Contributor at StartupNation
Susan Johnston Taylor has covered business and entrepreneurship for publications including The Boston Globe, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. She’s also a regular contributor to the money section of USNews.com.
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Over the past 20 years, business coach and author Pamela Slim has helped countless businesses of all sizes problem solve and grow. She’s authored two business books, “Escape from Cubicle Nation” and “Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together.” In 2016, she opened K’é, a place to grow small business in downtown Mesa, Arizona.
We caught up with Slim to discuss how entrepreneurs can grow and prosper this year. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
StartupNation: Tell us about K’é. Who is it for and how does it work?
Pamela Slim: We’re a brick and mortar facility. But the structure is a small business learning laboratory, which actually engages both our local community as well as our virtual community. We test and experiment with different solutions to small business problems in a really structured way.
We’re actually kicking off our official laboratory experiments in the beginning of March. We did a big research project this past fall in partnership with the Cloud Software Association with over 2,000 small business owners that participated. We gathered all kinds of data from small business owners all over the U.S. and Canada. We got data back about what some of the critical problems and challenges people face (are), as well as their attitudes toward obstacles.
We’ll take five problems a year and do a two month-deep dive on one problem at a time where we define the components of a problem, try different things, research best practices and then share the findings.
StartupNation: Some experts recommend that small-business owners look for mentors; others say they need a group of advisors. What do you recommend?
Pamela Slim: The language that I use around it is really to define and connect with the ecosystem that surrounds your business, specifically the problems that you want to solve in your business. Sometimes that includes getting some outside perspective and support.
But I think it’s different for different people. People have different learning styles, different types of businesses. Some people can’t afford coaching fees that you might have for a business coach or mastermind program, and so they may need to be creative in how they connect with people who could help them. It’s very challenging to try and solve all of your problems by yourself, so when you begin to engage your ecosystem, develop partnerships with peers, have strong mentors, people that you trust, it really makes your job easier. I think it also makes you strong as a business.
StartupNation: What are some ways to connect with your ecosystem?
Pamela Slim: The first thing is to really get clear in defining what is that problem that you are interested in solving? Let’s say you’re a fitness trainer. You are engaging with people in the world so that they feel stronger, better, healthier, right? With that problem in the center, then you can ask yourself, “Who are other people that I have around me who are also contributing in a positive way to solving that problem?” And that’s where you can see peers that are doing similar work, maybe in a slightly different way or a slightly different market than you.
When you’re defining the people around you who are also contributing to solving that problem, that’s where you can see a lot of different opportunities to connect with people. There can be people who create technology to help solve problems that you care about, there can be people who have complementary services. In the case of a fitness trainer, there might be a nutritionist, there might be a life coach, there might be other people who are working also on helping people to be happier and healthier. That’s where you start to understand that you’re part of an overall ecosystem that’s addressing a problem.
StartupNation: How do you filter out advice that might not be relevant?
Pamela Slim: It’s always a process of experimentation. Part of the discernment of information is where you do get a sense of what are your goals, values and ethics. Is the person who is giving the advice conducting their business in a way that aligns with my ethical guidelines and my values? And the second part is, does it work for me? Really the only way that you can figure that out is by doing a small experiment.
Let’s say before deciding to invest $10,000 in a process or expensive mastermind program, maybe you want to start to work on a smaller program to see how you like working with the person and the method.
StartupNation: Anything else you’d like to add?
Pamela Slim: There are two pieces that are really important when you are looking for ways to grow and strengthen as a business owner. The first thing is to take time really reflecting on who you are, what your strengths are, what your values are, so that then as you go out, you have some decision criteria. And then when you are going through that process of researching people, that’s where I really encourage you to trust your judgment. These are often signals that might say, “Maybe this is really not the best thing for me.”
If you do try something that doesn’t work, that’s okay. That’s part of the learning process. Every time you do that or spend time really reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, then you’re going to get stronger and more capable the next time around. As somebody who’s worked with people for over 20 years, I know even those that seem to have it the most together, including those that are super successful, have challenges. It’s just part of the process.