Episode 142:

Obstacles are a given. We don’t get to waltz through life without facing some tough days, barriers and people who are pretty convinced we’re crazy. As a result – we all have “those days.” Those days of doubt, of worry and of asking ourselves, “what am I doing?” I don’t know about you, but there are days when I wonder how I got on this crazy roller coaster. But then I realize that I stood in line just for a shot at the ride and most days, I love it. Every day we make choices and those choices have consequences.

The choices we make define the life we live. I work hard to come at life from a growth mindset. I know there will be uphill days, but I am going to tackle that hill and figure out how to avoid having to climb it again. My only other option is a limiting mindset.

My guest for this podcast is a person I’ve followed and admired for years and I couldn’t wait to speak with her – in fact we planned a return visit to the podcast not even halfway through this one! Pam Slim digs deep to get to the bottom of those tough questions that keep business owners stuck in place or afraid to step out into the light. Her goal is to find answers that allow us to face and overcome those inevitable challenges, so we can enjoy the ride.

Pam had just embarked on some pretty incredible research on this very subject of overcoming or not overcoming challenges right before we got together. I wanted to get a sneak peek at the findings and Pam delivered! We talked about the power of building a community around you and the power that unleashes as you both get support and support others.

Pam Slim is an award-winning author, speaker, and small business coach. Most of you probably know her from her book, Escape From Cubicle Nation, but there is a lot more to tell.

Pam spent the first 10 years of her solo practice as a consultant to large corporations like HP and Cisco and to worked with thousands of employees, managers, and executives. Then came then Cubicle Nation, the blog which led to the book. Her latest book, Body of Work was released with Penguin Portfolio in 2015. In her hometown of Mesa, AZ, Pam has opened up what she calls a business learning library called K’é, which is a Navajo word meaning “a system of kinship connection.”

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • What kinship has to do with building a business
  • The impact of your attitude toward obstacles
  • Why people gather in ecosystems of shared values and experiences
  • What it means to have a “growth” vs. a “fixed” mindset
  • How to course-correct your business whether you’ve been in it for a year or 30 years
  • Why a great business ecosystem is like the ultimate dinner party
  • What the High Council of Jedi Knights can teach us about sharpening our business outcomes
  • The toll that a lack of shared values will take on you in a business (or any) relationship
  • The results of a major research study on overcoming obstacles
  • The power of a group of people who both have your back and hold you accountable

The Golden Nuggets:

“Running a business is not the glistening thing we put on Facebook. What's going on behind the scenes is a big emotional journey.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “The attitude you bring to an obstacle is absolutely going to drive whether you're able to overcome it.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “People gather in natural ecosystems that are surrounded by products they use, influencers they follow, associations they belong to, and events they go to.” – @pamslim Click To Tweet “When you start a business, you have to make it through the “conscious incompetence” stage where you are just painfully aware of what you don't know. You have to have a mindset that reminds you ‘I will overcome this.’” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “The view that you can never change is a fixed mindset. That mindset is a choice that indeed is not fixed. No matter what stage of the game, we can really grow and develop.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “Fundamentally, if you don't have those shared values, then that's part of what creates a feeling of dissonance for people. Working without shared values takes a toll.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “Sometimes you do need to do things that make you uncomfortable. But that should never compromise the ethical foundation of what you believe.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet “When you think of the most exquisite kinds of connections, where your values are aligned, and you plain value each other, I call them your beloved clients.” - @pamslim Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. 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 with another episode of Build A Better Agency. This is an episode that I have to confess, I’ve been looking forward to recording for a really long time. I’m going to introduce you to someone who I have followed for a long time, read all of her books. I think most of you are going to be very familiar with her work, and she’s doing some very interesting new things that are really going to speak to some of the challenges that you’re having in your business. Without any further ado, let me tell you a little bit about her, and then we’re going to jump right to the conversation. Pam Slim is an award winning author, speaker and small business coach. Most of you probably know her from her book, Escape From Cubicle Nation, but let me tell you a little bit about what she was doing before that. She spent the first 10 years of her solo practice as a consultant at large corporations like HP, Charles Schwab and Cisco, and she worked with thousands of employees, managers, and executives.

And then came Escape From Cubicle Nation, the blog, which led to the book, which won, by the way, the Best Small Business Entrepreneur book of 2009. Her latest book, Body of Work was released with Penguin Portfolio in ’14. Now, Pam has opened up what she calls a business learning library, called … It’s K’é. Pronounce it for me, Pam.

Pamela Slim:

It’s called K’é, which is a Navajo word. Now, all your listeners know one word in Navajo-

Drew McLellan:

That’s great. And in Navajo, it means what?

Pamela Slim:

It means a system of kinship, connection, family. My husband is Navajo, and I love to watch when he meets relatives from his tribe. They introduce themselves by clan, and as soon as they’ve figured out the specific way in which they’re related, so sometimes you might be somebody’s grandfather by clan or auntie, it’s that look and that feeling that they have, it’s that K’é, that emotional moment in which you know that you are related. My husband and I, that’s the way we like to feel in general in our community, and certainly within our learning laboratory here in downtown Mesa.

Drew McLellan:

Here’s why I love that, that’s what AMI is based on, right? It’s these communities of agency owners that commit to being as excited and supportive about someone else’s success as their own. They come together in really these little clans, which are these peer networks, and so they always talk about that those groups are their brothers and sisters, and then all the other clans or peer networks are their cousins. And they not only help their own brothers and sisters, but they reach out and connect with and help their cousins. So, it’s exactly the same mindset in my world as it is in yours.

Pamela Slim:

I love that. I feel like it goes to one of just the core dimensions of what it is that we hunger for as humans, which is what Brene Brown talks about a lot, which is belonging, which is connection. And to me, it’s at the essence, it’s not something you add as a last ingredient when you’re creating a business, it’s always the first, it’s always the first.

Drew McLellan:

It’s the core.

Pamela Slim:

It’s the core of everything, your client relationship, your employee relationship, all of it, even as you grow the relationship with your board and senior team and all of that.

Drew McLellan:

Amen. Well, officially, welcome to the podcast. I’m thrilled to have you here.

Pamela Slim:

I’m super excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

I want to jump right in. I know that Susan Baier, who many of my listeners are very familiar with, who is my research partner in all of the AMI research and has been on the podcast a couple of times, and Chris Lee, and you have embarked upon a new research project. Tell us a little bit about what the project is, and why you decided it was important enough to invest to find the answers.

Pamela Slim:

Yes. Well, I have been in business for 21 years, believe it or not, and I, in the last 12 years especially, have been super interested and excited, and the core of everything I’ve done in my work is really an understanding what actually makes somebody able to on one hand, successfully quit their job to start a business, AKA escape from cubicle nation. What is that true journey? What I found in that book and all the years that I wrote that blog was that, yes, it was part understanding the steps in order to start a business, it was understanding all the legal requirements, it was understanding business models, and there was a huge emotional component to that, that had to do with identity shifting, telling your uncle at Thanksgiving that you’re actually giving up your big, high paying job at IBM in order to start your own business, which would get you an immediate lecture and banishment to the children’s table.

Drew McLellan:

When I started my agency, my mom would bring coolers of food, and she would always have some excuse, like “Oh, the ham was on sale and blah, blah, blah, blah.” It took me a while to realize that she was bringing food, because at that time I had an infant, I was raising my daughter, because she thought I wasn’t feeding her. She assumed that I had lost my job, I was starting this crazy new business, and clearly, my child was going to die from starvation. So you’re exactly right.

Pamela Slim:

And you know what, I’m probably more like your mom than you because I’ve seen the back side of what it’s like to run a business. It’s one of the great blessings and sacred experiences of really being behind the scenes, not the fancy glistening thing that we put on Facebook, or the brave face that we put on in our high school reunion where we tell people what’s going on, the behind the scenes is a big emotional journey.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It can be so grueling.

Pamela Slim:

Oh, my gosh. And it can be as invigorating and joyful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all of it. But one of the things in working with Susan, and we’ve really, specifically the last three years, Chris and Susan and I have become mastermind partners, just business owners that get together and focus on solving each other’s problems, and in really deeply diving into understanding Susan’s perspective, it became so clear to me as a business coach that having this very specific way that we could understand, not just the problems and challenges faced by business owners, because honestly, there are some core ones that everybody’s going to recognize, get me some more customers, oh my God, I have too many customers, I have no idea how much money I’m making.

Drew McLellan:

Cash flow. I can’t find the right employees, I have too many employees. Everyone else does what I do, and they sell it for half the price. Right? You’re right.

Pamela Slim:

It’s certain things, like it’s what everybody is going to say, because that is being in business. What it is that we became fascinated by, and to me as a business coach and as somebody really who has the mission to be helping to build the leadership capacity of small business owners and entrepreneurs. That’s what drives me. I see it as it can be in one-on-one situations with clients, I can see it as this emerging island of misfit toys collection of people around the country and the world, which by the way, makes up about 53% of the US gross domestic product, non-farm GDP, our small businesses. Crazy. 99.7% of new jobs are created in the small business sector. That comes from the Small Business Administration Research in 2015. So, we’re not talking about just a couple of people that are doing some new things, we’re talking about the majority of our economy.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. The backbone of our economy.

Pamela Slim:

Right. And that’s where all directions are pointing, is that more and more people are going to be independent. So to me, I think of, okay, what is going to help us in tumultuous times in which we are right in the middle of, doesn’t look like that’s going to change, and that is deeply understanding really what are those keys that are going to help us unlock the solving of the problems, the great problems that we know have been there. So, what we decided to do with this research is to dive into what are people’s attitudes toward obstacles. So, when faced by an inevitable challenge, what actually is your attitude toward that obstacle? And clearly, as you probably understand where we’re going with this, depending upon what your attitude is, that absolutely is going to drive whether or not you’re able to overcome it. And so, that was really the attitudinal side that never before had been done in an academically valid study, so we actually partnered with over 100 organizations, we were co-sponsored by … they were formerly known as The Small Business Web, now they’ve just rebranded to The Cloud Software Association.

So, it’s Dropbox and Google and FreshBooks, and pretty much every app that you use in order to run your small business, because that’s the world they live in too. All their customers are trying to face these challenges, and so we got over 2,000 responses. We embedded all kinds of cool research in there to actually look at ecosystems, and that’s actually the topic of my next book, is I think people gather in natural ecosystems that are surrounded by products they use, and influencers they follow, and associations they belong to, and events they go to. So, we actually put a lot of questions in the survey that also will allow us to actually see what some of these ecosystems are, and what’s this interplay between, if there is one, between stages of business and products they use and people they follow. So, it should be really juicy.

Drew McLellan:

Now, you guys are in the midst of this research now, right? So, you’re out of the field, you’ve already done the data gathering, you have not gotten the final data yet, right?

Pamela Slim:

We are weeks away. Probably in a couple of weeks, we’re going to do our first webinar sharing the results with all the survey partners. So, we’ll show that to them first so they can see it, and then we’re going to be rolling that out with a lot of information. Of course, we’re going to share it with you and with everybody, because we really have designed it. We totally funded this ourselves, we really wanted it to be something that was extremely useful for both business owners, themselves, as well as people who support business owners, because we want to make things better. And then it definitely leads into the next stage of what it is that I’m doing here in business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Listeners, by the time you hear this, the research will be out. We will make sure that there is a link in the show notes for you to get to the research, and I will make sure that we have Pam and Susan back together to talk us through some of the data. I will also have either a link or a note to you about when I think that episode is going to air so you can get the full story. But let’s back up, have you seen enough of the research that you can tease us a little bit with some of the things that you have seen that is particularly interesting or insightful as you think about what you know about agency folks and their world?

Pamela Slim:

Yeah. We haven’t begun to name the segments yet, but something really out to me, I don’t know if you have ever read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, have you read that book?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great one.

Pamela Slim:

Yeah. Anybody who’s a parent, it’s like mandatory reading, because it’s great for being a parent as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Yes.

Pamela Slim:

But she really talks about a fixed versus growth mindset, and one of the things that really struck me as we started to look into the attitudinal segments is that there is one attitudinal segment that exhibits the really typical characteristics of a growth mindset. When faced with an obstacle or challenge, these people expect challenges, they know it’s part of doing business, so it’s not something … they tend to really have a positive mindset of saying, you know what, if there’s a problem, I know that I can try to figure it out, that problems are figure out-able. I have an attitude toward overcoming that obstacle that makes me optimistic to think that I probably can overcome it. There’s another segment, not surprisingly, that’s really contrasting that, which basically is saying you got it or you don’t.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting.

Pamela Slim:

Which, when you think of how that actually plays out in the world that I live in, which is in the emotions and the mind of entrepreneurs, that’s pretty brutal. Let’s say you’re early on in your practice and you do a pitch to a really large client, you don’t get it, and you have that very strong fixed mindset, you might say, “What in the hell was I thinking? I am clearly not cut out to be an entrepreneur.”

Drew McLellan:

Well, I have to lower my standards and go after smaller clients or whatever. That that one incident taught me to not do that again. I touched the stove, it was hot, I’m never touching it again.

Pamela Slim:

It’s exactly right. And so you see, when you have that kind of mindset, it’s understandable, who wants to go fall on your face and make change? Change is horrible for all of us that have to go through it all the time. There are a few people who really like it, but you realize from an attitude toward obstacle perspective, you can end up, especially in the early stage of business when your foundation isn’t as clear, when you’re still going through the conscious competence model, this is another thing for my training and development days, you go from being unconsciously incompetent, you don’t know what you don’t know, you have to make it through the conscious incompetence stage where you are just painfully aware about what you don’t know. At that stage, is one where you might tell yourself if you fall into that attitudinal segment, it’ll never work, I’ll never learn, lower my standards, what was I thinking? Right?

What we know is that with practice and feedback and mentoring, sometimes you can move to conscious competence, or you learn, oh my gosh, what was I thinking? That was a good first step, but maybe really what I need to do is I need to do something else. Like I need a business partner-

Drew McLellan:

Or find a partner or something. I still have to solve the problem, I just am not going to solve it the first way I thought I was going to.

Pamela Slim:

Exactly. Right. Yeah. And then finally, of course, you get to unconscious competence where you feel really comfortable. It was so interesting to me from a lifelong learning and development perspective that’s really been the path of my career of really seeing the link between how it is that we see things, how we learn, what we believe about our capabilities and how successful we are going to be. Because the less likely you think that you are able to improve, obviously, the less times that you’re going to practice, which then means you probably never will get there.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So, you’re going to stay in that conscious incompetence, and you’re going to get stuck there?

Pamela Slim:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Pamela Slim:

Or just barely limp through, which is just yuck, what a horrible place to be.

Drew McLellan:

All bloodied and brutalized. Right. Yeah. And then, you think, I’m not doing that again. That’s too hard. Yeah.

Pamela Slim:

Yes. Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Do you believe, based on the research and your 20 some years of experience doing what you do, do you believe if somebody comes to owning a business with that attitude of that rigidity around their capabilities, or their ability to problem solve through something, or to endure the discomfort of learning something new, or muddling through that, is that a learned skill or behavior? Like if I’m that way today, am I stuck being like that forever, or can I learn to be the person who believes, you know what, challenges are part of business. And I have proven over and over again, that one way or the other, I will figure out how to get over that hump, and so, I’m going to push through.

Pamela Slim:

Yeah. The focus of our research wasn’t necessarily digging into that, our ability to change, we were measuring the attitudes as they are. That really does go to the heart of the book, Mindset, which not surprisingly, that Carol argues that the view that I could never change is a fixed mindset, which is a choice that indeed, including our IQ is not fixed, and we can really grow and develop. I think that it’s the fun part of really digging in and beginning to analyze the data, and then looking at ways in which it will be applied, which is basically the work we have over the next five years, is really looking at the live examples of how we apply it with real business owners. To me, part of what is fascinating as a business coach is even as we looked at some of the research and we saw the output in terms of financial performance, or where it is that people were in terms of their annual revenue and some of those demographic information.

There wasn’t as big a delta as you might think between people who had a very fixed mindset and people had a growth, the part that I think is very interesting is it’s usually about the emotional experience of the business owner, is what is that person’s life like when the lights are off, and they’re sitting with themselves? If you’re constantly beating yourself up, if you don’t feel like you’re good enough, that tends to be a really difficult emotional state that you have. That’s the kind of thing where you can still be grinding it out, doing critically great work, your clients can be really happy, but you as a person don’t necessarily feel good doing that work. And for me, that’s a really important part of the equation. I don’t necessarily think that everybody needs to start a business, people can decide that they thought it was a good idea, and then they go back to working for somebody else, which I highly encourage.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote Body of Work, because I was sick of all the nonsense saying, you can only be free if you work for yourself. That’s just not true and doesn’t make sense. But I also think that businesses need core things. It is like a natural ecosystem if you look at a garden, you need to plant the seeds, you need to tell the soil, you need to water it, it needs sun. You can’t just ignore your finances because you hate accounting. I actually talked to a lot of people who were like, “I love what I do, I just can’t stand marketing. I hate marketing, I just don’t want to be in front of anybody”, to which I say, “That is great, show me your budget to be hiring somebody else to do that for you, because your business will not succeed if you do not do those things.”

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely right. Absolutely right. Well, I talk to a lot of agency owners, they’ll come to one of our workshops and we’ll be talking about financial metrics, and I’ll say, “Well, what is your XYZ?” And they’ll go, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And I’ll go, “What do you mean you don’t know?” “Well, you know what, we’ve had a tough six months, and so I can’t look.” I say, “Well, that’s like having a baby and not enjoying the smell of baby food, so you just don’t feed it. The baby can’t survive.” I also think there’s a myth, and I think your latest book addresses this too. I think there’s this weird myth about being self-employed, like it’s basically a circus and your birthday party all packed into one every day. And it’s like, no, sometimes it sucks, sometimes it just sucks. And there are some things, even on the best days that you still have to do that you don’t enjoy and are hard, or boring, or fill in the blank.

I think that’s part of what I worry about when people start their own business, is that they … again, because they’re trying to escape, whatever the cube that they lived in, that whatever they’re going to is going to be so much better. I think sometimes they’re profoundly disappointed when they find out that it still has yucky parts to it.

Pamela Slim:

It’s so true. In Escape, I wrote that hating your job is not a business plan, and sometimes that’s the way that it’s marketed. That’s an important catalyst to get you to make a change if you feel like you’re really ready to make a change. In Body of Work, I talked about a loading scale from one to 10. So if you imagine one is you bound out of bed on Monday morning, eager to go to work, and 10 is you feel physically ill on Sunday night when you even think about working. And really, I’ve met people who are on the 10, and I’m telling you, it very often has very strong health, physical related implications. It’s real when people are not a good [crosstalk 00:21:34]. When you think about it from that side, that is a piece of motivating you sometimes to make a change, but a solid business needs to have a viable product or service that actually creates value for people who have the resources to pay it, and you have to have the means and the capabilities to deliver it.

And so, those are things that you have to figure out. Now, part of what I think is so cool about the new world of work is we have a lot of really creative ways now we can get that work done. I’m probably one of those that as much as possible, just tries to engineer away, the parts of my business that I don’t enjoy doing, and sometimes by improving the operations and automating it. Susan Baier’s actually an expert at this, she’s such a nerd. I love to look at the 20 ways that she takes her basic operations in her research business and optimizes it by automation. She’s such a genius at that, and that, I think is really smart. The other thing is having other people as advisors. I have a great tax attorney who is very happy to deal with the IRS when I don’t want to look at it, and will look at me in the eyes and say, “You must look at these parts of your business in this particular case”, but not all the time.

That wouldn’t be wise if I was spending most of my time in areas that weren’t my strength. But it’s a really common thing. And I get old and grizzled now, I’ve passed 50, so I can do that technically, and I used to-

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:23:09] like a badge or a card?

Pamela Slim:

I did. Yeah. It was like you could say whatever you want, and nobody can question you because you’re past 50. I did martial arts for many years, and it’s really some of the best metaphors that I can think of. First, I did Capoeira, which is Afro-Brazilian martial art, and I did mixed martial arts in my 40s. I would always observe that there were different people who might come into the martial arts studio, and you can notice a difference in behavior. Some people would walk in and they would see the black belts the first and they were like, I want to do that, and I want to just jump in and do it. And then, there were other people who would walk in and say, I’m brand new, I’ve never done this before, or I come from a different style and I recognize that I don’t know yours, and so I really want to learn the foundation.

It truly is just, I think, part of life and part of business, and definitely a part of martial arts that if you were to go from a first day into fighting other black belts, even if you were physically strong, you would not have the emotional, spiritual, physical capabilities because-

Drew McLellan:

It’s not going to be a good day for you.

Pamela Slim:

It’s not going to be a good day. You have to go through those steps of really learning and gathering the courage. So sometimes, it’s a message that’s not sexy, it’s not a message of make six figures in two months with no effort at all from the beach, and yet, I don’t think it means that you are destined to 10 years of horrible grinding in order to get to a place of success. It’s a combination of good self-reflection, knowing your strengths, intelligent business design, wise counsel and mentorship, and then just dealing with the reality that anything good takes time.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. Absolutely. You said something that I want to dig into a little bit, because you know what, for most agency owners, even the wildly successful ones, there’s an age old phrase in our business that it’d be a great business if it weren’t for the clients and the employees. It’s hard work, and it’s a lot of people. No agency owner goes into the office and has the day that they expect to have, because they basically walk in, and all they do all day is put out fires, whether they’re employee fires, or client fires, or financial fires, or whatever it is. So, even an agency that’s doing really well, the work is difficult. So early, early in my career, long before I started my own agency or before AMI, I can remember being in a job and having a guy who was one of my mentors.

And so, I was, I don’t know, 29, and he was maybe in his early 40s, and he said to me, “Drew, advertising is a young man’s game.” And I thought, what is he talking about? Well, you know what, I have the same card that you have, and it is a hard game, and I get what he meant by the energy around it. So, you were talking about before, when you were talking about the research, you were talking about, basically, yes, do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, but both of those can be augmented for the good or the bad based on basically what’s happening outside of work. One of the things I worry about with a lot of agency owners is that they pour so much of their heart and soul into the business. It’s not Monday through Friday, it’s not 9:00 to 5:00, they sacrifice sleep and their family and the other stuff, and I think they’re tired. And I worry that in that state, it is difficult to keep going up to bat, and to keep swinging at the ball.

So, talk to us a little bit about in your work, what it looks like and how do you build that support, and whether it’s people or place, I don’t know what, this is why I’m asking the question. How do you build that place that replenishes you so that you can get back in the game again tomorrow with a mindset and a heart set that sets you up to be successful?

Pamela Slim:

I think that there’s a couple of assumptions that’d be fun to dig into when you look at how it is that work is structured. I know sometimes certain types of professions can just be like you described, kind of the ad agency where that it’s just part of the culture of the way that it is.

Drew McLellan:

That’s controlled gaps.

Pamela Slim:

Yes. That said, I think there’s a way that you can approach business, which is just jumping in with both feet, having the expectation that you’re just available 24/7, you’re going to do whatever it is that you need to do to make things happen. I love that energy. It’s also an extremely dangerous place to be. One of the things I see very frequently that is part of what can help is where you do spend some time in advance really thinking strategically about your business. I always work backwards. When somebody might still be in the cube where they’re really considering working for themselves, the place we start is really looking at what kind of life do you want to have, and how can you begin to design backwards for that? So, you can create certain decision criteria that helps set parameters around exactly what you do and how you do it.

And when you set those parameters, clearly, there can be repercussions, that you can set certain parameters around having maybe just slightly crazed clients as opposed to those that maybe pay you three times more, but are going to be crazed all the time, because you find that you have a very strong value about actually knowing your children, and who they are as they’re growing up, and you know that that’s part of what it is that you decide. It’s one of those qualities of leadership, and even if you’re just working for yourself, or if you have other people, to me, it’s all leadership, where you are effectively and clearly making decisions about what your boundaries are. And I have met people of all ages in all my years of experience, who sometimes are working in the same area in the same field, sometimes even the same company, and some have exceptionally clear boundaries that people respect and other people are like, you can text me at three o’clock in the morning and I’ll jump out of bed and I’ll respond to you.

I don’t mean to discount sometimes cultures where you need to work hard, but part of it is where you’re really clear as to designing from the beginning, what it is that are really your boundaries and then building a business around that. That’s one really important piece. The other piece, which knowing you hang with Susan Baier, won’t be surprising to you, but we don’t define our audiences in a clear enough manner. And that is the drum beat that Susan is always saying, we can’t just jump in and work with anybody, because all clients are not alike, they’re not all matched to our capabilities, and they have very different attitudes toward the work relationships. Clients that are not a great fit for you from a values perspective, from an attitudinal perspective are truly kryptonite to your superpowers. This is what my friend Charlie Gilkey says, it’s just very difficult.

So from that side, I would say there’s some proactive design that you can do, there’s very proactive work that you can do around ecosystem marketing and really investigating, really understanding the reality of where your ideal clients live and hang out, so that you’re not on the road 50 weeks a year knocking on every rotary club door or whatever, trying to randomly attract people that you are very focused in how it is that you do that effort. So, that’s proactive, thoughtful, strategic design that I think is a really important part of the piece you look at. The other piece is where you do really have a combination of thoughtful practices that could be around things around mindfulness, like meditation. My husband, as I said, who’s Navajo, who was raised as a traditional medicine person, one of the many gifts that he gives me on a daily basis is just stopping me from my crazedness and the kids, and before we step out the door, we all get really quiet and we take deep breaths and we ground ourselves.

And I’m telling you, taking one minute to do that as a family makes a huge difference in the rest of our life. So, some of the practices that you can do, being physically active, practicing mindfulness, it doesn’t have to take tons of time, but that can also make a difference. And then, I think the other thing is having really honest, supportive friends. I call them peer mentors, so the people who understand professionally where you are. You’re always going to have your mom, bless her heart, who’s bringing your ham and thinking you’re starving, or somebody in your family who’s just like, “Oh my gosh, you’re working all the time and you’re killing yourself.” Sometimes you can have that feeling of they just don’t get it, they know nothing about my world. It’s really different than when you and I are on the phone, and I’m like, “You know what, Drew, you’re really full of crap.” You actually are making a choice to not hold a firm boundary, which you could hold.

And if I know that, and I’m a peer, I’m not just trying to give you a hard time. I care about you, and I know that I need you to be physically healthy and around for the long-term. So, you need friends like that, who will call you on your stuff, and they have to have a deep understanding of really the nature of the work that you do and some of the challenges.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, and that’s why. That’s one of the reasons why I think mastermind groups are so powerful. I know that you and Susan and Chris are in one, and I’m in a couple, one is a virtual one and once a week are physically in the same place. Those are the people who more often than not will go, “Why are you making that assumption, Drew? Do you hear what you’re saying?” And they play it back and then you go, “Oh, right. Okay. Yeah. I see that a little more clearly now.” And you’re right, they do it with love and respect, but they do it with a boldness that most people probably would shy away from. It’s important to surround yourself with people like that. I agree. Yeah. I want to play on this a little bit more. We’re going to take a quick break, and while we take a break, I want you to think about if somebody has not done any of the things that you’ve just talked about and they’ve owned their own business for 20 years, how do they begin to course correct that?

But first, let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back because I know a lot of you listening are going, that would have been awesome if I would have done it when I was 25 or 30, but I’m now 55, and all my clients and all my employees expect me to metaphorically answer the text at 3:00 AM. So, how do I undo what I have done? We’ll come back to that as soon as we get back from our break. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast and you find that you’re nodding your head and taking some notes and maybe even taking some action based on some of the things we talked about, you might be interested in doing a deeper dive. One of the options you have is the AMI remote coaching. That’s a monthly phone call with a homework in between. We start off by setting some goals and prioritizing those goals, and we just work together to get through them.

It’s a little bit of coaching, it’s a little bit of best practice teaching and sharing, it’s a little bit of cheerleading sometimes. On occasion, you’re going to feel our boot on your rear end, whatever it takes to help you make sure that you hit the goals that you said. If you would like more information about that, check out agencymanagementinstitute.com/coaching. Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. Welcome back. I am still here with Pam Slim, and we are talking about really how attitudes around how agency owners and business owners in general approach obstacles, and the other things that we can do. Because we know it, obstacles are a given part of our business, and part of it is how we approach them, but also part of it is, how do we build around ourselves, some cushion, some relief, some support so that when those obstacles present themselves, then we have a shot at tackling them in a healthy and helpful way for our business. Before the break, I had asked Pam, if somebody has not been good at this and has not built a support system and has really not set boundaries for themselves and clients and employees know that they can hand them their monkey, and ping them at 3:00 in the morning or whatever it may be, how does one begin to reestablish those? Pam, your thoughts were on that?

Pamela Slim:

Yeah, here’s the good news, it really is never too late.

Drew McLellan:

That is good news.

Pamela Slim:

It is really not too late. The first step is where you just get to that level of awareness where you realize that this cannot continue on, and the price is not worth it, and I must make a change. It’s really the only time that we really make a change, is where we see a significant impact. So often, it is around health, it’s around your personal relationships, where your kids or your spouse your loved ones are telling you, it doesn’t work anymore. You can’t be doing email all the time at dinner. When my son was probably about four, he had one of those water guns in the house, and we’re not a gun family really, but he had a water gun. So, I was trying to cook and talk to him and answer email, all at the same time, and I had my laptop there. And apparently, he was like, “Mom, mom, mom”, trying to get my attention, and I didn’t hear him because I was doing 12 other things.

He comes up to me with the water gun, he points it at me, and he says, “If you do not close that computer, I’m going to shoot you.” It was one of those things where I was like, this is a moment that I am going to remember, because that was eight years ago, now he’s 12. Like, oh my goodness, what am I doing? So, when you have that awareness, then you need to carve out at first, just a little bit of time, and it’s great if you can be partnering with one of the aforementioned peer mentors, somebody just to talk it through with you, where you want to look at creating a triaged hierarchy of what are the fires that are just burning you the most. Is it around your hours? Is it around your creative capacity where you’re required to be providing intense creative vision on far too many projects? Is it that you’re the point person for client crises? Is it your employees?

And so, you need to just identify, and often what’s helpful for that is just to lay out all the things that are bothering you, and then you can just start to put them in rank order, where you know like, this is the thing, man, if I could fix one of all these things, that would make my life better. And then you just begin to deconstruct and figure out small ways in which you could put boundaries around it, or put some type of operational system in place that’s going to make it better. Very often, chaos is a reflection of a lack of an organized system, and it’s because you’re having to make too many decisions, you might delegate something and you get 52 questions back. The hard truth of it is often it’s because you have not properly put training in place, put delegation processes in place in order for your team to be effective.

Re-engineering these things can take a little bit of time, but when you start at one small thing at a time and you were to say, if I can solve within the next month, putting a few more priorities in place around whatever is the burning issue for you, and then taking the tiny little steps to do it, once you do that and you feel the relief around it, and I’m not making it up, theoretically, I have worked with clients on this, I have seen people take back their lives. That’s why I say it’s never too late. I’m not saying it’s totally easy, and it requires you to shift some behaviors, sometimes have difficult conversations, but the hilarious thing is very often, if you have clients that are calling you at all hours, day of night, their family is pissed at them too. They’re also massively out of balance. So in that particular case, it’s often really helping to strategically look at the work that you’re doing and saying, why is it that we’re always having these crazy off hours?

Why is it that every time I actually take something off my plate and give it to somebody else, that it’s such a hassle, and it’s never done to the quality that I think it should be done to?

Drew McLellan:

Right. So much here is to do it myself.

Pamela Slim:

Just going to do it myself. That can really point you to the kind of thing that you want to focus on re-engineering. And so, the key is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by changing everything at the same time, like all of us, January 1, we’re all going to lose 30 pounds, we’re all gonna be better spouses, we’re all gonna eat all organic, and by January 3, that’s all out the door. I would rather-

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:40:33] your spouse eating your chips.

Pamela Slim:

Exactly. Exactly. So little steps, little tiny steps is the way you begin to take it back.

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of it for agency owners anyway, stems from a difficulty in saying no. We are born to be helpful, we want to serve, we are afraid if we say no, the client will go away or the employee will find another job, and so the one we ended up saying no to, although we don’t think about it that way, is ourself.

Pamela Slim:

Yeah. It’s so true. We have, I include myself in this too, we can have such great intentions and we can have a set of beliefs that feels so real and true. If we have trained ourselves not to look at the true impact of our decisions, that’s often where we’re really diluting ourselves. Anybody who’s ever been through the experience of feeling like I am invaluable as an employee, they could not possibly live without me, even as an owner, therefore, I have to do everything because I’m so invaluable, until the day when you walk in and you’re given your pink slip, or your partner buys you out and you’re out the door.

Drew McLellan:

Or the client fires you.

Pamela Slim:

Or the client fires you, and you’re sitting there going, “Are you kidding me?” That’s the moment when you begin to see the truth of the matter, which is that true partnership is never about one person totally giving up all freedom and any personal needs in order to serve the other. I think the best partner that you want to have is somebody who is absolutely modeling being a really great thought leader, being somebody who’s a good business person, being somebody who is rested enough to make good business decisions. That’s part of what you know a good partner is going to want from you. When you have somebody who is basically asking you to forego anything that has to do with really being well fed, well rested professional, then usually, that is not somebody who you really want to partner with. And I go through many stages, there are cycles sometimes in work where you need to do a little bit of crunching. It’s very, very different than that be the consistent process. It happens all the time.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Absolutely. One of the ideas that you talk about is this idea that watering holes are where people gather, but that people don’t gather there just based on their interests, but also their shared values. To me, that that plays into agencies trying to serve everybody and every, and anybody versus really niching themselves and really understanding who they can delight every day. Can you talk a little bit about your ideas around that, and how it impacts employees and customers and even peers?

Pamela Slim:

Yeah. I’ve been doing research for the last couple of years, including this latest study around ecosystems and watering holes. It’s the topic of the next book that I’m working on. And so, it’s really fascinating to me when I begin to understand. By nature, I’m a big connector, if you’ve ever read the book, Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, or a great book by Erica Dhawan called Get Big Things Done about connectional intelligence, she took Tipping Point connector and broke it down to the next level. When you look at qualities of somebody who is really a connector, we definitely think in networks, and you think about in like ecosystems of people, when you would imagine, who it is that you would want to connect with somebody else? It’s generally because inside you’re thinking about all these different factors that would make somebody a good connection. It’s like you and I, we have Star Wars interest in comment, we have Susan in common.

There’s a number of things that can lead somebody who is a connector to want us to ultimately get together. We have a shared interest and passion for supporting the growth and development and strength of business owners, in particular, agencies. But really, when you think of the most exquisite kinds of connections, and especially those that you would want for your clients, I call them your beloved clients, because if you do feel like every day you would rather live without all of them and live without all of your employees, you’re probably in the wrong business.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or you haven’t structured it in a way that you’re surrounding yourself with the right people.

Pamela Slim:

Exactly, or you haven’t been thoughtful about the kinds of clients you’re serving, because I don’t know about you, but for my clients, and thank goodness after so many years, it’s very rare that I ever have a negative client experience because you just learn so much how to immediately recognize somebody who’s ideal, and then how to pass somebody gracefully on who’s not. The experience of working with somebody who is a beloved client is energizing and joyful and exciting. I mean, I can be on fire after having a whole series of calls with people or speaking to a room of ideal clients like you do. So when you look at that and you think of this in the context of ecosystems, really, what our job is, I argue, as people who care about our customers, is to, first of all, be aware of the entire ecosystem that surrounds our beloved clients, who are other thought leaders they follow? What are other service providers they work with besides agencies? What kind of associations do they belong to? What kind of tech do they use? Are they part of any faith or religious community? What is their social circle like?

They are going a whole number of places in order to get answers to their questions, and they’re in some cases, super successful and in some cases not successful. And usually to me, it’s because there hasn’t been a really thoughtful vetting process, or they might run across somebody that might go to an event or a conference with the intention of solving their business problems, and then they tell you when they get back like, “Oh my God, that was horrible. Everybody was trying to sell me from the stage, it felt really inauthentic.” Some people love that, but that particular client, if they really value more authentic, genuine business connections, even though the information at that conference might’ve been good information, the way it was delivered, the ethics and the values of the people delivering it are not going to feel like a fit.

So, when you have an ecosystem that’s really reflective of the very best resources, in a way, you think of it, the metaphor is the ultimate dinner party. If you were to cultivate the ultimate dinner party for your most beloved client, and just imagine having people there that could help them to solve just about any component of the pressing problem that you help them with, that is the ideal ecosystem that you have. To me, it’s always going to be crossed by having some shared values, not necessarily at all that everybody believes the same thing, you can come from very different perspectives, you can have different communication styles. But fundamentally, if you don’t have those shared values, then that’s part of what just creates a feeling of dissonance for people.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m always encouraging agents here, it’s to be really clear about their mission, vision, values, that package, however you want to present that. Because when you own it, when you state it, you make it very clear that this is who I am and what I believe in, I believe it attracts people who go, “Yeah, me too”, and I think it repels, then people go, “That is stupid.” I don’t believe that. I think that’s crazy, or I can take advantage of it. I think it immediately begins to winnow down, so I think you can niche by category, and I think it’s important for agencies to niche by, look, I’m not going to help every butcher baker and candlestick maker, I only help the butchers, or whoever it is your people are.

But I think it’s more than that. I do think it is, as you say, it’s not just around interest or business interest, but it is also around the values that we share, which goes back to now, I have kindred spirits to solve problems with and to get through and over the obstacles that I’m faced with, and are going to be probably more respectful of the boundaries that I set. So, it all ties that nicely together, I think.

Pamela Slim:

Exactly. I call it the high council of Jedi Knights.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Of course, you do.

Pamela Slim:

Given the love of Star Wars, right? You could imagine for yourself or for your client being able to bring them to a place like the high council where they just have this really deep vetted group of mentors, of people who really are, to further the metaphor, really trying to pull out the light side of the forest. There is absolutely a lot of information that we get on a daily basis of people that are teaching us strategies that simply will not work for us because of our ethical and our values proposition. And it doesn’t feel right, but again, going way back to the attitudinal segmentation, sometimes if we think God, there’s just something broken with me, I just need to get over it, and I’m just going to be emailing my list 52 times in one week. I’m just going to do a really hard push from the stage, because clearly, I just don’t get it, and that’s what I should do. Sometimes we find, yeah, you do need to do things that make you uncomfortable, but I would say never to the point of actually breaking your ethical foundation of what you believe.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. Well, as I suspected, this hour has gone by way too fast, but the good news is we’re going to have you back, and we’re going to talk about the research once you guys have all the numbers crunched, and you can tell us what you learned and all of the implications of that, and how we can recognize ourselves and our clients in that, and how that will help us serve them better and serve our business better. So, I’m excited to have you back, but I’m disappointed that we’ve already burned through the hour because I’ve only asked four of the 97 questions I had to ask you. Thank you.

Pamela Slim:

But I’m not going anywhere. Yes. Thank you. It’s just such a delight to be here with you. And if anybody happens to be in Mesa, Arizona, business brings you this way, I’d love it if you come and visit us. We have an amazing small business learning laboratory in Mesa, Arizona, and we are going to be doing some cool things. We’re basically taking all the problems we identified in that study, and we’re going to be doing mad experiments, the idea of small business problems. So, anybody who wants to play along, we’re going to be doing a lot of engagement along the way, and please stay connected.

Drew McLellan:

That’d be awesome. So if people aren’t going to be in Mesa, if they were downloaded in 120 countries, what are other ways people can stay connected to you, can learn from you? How can they find you and create a relationship with you?

Pamela Slim:

Yeah, pamelaslim.com, all my contact info is there. So whatever is your preferred method of connection on social media, Facebook, or LinkedIn, Twitter, I’m all there. I always love it. If you want to reach out and introduce yourself over email, that’s also on my website. I’d love to get to know you that way as well.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Well, Pam, I knew this was going to be great. Thank you so much or distilling down all the things you know and trying to cram them into an hour. I appreciate your time, and I look forward to having you back really soon.

Pamela Slim:

Thanks so much.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. I will be back next week with another guest who is going to get you thinking a little differently about your business, bringing you some very pragmatic, practical ideas that you can apply right away so that your business serves you and your family and your team the way that you want it to. In the meantime, you can track me down at agencymanagementinstitute.com. You’ve got my phone number there, my email address there, so I’m easy to find. I will talk to you soon. Thanks. All right. That wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. Can’t tell you how much I love spending this time with you. Thanks so much for listening. Hey, speaking of thanks, another way we want to give thanks is we’ve built a new tool that I would love you to check out, we’re calling it the Agency Health Assessment.

Basically, you’re going to answer a series of questions, and based on those answers, the tool is going to tell you in which aspect of your business, maybe you need to spend a little extra time and attention to take your agency to the next level. We’ve identified five key areas that really indicate an agency’s health, and we’re going to help you figure out where you need to spend a little more time. To get that free assessment, all you have to do is text the word assessment to 38470. Again, text the word assessment to 38470, and we will send you a link so you can do that at your leisure, and hopefully that will give you some new insights and some direction in terms of your time and attention in the agency. In the meantime, as always, I’m around if I can be helpful [email protected]gementinstitute.com, and I will be back next week with another great guest and more things for you to ponder. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build A Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.