Episode 142

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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 Share on X “The attitude you bring to an obstacle is absolutely going to drive whether you're able to overcome it.” - @pamslim Share on X “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 Share on X “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 Share on X “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 Share on X “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 Share on X “Sometimes you do need to do things that make you uncomfortable. But that should never compromise the ethical foundation of what you believe.” - @pamslim Share on X “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 Share on X

 

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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 ca