Episode 318

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Putting yourself in the center of a community is a powerful tool for any agency owner, but that just scratches the surface of what is possible — if you make one small tweak. Imagine putting your client at the center of a community instead of yourself. An ecosystem of businesses, experts, and tools, all designed to help your clients become even more successful. This shift allows us to completely redesign how many of us think about biz dev and how best to serve our audience. And this is also how we can keep leveling up without having to know it all ourselves.

As many of you know, community is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, which is why I was excited to talk with my guest, Pam Slim. Pam is a 30-year plus business veteran, coach, and author with decades of experience building communities. Her latest book, “Widest Net” is all about helping companies reach their audience. If you have ever caught yourself thinking, “I know my thing. I know my point of view. I know who I want to reach, but how in the world do I reach them?” then you should probably be reading Pam’s book.

Pam was also our guest back on episode 142 for anyone who wants to soak up even more of her brilliance.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency — Pam and I address the myth of the sole owner needing to hack their way through the wilderness, and instead, how to provide agency owners with a way to see themselves as part of a coalition striving to help their clients.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

client-focused community

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How you can show up as a strong member of the community.
  • How to embrace the ecosystem model because you are in it either way.
  • The benefit of using the community around your clients to define your niche.
  • How to get intentional about building your community.
  • The benefit of being the “weirdo” in the room.
  • How to select the right community, so it isn’t a competition.
  • Why this sort of strategic work helps you win long-term.
  • Why PB&J relationships are the gold standard.
  • How you can feel like you are everywhere to your clients and prospects.
“Look for peanut butter and jelly relationships, those with a highly complementary, but non-competitive skillset.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “Where is the edge of your thought leadership? So people are not just following what you have been doing, but they're following where you're going.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “I think that a lot of people get lost thinking they have to be everywhere to be visible. And then they realize no one platform is telling a coherent story.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “I have clients say, ‘Everywhere I turn, you're everywhere!’ I just laugh because I'm not everywhere, but I am very strategic with the places and people who I know they consider to be the best in their field. And that’s not by accident.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “So much of business advice is transactional...like ‘just reach out to 25 people you don't know and do this spray and pray’. And as a long-time community builder, I know this is not the right way to teach people how to connect.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “The ecosystem model is a way for you to see all the different people, organizations, and resources that are aligned with your values, who are also helping your ideal customers solve their problems.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “When we’re short-term and reactionary, looking for the quick win just to get clients in the door, we miss the opportunity to take the time to be strategic.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet “It's a myth that all people who are successful, who have grown unicorn companies or sold their agency, succeed due to the sole brilliance and expertise of the business owner. I have never seen that. And I see behind the scenes.” - Pam Slim Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Pam Slim:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web develop, PR. Whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money, and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency, owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build A Better Agency. Super excited to have my guest Pam Slim, author of many books, business coach to many and repeat guest from episode 142 of the Build A Better Agency podcast. Pam’s got a brand-new book out, which I’m going to tell you about in a second, but first I want to remind you that tickets are on sale for the Build A Better Agency Summit too. As you know, or hopefully you know, we held our very first summit or conference in August of 2021, just a couple months ago. And, knock on wood, it was super successful, everybody had a great time. It really exceeded my every expectation in terms of community building and learning from each other, and connections, and the hug quotient was off the charts, which I loved. And so we’re going to do it again. We’re going to do it again in May of 2022, so it’s May 24th and 25th, in Chicago, and we would love to have you join us.

You know how the deal is conferences, the tickets just get more expensive as you get closer to the event. So, if you want to join us, grab your ticket now. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and then, in the upper-left corner of the navigation, it says BABA Summit. Click on it, and you can buy your ticket now. We are actively working on speakers, but I promise you they’re going to be awesome. We’re already over a third of the way sold out. We cap the event at 300 people, so it stays intimate and tight, and feels like a community. So don’t wait too long. Please grab your tickets now so you can join us. I would love to hang out with you for a couple days.

If you’re an AMI member, either an associate member or in one of our peer groups, of course you know that there is Family Day. The conference is Tuesday, Wednesday, but Family Day is just for members, and we’re going to do some panel discussions, and then we’re going to all have dinner together, so it’s going to be a great afternoon and evening. Make sure, if you’re a member, you grab the Family Day package so you get that included. And if you’re not a member, you might want to think about joining us as a member so you can enjoy that extra day of content and connection. Either way, we would love to have you.

All right. So, Pam Slim. Many of you will probably know Pam from her book, Escape Cubicle Nation, which she wrote many years ago, helping people get out of their corporate environment and sort of start their own business or side hustle or whatever they wanted to do. That was really when she broke on the scenes and became famous for being as helpful as she is. And she has a brand new book out called The Widest Net, which… I love all of her books, but I love this book the most, I think.

Her second book, Body of Work, is also brilliant, and I highly recommend you read all of Pam’s books, and that you follow her on social and just connect with her however you can, because she’s super generous and super smart. But this book, The Widest Net, speaks to something that, as you know, near and dear to my heart, this idea of community, and how do you build a community of professionals that you can support, that can support you, and together you can support mutual clients. I just want to get right into this conversation so we can pick Pam’s brain for as long as we can, so let’s just jump in. Pam, welcome back. I’m so glad to have you back on the podcast.

Pam Slim:

I am so happy to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Your new book, The Widest Net, is out, based on, this week, if everyone’s listening live, this wee, it comes out. One of the things I find fascinating, and I love talking to authors about, is what prompted the book? Because, as you and I have talked about before, writing a book is akin to giving birth. The minute after you do it, you don’t ever want to do it again. And then, after a while, the kids are cute, and you’re like, “Oh, this was fun. Let’s do it again.” What prompted this book? And why now?

Pam Slim:

I always describe myself as an author practitioner. I’ve been in business 25 years, and the first as a management consultant, and then the next 15 really working with early stage startups. This book is really the third in a trilogy. My first was Escape From Cubicle Nation, which I really wrote based on being a management consultant in corporate, meeting people who wanted to leave, who didn’t know how. And that’s really what prompted the first book, just getting people out of corporate, into their own thing. Once I was doing that work with people, I found that people had a binary way of looking at things, where if, for example, they quit, and it wasn’t successful, they felt really ashamed to go back to work in a job. And I thought, “Let’s create a broader way that we look at the world of work, and really focus more on what we want to create, and give people options for how to create it.”

There’s a lot of focus in Body of Work of really, what are you creating? What’s your IP? What’s your unique perspective, your thought leadership in terms you use all the time. And then, from that book, as I was working with more clients where they said, “Great. I know my thing, I know my point of view, I know who I want to reach, but how in the world do I reach them?”

And that really is what inspired The Widest Net. What I find is, so much of business advice is very transactional. You can give people advice like, “Just reach out to 25 people you don’t know, and do the spray and pray.” And as a long time community builder, I thought, this is really not the right way that we’re teaching people how to-

Drew McLellan:

That’s so much harder.

Pam Slim:

Yeah, how to connect. I really documented 30-plus years of experience of building community into a method that people can use to build a business or, in some cases, to build a movement or build a community.

Drew McLellan:

As I was reading the book, while it’s very business-focused, the idea of community, and connecting into a community, and influencing through that community, could be for a variety of reasons. Could be for a personal cause, could be for a business, it could be for a community advocacy thing. It could be a passion project.

Pam Slim:

I look at our work, and the core of work that we do is really moving forward some type of a change. I think most of us want to be doing something we feel matters, that makes a difference for people we care for. And sometimes that does have a work lens, but other times there are passionate causes that people are engaged in. And it’s so interesting, because you can look at ways to do it. To just hit people over the head all the time with a hundred emails asking them to donate money, for example. Or more a way that you can look at what really are the dynamics in an ecosystem? How can you partner in order to move something forward?

Drew McLellan:

I think sometimes people think about their work life and their life-life as these separate entities. I think, when you surround yourself and immerse yourself in good, healthy communities, you don’t have to be two separate entities. You can bring all of yourself to that community. And so both your personal passion projects and your work projects and all of that can live in that same ecosystem.

Pam Slim:

I think it can be easier that way. I will say, being a career coach for so many years, that some of that depends on people’s individual perspective of-

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Pam Slim:

…how they look at work, and wanting to keep things maybe a little bit separate. But it certainly becomes easier, where people can know you as somebody who has a variety of interest. And often, I know you and I share a lot of friends out there that are peers and what I call peer mentors, also you can just have this really wonderful group of people who are eager to help you, and really regardless what area it is, so maybe within a specific area of business. But then when you do have a passion project, they’re the first to jump in and roll up their sleeves and help you out.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think also on a much more personal level, when life is throwing you a curve or whatever, they’re equally ready to be supportive in that, if you’re open to allowing that.

Pam Slim:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

And you’re open to sharing that, because you’re right, not everybody wants to share at that level. Let’s talk a little bit about the… One of the concepts in the book is this idea of this ecosystem, and the ecosystem map. Can you define that? And then I have some questions around it.

Pam Slim:

It’s really a juxtaposition around a common metaphor that we use for building a business, which is building an empire. And so when you have an empire, really, you as the business owner, your business is the central focus, where basically you’re just trying to pull everybody in to, “Look at me, look at what it is that I have to offer,” and really distinguish yourself as the sole expert in order to solve a problem.

Now we know expertise is critical. We all want to do a great job. But really, what I find mostly in the world of work that I do, is if we instead center our ideal customer in the center of an ecosystem, that frankly they already are utilizing, to get answers to problems that we’re also helping them to solve. So, within my ecosystem model, I have 10 different segments. That can be things like service providers. I’m a business coach with business owners I work with to scale their business. You know very well, they also need IP attorneys and graphic designers and copywriters, all these other service providers, that can be another slice.

They also might be looking at a slice of media hubs, so they might be listening to podcasts and watching TED Talks and getting information, and then using products to solve the same problem that I’m helping them to solve. So really, the ecosystem model is just a way for you to actually see who are all of these different people, organizations, resources that are aligned with your values, who are helping your ideal customer solve their problems. And I always just really like to center the customers, because if our main focus is helping them to solve their problems, then naturally we’re going to show up in a really good way where we focus on our expertise, but as part of a broader coalition of people who are out there to help them do it.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and to your point in the book, understanding that coalition is so critical, not just because your partnering with them, even if you don’t know, you’re partnering with them, you are partnering with them to help the same client. But they’re also conduits to opportunity for you, and they can become partners to you in a variety of ways. They can be referral sources. Not only can they bring you new clients, but they help you enhance what you do for a client, by now you can bring them on board as a partner to you and your agency.

So, understanding the ecosystem that surrounds your client actually serves you pretty well and begins to build community for you in a variety of ways. For example, you talked about, in an agency, agencies need consultants like me, but they also need IP attorneys, and they need research people. Common guest on the podcast is Sharon Toerek or Susan Byer, and so I’m able to be more helpful to my clients by introducing them to those folks. But also, I learn. They make me smarter and better because I surround myself with them. And so, as I was reading the book, I was thinking, this is exactly right. This is how we level up without having to know it all ourselves.

Pam Slim:

It’s exactly right. I think it’s a myth that’s perpetuated by sometimes just business lore, that all the people who are successful, who have grown unicorn companies, or sold their agency, whatever is the goal that people have, that it’s really just due to the sole brilliance and expertise of the business owner. I don’t know about you, I have never seen that. And you and I see behind the scenes, so I’ve definitely seen it positioned that way, but the reality often is, there’s a really powerful team. There could be coaches or consultants that are working with them, there are other colleagues. And so, when you know that it really is your job to figure out, in a really smart ecosystem, this is something to me that’s really exciting from a personal and professional growth perspective. When you know your peers are on their game…

Drew McLellan:

It’s awesome.

Pam Slim:

…and you have to really choose that segment where you say, “Gosh, I know Drew is really good at this part, and Susan is amazing when it comes to really understanding your audience, so where is the place where I can really play a truly differentiated role?” That to me is that definition of thought leadership, because you really are looking at what is your unique perspective, and how you are helping to solve the problem. And really, ultimately, in identifying this ecosystem surrounding your client, it really should just be all the puzzle pieces that help them to solve their problem as quickly, effectively, as efficiently, and as cheaply as reasonably investment is possible.

Drew McLellan:

As I was reading, I was thinking, one of the things that we all have to learn and get better at is… so I’m now a part of this ecosystem that we just described. How do I contribute and add value? I can see how everybody else contributes and add value to me and to the client. But one of the things I was thinking about as I was reading the book was, okay, so if I recognize the value of this concept, I should want to be a great community member. I want to be a strong thread in the net. I’m curious what you think that looks like. If I want to be a great part of a community, how do I show up?

Pam Slim:

That’s a great question. I think, first of all, when you do make a choice to want to do that, and just to be clear, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every single day, what you’re doing is always partnering with others, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Pam Slim:

But it’s where you can fundamentally say, “Yeah, that makes sense. I can’t have all the answers for my clients, and there are other people who do,” a lot of the focus in really understanding how to be effective is actually listening deeply to your customer. And when you can do that, in collaboration with others, to me, that’s part of the best thing where you can collectively, lets say there are a couple different ecosystem partners. And just examples of folks that I work with, I will work with other service providers. In fact, Sharon and Susan too, that you mentioned, are good friends, I’m constantly referring people to them.

For example, if we’re really looking at, okay, we’re really trying to help thought leaders to distinguish what they’re doing to really protect their IP, but also to have something unique. If Sharon and Susan and I were to get together, and really sit down and interview some of our ideal customers, and deeply listen to what they’re saying, and utilize each of our unique perspectives to be asking questions and understanding them better, when you have a community that’s really centered around solving a problem in a business context, so you’re really trying to provide better business support, it is important to keep that focus centered on the customer of, what do they need, what are we not getting? What are we duplicating?

And what I love, too, when you look at, often, what it takes for somebody to go all the way through solving their problem, they’re using a bunch of different kinds of software. And they might be repeating the same information when they work with a positioning coach and then a business coach. So when you’re looking together and saying, “What’s the way we can collaborate to really work better together?”, that I think is one way of listening first, and really understanding what other people are doing, before immediately jumping in and providing the solution. It’s a little bit of a different method if we’re used to being rewarded for stepping in to be the expert.

And again, expertise is important, it’s hard fought, it can be very useful. We call it listen first, here at the Main Street Learning Lab that my husband and I run. If we can stop for a moment when people literally walk through the door from Main Street as a small business owner and say, “Okay, here’s my program, sign up for my stuff,” and just sit down and say, “Tell me more about yourself. What are you looking to do? What have you tried already?”, which is one of Susan Byer’s questions, that can give us a better sense of really how to stay connected.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Pam Slim:

And then, from that, once we really get a sense of what’s missing, then we can say, okay, what is something that needs to get done? And you maybe would say, “Well, I’m really great at creating content that’s super effective and pragmatic. Let me create an ebook.” And then somebody else can say, “I’m going to work with banks to make sure they’re really more aware of how it is that we can e