Heroines of Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship #1: Pamela Slim
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Interview contributed by Cody McKibben.
Pamela Slim is a tremendously friendly career and entrepreneurship expert who left corporate life in 1996. Her Mesa, Arizona-based company Ganas Consulting helps professionals and entrepreneurs find and do their best work. Some of her corporate clients include Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Charles Schwab, and Sun Microsystems. She also helps corporate prisoners become thriving entrepreneurs through her tremendously successful blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and the Escape from Cubicle Nation podcast. Ramit has featured Pam on Friday Entrepreneurs before, so check out that interview if you’d like to learn more about her. Today, our talk is a little bit more focused on women and entrepreneurship.
Before you went into self-employment, you were the manager of training and development at a $300 billion investment firm, Barclays Global Investors. What was the corporate experience like before you decided to escape?
Despite the name of my blog, I actually really loved my job. I had an absolutely exceptional team, manager and Vice President that taught me most everything I know about organizational and executive development. I was still in my twenties, so I had a lot to learn about business in general and my field in particular. I had great education benefits which I took advantage of by taking a bunch of training and development courses from UC Berkeley. We learned, we created, we had fun. Then, quite unexpectedly, the manager and VP left, since we went through an acquisition. A totally new management team came on board and *poof* from one day to the next, my “dream job” turned into a nightmare. It was then I realized that who I worked with and for was much more important than what I did. I quit shortly thereafter, and never looked back.
So what are you doing now?
I work with frustrated corporate employees who are ready to bust out and start their own business. My services including coaching individuals, teaching group classes on particular topics like 10 steps to starting a business or how to build platform, as well as doing some freelance projects like writing and recording podcasts or articles. My blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, focuses on the particular period of transition between deciding you can’t stand another day at your corporate job and opening your doors for business. I try to balance informational “how-to” information with analytical “why do I feel so crazy” information that explains the emotional side of personal change in a way many people can understand. I also publish a bi-monthly podcast, and a weekly radio show, on VoiceAmerica Business. I am writing my first book, and working on an information product that I hope to launch right before my baby is born, at the end of September.
Congrats on the book deal, and especially on the new addition to your family! Your company, Ganas Consulting, helps coach clients through starting their own businesses. You’ve said that you often find your clients feel like prisoners in the corporate world — unable to express their creativity and so forth. From your experiences, do women in corporate life feel these effects in any unique ways that most men tend not to?
I think that we all experience the “imprisonment” feeling in different ways. I certainly hear lots and lots of men express their despair living in corporate dronehood. Their pain and discomfort often manifests as it does in women through the physical realm…muscle aches, tight necks, heart trouble, high blood pressure, etc. Where we might differ slightly, depending of course on the home situation, gender roles and if kids are involved, is the general added pressure some women feel to take care of business at work, at home and with the kids. The amount of responsibiity can feel uneven and crushing to some women, and they feel trapped in all roles, unable to get a free moment to speak their mind as a person, not as a mom, wife or employee. But given the natural juggling many women do in their daily lives, they often adapt to entrepreneurship easier than men.
Interesting. What about you personally? What challenges did you have to overcome in the process of setting up Ganas? Did you face any hardships you think most men in the consulting business might not face?
I actually had it pretty easy when I started my business since I got a nice, juicy client right off the bat (Hewlett Packard) and a six-month project that guaranteed I could pay my bills without worrying about hustling for new work. Since I was selling my brain and not a physical product, there were no big start-up costs or financing hurdles, which is sometimes where you hear stories of slightly increased challenges for women to get VC funding or bank loans.
My challenge in the early years had to do with pricing my services appropriately, since I tended to undervalue my services and felt uncomfortable asking for “too much.” I know that this is something that affects many new entrepreneurs, but in my 11+ years of self-employment experience, I would say that it affects women at a much higher ratio then men. It could be that there is a big conspiracy by the misogynistic male white corporate machine that starts to disempower us in kindergarten and stop us from all kinds of things like getting into math, finance and engineering careers. I discount nothing, as I was raised with a healthy dose of skepticism and a fondness for theories of oppression.
Another likely theory is that females are raised in many societies to be in a “helper” and “nurturer” role, and to downplay material gain. Fathers historically talk to sons more about business and finance than they do their daughters. Women are taught to compromise and broker peace, not to engage in hardball negotiations. Whatever the cause of my beliefs, I had to get over some ineffective mental blocks in order to charge what I was worth. I am always curious what other women (and men!) think about this topic, so please comment here.
You say you went through a phase of self-employment evangelism. What are some of the more effective methods you found to encourage others to go solo?
My best experience with encouragement is through my blog. I call it the Magical Mystery Tour, because ever since I began to write it, I have experienced a strange and wonderous connection with thousands of people I never would have had the chance to talk to. I never know which topic or post is going to make an impact…sometimes what I consider the most off-topic or “out there” subjects get the most heartfelt responses. Perhaps my favorite compliment ever came from a reader who told me that I represented “virtual hope.” How cool is that? I would like to stress that my goal is not to have everyone in the world quit their corporate job to start a business. Some are not ready, equipped or naturally suited to self-employment. What I do want to do is demystify the process so that more people feel comfortable exploring the option to see if it is right for them.
Ramit writes about personal finances for young people, but only about 20% of his readers are women. Suze Orman’s new book, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny, points out that most women are not as engaged with their finances as men. Do you agree? Why do you think this is?
I totally agree with Suze Orman’s assessment that women are not as engaged with their finances as men. I gave some of the reasons in an earlier response: socially, women are not encouraged to be money-focused, but rather family- and relationship-focused; statistically, parents don’t talk to their daughers as much as their sons about finance-related topics; women are often steered into more “helping” professions like HR, marketing and teaching rather than science, math or engineering where they would have more exposure to and application of statisics, numbers and analysis. I am sure there are some really smart academics that have published mountains of research on the question, I just don’t have access to it. I definitely think one big flaw is that basic, financial literacy is not taught as a core curriculum at every grammar, junior high and high school around the world…which is one more reason why Ramit should go on Oprah to shine some major media light on the issue and get people all riled up!
I agree! And he should take you and me with him! You have a good relationship with Dr. Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star. Tell me a little bit about Dr. Beck and what you’ve learned from her. Do you have any other favorite female role models in the business world?
I joke with Martha that if she didn’t agree to work with me, I would stalk her, so it was good she chose the path of least resistance, and not restraining orders. Martha is one of the smartest people I know. I love two things in particular about her: she is extremely practical in her approach to coaching, and has come up with some of the best tools I have ever seen to help people move from misery to what she calls their “right life.” She is also not afraid to tap into the intuitive, organic, some would say supernatural part of the human experience. In modern western life, we are so obsessed with left-brain activities that we forget that since the beginning of time, societies around the world have trusted their natural instincts, embraced signs, symbols and serendipity, viewed themselves as part of the entire natural system and placed as much value on feelings as thoughts. I kind of snicker when people write off all talk of intuition as “new age”…it is about as “old age” as you can get. Sure there are lots of hucksters and hustlers who peddle enlightenment and wealth via the number of times you view The Secret. But the true wise people I know like Martha see that in order for people to make significant life changes they have to engage all parts of themselves…mind, body and soul. I call it a “full-contact approach to life.”
Obviously Martha is a great example of someone who has built amazing platform, since she cavorts with Oprah and has her pick of high-profile media opportunities. The cool thing is that she is 100% genuine, and is as down to earth in person as she appears on TV. Plus she is incredibly funny, a vital quality in a role model!
I don’t really use gender as criteria for role models…it is more the connection I have with the person, and how I see them live their life. Recently, Bob Sutton and Guy Kawasaki have been very encouraging, as has Andrea Lee of Multiple Streams of Coaching Income.
Any last words of advice for young readers who are interested in following in your consulting footsteps?
Don’t spout bullshit. Focus on the business needs, not the short-sighted desires of management. Run from projects that you know are inane and doomed to failure, no matter how much they offer to pay you. When inevitable failure occurs, they will always blame the consultant.
There is a reason why many consultants have a reputation like “The Bobs” from Office Space (if you haven’t seen it, you must go out and rent it — required viewing for consultants in training). It is not that hard to jump like an eager puppy and complete a project that a swaggering CEO requests you complete. 25 deathly meetings, 322 PowerPoint slides and hundreds of victimized employees later, you may think that you have done your job by creating a new process or program, or whatever else they tell you to do.
The real art and value in consulting is in the initial scoping of the project. Question assumptions. Dig to get the “real story” behind the initiative. Very often, it is a political or lawsuit-saving move. Figure out if it is truly worth the effort to undertake, and propose
an alternative if you don’t think it is.
Pushing back to your powerful client will scare the crap out of you. But it is the only way that you will gain their respect and be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.
Thanks so much Pamela! It is always a delight learning from you. Tune in to Pam’s awesome blog and podcast at Escape From Cubicle Nation, and be on the lookout for her first book in 2008!
Cody McKibben is a student, blogger, designer, instigator and weekend entrepreneur. He enjoys interviewing entrepreneurs and other experts and blogs regularly at THRILLINGheroics.com and codymckibben.com.