In this interview, I talk to Pam Slim about her new book, Body of Work. You can find out more about her book here.
We talk about how you can build a portfolio of work (“Body of Work”), choosing the ideal work mode (whether from within a corporate environment or as an entrepreneur) that allows you to achieve the work and goals that you want, how you can reach the audience you need to reach, master your craft and how to build authority in the new economy with a book.
Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach and writer who helps frustrated employees in corporate jobs break out and start their own businesses. Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, is one of the top career and marketing blogs on the web. A former corporate manager and entrepreneur herself for more than a decade, she deeply understands the questions and concerns faced by first-time entrepreneurs. Her expertise in personal and business change was developed through many years consulting inside corporations such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Charles Schwab, where she coached thousands of executives, managers and employees.
Audio Title: Interview with Pam Slim
Audio Duration: 0:25:45
Number of Speakers: 2
Rui Zhi Dong: Hello everyone and welcome to Profitable Business Automation. My name is Rui and I’ve got Pamela Slim here with me today. Pamela is a best selling author of the book Escape from Cubicle Nation and she’s also a former corporate consultant consulting for companies such as Cisco Systems, HP, and Charles Schwab.
I’ve got her here today to talk about her latest book Body of Work. Welcome Pam.
Pamela Slim: Thanks so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.
Rui Zhi Dong: Thank you for being here. Can you talk a little bit about Body of Work and what that title actually means?
Pamela Slim: Yes. I have been in the business of really working with people around their careers and their work for a couple of decades now and it has been really interesting to work in many different work modes and different environments and small, medium and large companies. In the last eight years, I’ve done a lot of work in the early stage startup. That’s helping people specifically with Escape from Cubicle Nation. Go from corporate jobs to starting a business.
So one of the things I begin to notice really as an overall trend is especially after the economic crash in 2008, 2009. There didn’t really seem to be a framework that I felt could be a global framework for a way that all of us could be looking at our careers in the world of work.
So that would be for entrepreneurs or people who chose to have a corporate path or university settings or something like that because a lot of the old career ladder didn’t really seem to work as industries are falling apart in front of our eyes, right? Journalism and publishing and banking and all of these things and the other thing I noticed is you might find too in our entrepreneur world, we can get very light and dark side of the force. Entrepreneurship is great. It’s the only way to be free. Corporate life is evil. You’re selling out.
I feel that’s too simplistic because we’re in an overall ecosystem in which we have interdependencies amongst each other. Often in order to be a very successful small entrepreneur, we need to rely on larger corporations and vice versa.
So Body of Work, my premise with the book is that the purpose of our lives is to create a body of work that we’re very proud of, that represents for us as individuals what we value, what we care about, where we can solve the kinds of problems that we want to solve and really be conscious about the kind of life that we want to live.
So create it according to our own definition of success and so that can be for one person. One person could choose to be an amazing stay-at-home mom. That is a huge volunteer in her community and so at the last day of her life, she can look back and feel extremely proud for how she spent their time.
It could be the same for somebody that ends up creating and launching ten, hundred million dollar companies. The important thing is that we’re really defining the body of work for us and eventually that makes sense and then choosing the work mode that best fits us at given periods of time.
Rui Zhi Dong: Right. So from the perspective of a small business owner who’s deciding how they’re going to try and grow the company, how they get in more cash flow, whether or not this is too difficult. They should go back to sort of the corporate world, which is kind of like a big no-no in entrepreneurship, right? It’s kind of a sign that you failed. So how does the framework that you’re developing and the body of work sort of fit into that?
Pamela Slim: Yeah, it is because it’s just these arbitrary judgments about what it means. To me, the essence of everything is what are you creating. What are you creating? You may find that you can create something. Maybe it’s a solution to a huge problem that really bothers you. Maybe there’s a segment of the market you feel is massively underserved. As an example you may decide to start a company yourself with limited resources if you don’t have venture backing or you’re not independently wealthy, have a rich uncle.
Then you may find that you don’t have the resources in order to create that solution. So maybe partnering with a much larger company, working for a larger company, that’s building that solution means that you are able to see in the course of your life through your own body of work. That solution happened for that given market.
Rui Zhi Dong: Yeah.
Pamela Slim: You know what I mean? So it’s less that you worry about what is the work mode that you choose and more that you focus on what do you actually want to create. I think even if you’re creating something within a company, where you know the role that you played, that you can claim and own that as part of your body of work. It doesn’t have to be only things that you’ve created with your own resources. You can ask people who have been involved in much larger companies. They have disrupted industries or people that might be in a collective of artists that work on a project together. The important thing is that you are choosing the work mode that’s going to allow you to create the things that you care about creating in the world.
Rui Zhi Dong: So if you’ve got limited resources as an entrepreneur and your dream means that you’re going to have to have a whole lot more funding to make that sort of creation happen, then it might make better sense to do it in a corporate environment.
Pamela Slim: Exactly. At different periods of time I think you can – you always want to be assessing what kinds of resources you have, right? What do you want to build? What are ways you can do it? A lot of what we learned as entrepreneurs is how to be really creative for how to think about that. We have so many amazing tools nowadays. We have Indiegogo and Kickstarter and all kinds of interesting ways that we can build relationships with people who may be angel investors.
So I don’t mean to say that it always means going back into a larger organization. But I think what I want to counter a little bit – and I probably had to help to create a bit of the problem in the first place with Escape from Cubicle Nation. I wanted to counter the idea that we’re obsessed with this work mode. There’s nothing inherently free about working for yourself. I love it. I’ve done it for 17 years. I adore entrepreneurship.
However, it’s hard, right? It requires tons of grit and hard work and gumption and it’s not for everybody. I think we get too obsessed on the work mode and sometimes then we’re also just focusing on what is the economic output. How much money are we making? It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing as long as we’re making money on our own.
For some people, that’s awesome because that’s the value they have and that’s what they measure. For many other people, they care about what they’re actually creating and whom they’re creating it for.
Rui Zhi Dong: I can see here in the book that you’ve actually got a lot of really sort of actionable advice and tips for the entrepreneur who wants to grow his business. For example, you’ve got he 20X rule where you’re talking about if you sort of – instead of reaching out just to one person a month or just getting one lead a month, you need to reach out to say 20 or if you’re reaching out – if you’re testing three ideas in a year, what if you tested say 60? Can you talk a little bit more about your 20X?
Pamela Slim: Yeah, that’s something I found in coaching people for so long, within the startup world is it does take so much energy and effort in order to create your first product for example or when you decide that you want to pitch your speaking or when you have a great idea for a book and you want to go talk to a publisher. It takes a lot of effort in order to create the thing that you want to launch.
Often reaching out to the first few people is – it feels like a really huge effort. So what a lot of people do is they put tons of energy into getting prepared, creating this thing, and then they send – they reach out to two people, to two publishers and they get two rejections. All of a sudden …
Pamela Slim: Right. Then they say, “Oh, forget it. I knew this was a terrible idea. I’m not going to do it.” It is so absolutely unrealistic to think that you just – and occasionally it happens which is what probably screws us up, right? Because you read some blog posts by an extremely lucky and hardworking person who happened to have immediate success where the first time they pitched somebody, they got a book deal. I mean in some ways, I’m one of those obnoxious people. My book deal came not from shopping my proposal around but because my publisher read my blog and approached me about doing the book deal. In this particular case, that happened.
That’s not the norm and there’s like a million other cases where I’ve had to work 50 times for – just 20 times that I’ve had to do – you know, 50 times as much work in order to make all those things happen.
What we need to do is we need to get into the practice of consistent feeding of ideas, consistent – and especially when it comes to business development on developing partnerships and relationships. If you know that you want to close two deals, you have to get used to seeding 40 and really just get in the habit of when you get rejections and you get nos, you say OK. Yes is coming. Yes must be coming because I’m just going to continue to succeed.
Rui Zhi Dong: Every no gets you closer to a yes, right?
Pamela Slim: It’s really true. I think the other real big place that I’ve learned this a lot is in martial arts that I’ve trained in various forms for a long time and it’s the same thing when you look at what makes somebody a great martial artist. Usually the longer that you train, the more you realize how much there is to learn and you must do consistent practice always over time.
As soon as you ease up, you don’t do your training. You get out of shape. You lose your edge. You think you’re great is where you get your face smashed into the mat. It’s really about this consistent practice in order to gain mastery and that’s the other thing. When you look at people who you may admire, which is actually a great way that you can begin to model the kind of path that you want to take.
If you see an amazing entrepreneur or you see a great presenter or a great writer, software coder, whatever you admire, if you talk to them, I can just about guarantee for somebody who’s at the top of their game, they have been consistently practicing and going way over what somebody’s standard effort will be over a great number of years.
So it’s just a good habit to get into. It’s dangerous if you might have early luck and success to think it’s because you’re just naturally charmed and brilliant. You may be.
Rui Zhi Dong: Brilliant.
Pamela Slim: Right? But it’s a very dangerous pattern to happen when market shifts. We’ve seen that for anybody who has lived through the economic downturn. The entire industries completely turned on their head and a lot of people who were resting on their laurels were the ones who weren’t able to survive. The people who absolutely survived through those downturns were those that just consistently practiced always whether they were getting great results or whether they were getting poor results.
Rui Zhi Dong: That’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule.
Pamela Slim: Exactly.
Rui Zhi Dong: So if you were starting over today, and let’s say that you’re not viewed as the authority that you are now, but you wanted to be where you are. How would you sort of start over? I mean if somebody who aspires to be like you. They see you as the model. Would you start yourself again with a blog or would you go straight and try and write the book?
Pamela Slim: I think that one thing that’s important to look at, I started my blog Escape from Cubicle Nation at 2005. At that time, there were many fewer voices that were out there. So as we look at the world of 2014, with the amount of blogs that are out there and certain strategies – in some ways, it’s a little bit apples to oranges in terms of how you’re able to really gain momentum and make an impact.
So I mean that caveat aside knowing that many more people are blogging now. I would say the best thing for me in terms of being somebody who has – when I started Escape, I chose to focus on a particular area. I knew that there was something unique about people who were moving from corporate jobs to start a business. There were already many brilliant minds out there, Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin.
There’s a bunch of other smart people who had written about entrepreneurship. But I found there was one particular topic that really people needed to really dig into to find out how to do it successfully because a lot of corporate folks were feeling more anxiety than somebody who might never have been raised in that kind of environment.
So I would do the same thing. I mean there’s no way I could have written my book if I hadn’t written my blog already for a couple of years, if I hadn’t already worked with a number of people as coaching clients to actually see the process upfront. Part of that is a value to me. I would write about what I know and when people give me their hard-earned savings to invest in a coach in order to start a business, I mean it’s – and especially where they’re risking quitting their job in order to start a business, I take that very seriously.
I’m not just making stuff up and making up a theory saying, “Hey, here’s 10 things you can do,” because every single day, I work with people who were investing their real money, who were taking real risks in their lives and so that’s the thing to me that was so educational is I see what works, what I did with them, and what doesn’t work.
That’s what I honed over time and that was I think the real value. When you’re sharing your ideas on the blog is that you do test ideas. You do see what people relate to, what they don’t. If anybody is interested in being a writer, then that’s really how you hone your writing chops. I never knew I would end up being a writer. I’m kind of just shocked as the next person because I wasn’t an English major. I wasn’t trained as a journalist but I discovered my love of writing through blogging and sharing ideas that I was very passionate about.
So in this day and age as well, no matter what we’re doing, I’ve been talking a lot about this on the book or as the book is launched, for people saying, “Does everybody have to have a blog?” I realized everybody doesn’t like to write but we need to take ownership about having a center place to share our ideas because if you’re looking for anything, if you want to hire a plumber or a software coder or anything, we immediately jump to Google.
Rui Zhi Dong: Exactly.
Pamela Slim: And based on when you typed in that person’s name and you see what comes back, I feel so much more comfortable knowing that you have a place where you’re curating your ideas. You have a place on your site which is your own domain where you are sharing your ideas. People know what you’re about. They know what your experiences are. In the context of body of work, you have kind of tied the threads together about how your experience being a martial artist and a software developer and a volunteer and growing up in a single parent home.
You can tie those threads together and describe to somebody as to how that really impacts who you are in the work that you do. I think it’s really important that we take ownership of that. Otherwise, we have a whole bunch of other sites and people that are writing our stories for us.
Rui Zhi Dong: Right. Through the framework of the book, what’s the best way do you think to have that body of work being exposed to the world?
Pamela Slim: It depends on who you care about. So the terms that I use in Body of Work are ecosystems and watering holes. So if you think about it, whatever your passion is. If you are a consultant and you really care about serving a certain segment of the market. It could be you’re a leadership consultant and you want to reach Fortune 500 senior executives. You want to analyze their ecosystem. Who are they influenced by? Who do they listen to? What do they read? What kind of products do they use? Then also within that ecosystem, what might be watering holes?
Is there one place either online or in person where many, many of those folks gather at one time? So for some people, it’s going to be TED if you like really smart, interesting thought leaders as your target demographic. You could save up all your money. To get at TED can probably be more effective, going to that in-person conference than you would spending 365 days blogging and creating content because it’s all about who it is that you’re really trying to reach. You want to look for that, to share your work in the watering holes where the greatest number of your ideal clients hang out. So if you have the kind of business where you want to sell a whole bunch of your product to a global market, that’s where often having a web-based, content marketing based approach can be great. So you’re found within search engines and you have many people coming from all over the world.
But I found through doing the book in my own experience that some people would rather make a big impact right within their small community. So in that case, maybe you should hang out every Saturday night at a certain barstool in a pub.
That could be a place where everybody in your local community ends up talking about what’s going on and that’s where you get your most business.
Rui Zhi Dong: I love it, love it. What about for small business owners who want to be seen as an authority? Do you think having a book is something that you would advocate or it just depends on whether or not the target market even reads?
Pamela Slim: I think yes to both questions. In some ways, we spill our – in a world where we think people are a little bit smarter if they’ve written a book, it’s actually not true. Some of the smartest people I know have never written a book at all. So it’s a bit of an artificial …
Rui Zhi Dong: They’re going to have it ghostwritten.
Pamela Slim: That’s right. The best way to be known as an expert in your field is to be an expert in your field. That’s really my strongest recommendation. I’m not – kidding aside, you always need to know that you can back yourself up with really feeling pride for always pursuing mastery in your craft and that’s just your very, very best assurance. I remember somebody was saying something to a similar effect. How can it actually appear authentic online? I thought it was the most hilarious oxymoron. If you want to appear authentic, maybe you should be authentic online. You want to appear to be credible. Be credible. Be very passionate about being great in your field and then yes, if you want to be a professional speaker, if you want to be somebody who is viewed as a thought leader – I kind of don’t like that term, but somebody who’s very well-respected in the field.
Rui Zhi Dong: Right.
Pamela Slim: Having a book can definitely open the door. One thing – what I really love is the kind of format in a forum where you can share a particular idea set in one place. So instead of me having to coach everybody in the world about how to go from corporate employees to entrepreneur, now I can hand in my book and say, “Here’s some of my very best thinking found over many years for you to read it in one place. But it has that whole set of ideas.” So it’s a really great organizing principle that can be useful in business as well.
Rui Zhi Dong: How important do you think it is to be self-published versus published with a publisher?
Pamela Slim: I know it’s changing a lot because it is – self-publishing has been – the publishing industry has been going through so many changes lately that a lot of this publishing companies are kind of falling apart. But there are many more very professional resources that you can use, so you can essentially create just as good of a book when you’re doing your self-publishing.
This depends on the ecosystem that you’re wanting to work in. So I found if you have a market that is corporate in nature, having a New York publishing deal can definitely open doors. One of the reasons I think is even though the publishing world is changing so much, it’s still extremely competitive.
So in order to get a deal with one of the big publishers, you do have to go through a bit of a gauntlet. You have to prove that you are somebody who is worth investing in and beating essentially a lot of other people who are vying for deals.
So from that perspective, I think that it can make sense. But from a financial perspective, if you’re just writing a book because you want to use it as an income stream, traditional publishing is probably the worst decision you can make. You don’t make as much money through traditional publishing. I’m weird. I have so many friends who love self-publishing and are really giving up the traditional world.
I love working with a very seasoned publisher. The head of my publishing company Portfolio, he edited the book Good to Great. He had been in the industry for so many years and to me, it’s really interesting to work with somebody like that whose entire profession, his body of work if you will, has been around identifying and cultivating great books.
I mean I’m a blogger turned author, so there’s no way that I can replicate the kind of perspective that I get from working with Adrian than I would if I was just doing it on my own. So to me personally, it’s worth giving up some short term revenue when you just look at book sales, for what you get from a traditional publishing deal in order to be working with people who really have dedicated their lives to that profession. I like that. I like working with those professionals.
But it is very easy to make up revenue when you look at what a book can do within your business model. So a book can open doors to huge speaking engagements. You can start with a book and then you can develop a whole bunch of information products that you sell on your own. That can make you many, many times more what you make on book sales. So you really need to think about it strategically.
Rui Zhi Dong: I think a lot of entrepreneurs, when they’re starting their business or they’re trying to get it going, they’ve got a lot of self-doubt going. That’s why sort of this section in your book Flip on Your Winner Switch sort of appealed to me. Can you talk a little bit about the winner switch and what it is?
Pamela Slim: The winner switch is straight from my time on the mats in mixed martial arts. I described in the book we were doing an exercise where you lay on your back and you have one mat between two people. So we’re head to head. We’re a few feet apart with the mat in the middle and my instructor would say, “Go!” and we both had to turn around as quickly as possible and try to grab the mat and basically fight for our lives for it.
As we were doing this exercise, he noticed that there were some of us doing it stronger than others. Other people were kind of laughing and joking and not really taking it seriously. He got very adamant and he said to us, “You have to turn on your winner switch. That is that switch in your head that says this is serious.”
Within the context of martial arts, it means when you are walking down a dark alley by yourself and you get jumped, you have to be trained to immediately turn something on that says, “I am under attack. I need to really make sure that I can defend myself and get out of this situation safely as quickly as possible.”
So I love that idea in how it is that we approach business because if you think about us having a certain rhythm, we were kind of having fun. You’re on Facebook. You’re going through your day, right?
Rui Zhi Dong: Right.
Pamela Slim: You have a certain pace and a rhythm to doing something. All of a sudden, you get a call from a New York Times reporter or you have the opportunity to talk to somebody who’s an amazing potential customer. You cannot approach that situation with that same relaxed casual whatever kind of attitude. It’s a natural rhythm to have when you’re going through the course of your day. Something has to shift where you say, “OK, winner switch time.” I need to put myself in the zone, so that I am totally prepared. I am on. I am focused. I think when you can learn to develop that characteristic – I use it all the time when I’m doing webinars or I’m teaching classes. I can be tired. I can have personal stuff going on, whatever.
But let me tell you, when I get on the phone, and I have 2000 people that are listening, I need to get into that zone. I need to be able to switch and be the professional speaker that people expect me to be because that’s what they paid me for and that’s my job.
Rui Zhi Dong: Wonderful. That’s brilliant. Did you have any final thoughts?
Pamela Slim: The thing that has really gotten me very excited about the book, I think the central idea that I really am excited about is for each person listening, to really focus on and set the goal for what do you actually want to create this year. We can all develop professionally. We can think about personal things that we want to do to get better at. If you have specific goals in mind, things that you want to create, so maybe this is the year that you’re going to write your book.
Maybe you’re going to launch your speaking career. Whatever that thing is, you’re going to create your first product. You need to define the fact that you’re going to do it, really create the parameter of that. Then set a deadline in which to get it done because that is actually – in creating that thing, that is where you’re going to develop and execute and be motivated to learn the things that you want to learn this year. Otherwise 2014 is going to go by. It will be one more year that you are maybe going to do this big thing. It somehow gets lost in just being within and taking care of business.
So take the time to stop and think about what you really want to create this year and then organize and plan around that so you can have it.
Rui Zhi Dong: Fantastic. So that’s Body of Work. They can get the book by going to www.PamelaSlim.com/BodyofWork.
Pamela Slim: Certainly, or anywhere else online. You can type it in. It’s on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, anywhere where books are sold.
Rui Zhi Dong: It’s a fantastic book guys and highly recommended and make your 2014 different. Thank you so much for being on this call with me Pamela.
Pamela Slim: Well, thanks for having me. It was a great pleasure.[End of transcript]