin?”
And we just said okay, I think ideal people for you to reach would be accountants in Seattle. So I literally type in on Google accountant associations in Seattle and I’ll come up with always like this whole list that’s itemized and gives specific information about them. It’s easier than you think sometimes with simple Google searches. You can go to MeetUp.com and you can see some local groups. Depending upon somebody’s scale of introversion versus extroversion –
I worked with Susan Cain who wrote the book Quiet for about 18 months and launched the Quiet revolution. One thing I learned, of course, is you want to tailor your strategy to who it is that you are. I couldn’t be a more raging extrovert if I tried. I could be with you people every day of the week and I’d still be happy. Somebody who’s more introverted, meaning you draw your energy from
quiet reflection; often when you’re quiet you’re good with people, you can really operate well, but you wouldn’t want to be setting up the same schedule for connecting with people. Like I might as an extrovert where I could be at events every day of the week.
Scott Martineau: I’m that way.
Pam Slim: Right. You probably would want to be thoughtful about the amount that you go through but then it’s just being very systematic. I love getting to the place where you know all right, here’s my list. Here’s 10 places where I could connect and maybe make comments or join a LinkedIn group that’s like a perfect watering hole on LinkedIn for my clients. First I’m going to listen. I’m going to participate. I’m going to build relationships.
Here’s a live event that I could go to and maybe here’s a conference that I think I’m going to either go as a participant or maybe I will pitch to be a speaker at that conference. I have one of my clients, Ben Fanning, who wrote a book called The Quit Alternative. At first he thought he was like me and wanting to
help everybody leave companies and then he realized his passion was really in helping people stay who really actually wanted to work for larger companies.
So we went through this process and he’s a great speaker and very dynamic. And so he hired a virtual assistant to just Google what are all the human resource conferences that were happening in the next year. Organized it; went through the process where we organized the submission deadlines for being a speaker. It didn’t cost him very much and he had all of these different proposals and now he’s just been speaking all year long and building his audience in a huge way.
So it doesn’t have to be huge, it’s just taking that pause to really think about where can I start and then as we know the thing that stops most people from success is not knowing what to do of all the activities.
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: Right. That is – that’s what causes small businesses to not make it. They get to a place of indecision. They’re grasping for a bunch of
things. We know if you can get really clear for them what’s the next action, what’s the next step, it’s usually – it’s not a problem of motivation or anything. It’s just there’s all these different things. They just get overwhelmed with what’s next. We see that again and again and again.
Pam Slim: Yes. For sure.
Scott Martineau: One of the questions we like to ask all of our guests is if there is a character – what is the characteristic that you have seen connected to small business success most frequently?
Pam Slim: I’m always slightly rebellious around this because I have seen so many different kinds of people be successful so I would never say it’s a characteristic of a certain personality type or Myers Briggs profile.
Clate Mask: So what is it for you? What do you think your characteristic is?
Pam Slim: Here’s what I’ll say. It’s the ability every day to be knocked down and get back up with a fresh smile on your face, dust yourself off, look at the sky and say you’re still here. I’m still here. Let’s do this again. That really is that grit, that tenacity.
And not just getting in fighting every day, but being able to have the mindset where you know that you have this vision and even though things may not be happening that you can wake up each day kind of with that fresh perspective so that you have the energy and enthusiasm to stay the course. You know, watching you guys over so many years it’s a whole journey. There’s such an emotional journey when it comes to growing what you want to grow.
We love to show the highlights of just these success things and you’re on the magazine and wow, they got funding. That’s amazing. That’s a miracle. What they don’t see are all these many, many, many quiet, private moments of having to make excruciating decisions of having to do things that feel impossible. Of feeling like you have some kind of a failure or challenge that is impossible to overcome.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
Pam Slim: And I just think it’s that ability to say okay. I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but I have faith that I’m going to get up and be positive and do it again. If I can slip two in it would be – and then
have friends. Like don’t do it by yourself.
Scott Martineau: That’s great. Yeah, in the book – in our book, Conquer the Chaos we talk about disciplined optimism. And it is that ability to deal with the challenges, the frustrations, the problems, getting knocked down and getting back up with a smile on your face and going at it again and learning from what it was. I totally agree with you whether you call it grit or resilience or whatever it is. We see that again and again.
We agree that it’s crazy. I mean it’s just so crazy how you can have – there’s no mold that the people should be trying to fill. There’s no oh, I’ve got to do this and this and this and this. You might not have disciplined optimism or grit or resilience that we were talking about. But you’ve got some other characteristics that are amazing and that nullify the need for that other one.
There’s just – the reality is there are very few things that you just have to have that specific thing and that’s never our intent to
identify some kind of recipe. It’s to hear what people have found is successful for – is effective for them. Because our listeners are as diverse as the world really. And you’ve got – you’ve got people that I think, unfortunately, are trying to fill a mold instead of just being them and being really clear about what works for them.
Pam Slim: That’s right. I always tell Gary V. I would be a terrible Gary V. Gary is a fantastic Gary V. I would be horrible.
Scott Martineau: And he would be a terrible Pam Slim.
Pam Slim: He would be a terrible Pam Slim. He would be miserable and vice versa. So it is seeing that. The other thing to slip in there is just that humility, like beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers, but just always be open to hearing.
Pam 2: Awesome.
Scott Martineau: Sometimes the ego is actually what’s causing us to want to make it feel like we’ve got it all figured out. I mean that’s what’s pushing us to the mold, right? It’s not being – I mean I think when you have the confidence – and I’m going to get knocked down, but I know I’m going to get back up and I’m going to maintain this
undying belief that I can accomplish it somehow. It takes a lot of humility.
Pam 2: Yeah. That’s great.
Scott Martineau: Well, Pam, I don’t know – so we’re not going to agree on the fact that we’ve got to take more people out of big business.
Pam Slim: Hel-LO.
Scott Martineau: But, our mission is to lead a movement to help the world be organized for more small businesses to be successful. I love that we got to talk today about the power of community in that and I love what you’re doing. I’m excited to hear more about ways that we can empower small business owners. We’ve had maybe sort of a simplistic view of that. We’ve talked a lot about the power of masterminding with business owners and having not just friends, but maybe creating structure for accountability.
But I love this depth around looking to create – find the watering holes, have peers, find watering holes, be creative and be the weirdo in the room for your customers. And excited about what you’re doing to help this cause of small business success.
Pam Slim: We all need each other. We do. And that’s what feels good is it’s
way too big of a task for any one of us to handle ourselves. So that’s the other benefit of having a whole coalition, right? We all kind of can link our arms in order to be doing the big job. But there is no more exciting, better thriving place to be really just reenergizing and reinventing ourselves as a nation and as a world than through small business. That I will agree with you on.
Scott Martineau: Well, that’s great. Well thank you so much for being with us, Pam. This has been a fun episode. Of the Small Business Success podcast. We totally appreciate you being here. Everybody thinks – you heard the book title here first and we’re pretty excited that we got to have Pam with us. So pamelaslim.com you can learn more. Thanks for being here with us. And for everybody out there go grow your business, go grow yourself. Best of luck to you as you help your business succeed.
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