When Pamela Slim was thirty years old, a bout of pneumonia stopped her straight in her tracks. On paper, everything was perfect. But working “100-hour weeks for 10 years straight” was unsustainable. Pamela was the Director of Training and Development at Barclay’s Global Investors. It was an enormously stressful position on its own, but Pamela was also the volunteer Executive Director of a non-profit Martial Arts organization group.
Pamela’s illness caused her to completely reevaluate her life and reinvent her career possibilities when she was at the height of her success. She is now a coveted coach, speaker, and bestselling author with a business model that allows her to have financial stability and a proper work-life balance.
Before pneumonia, Pamela describes her schedule as, “I would go to work early every day, then take the train to Capoeira classes – at the height I was either teaching or taking a total of 17 classes a week.” Then, her weekends were spent doing administrative tasks for the non-profit which included both group grant writing and presentations.
Pamela was fulfilled but exhausted. She says, “I was constantly moving and I enjoyed it until I didn’t. I think my body just shut down. I decided to quit my job and I didn’t know what was next.”
It was 1996 in San Francisco, which was a strong job market. Pamela knew that she was in demand so she thought, “I’ll just go on some interviews and figure things out at my next job.” The problem was that Pamela wasn’t interested in any of the existing opportunities. She wanted to find opportunities that “energized” her.
Through the power of connections and always staying on good terms with her past employers, she reached out to a prior boss who had moved to Hewlett Packard. She told her boss, “Will work for food. I need to get something going. Do you have any contract possibilities until I find a job?” This former boss was designing a worldwide management development curriculum. Her answer to Pamela’s query was an emphatic “absolutely.” Pamela rushed to create a business name to be paid as an independent contractor.
A Dr. Seussian Business Plan
A few years before Pamela launched her business, she took a class at UC Berkeley with the most irreverent and fun project. “It was a class about writing a business plan based on Dr. Seuss’s book If I ran the Circus. The exercise was, ‘If I could do what I wanted, what would it be?’” The students then created a business plan based on their answers. Pamela wanted to “travel the world and consult people on training and development.”
Once Pamela decided to become her own boss, she had an epiphany. She explains, “I realized that all of those ten years that I was a volunteer executive director, it was super entrepreneurial. I had always told myself this story that I don’t have a business degree but everything I had done was entrepreneurial.” This kicked off ten years of management consulting in various industries, starting in Silicon Valley. This was all word of mouth and long before social media.
Pamela has an unlimited client base because she believes that everyone can benefit from coaching. She truly believes that “if you put more than one person together, you have a dysfunctional organization.”
Pamela continues, “I always tell my clients, ‘Don’t do what I did. I have a huge tolerance for risk.’” Pamela quit a stable job without having a plan. She urges her clients to try a different approach, with her by their side.
After years of consulting, Pamela’s social life was shifting. She says, “I met my husband, Daryl. We fell in love and wanted to move from the Bay area to Arizona. We wanted to have kids and I didn’t want to be on the road.”
Pamela was ready for a new chapter. “I started thinking about coaching people who were considering leaping from corporate roles to entrepreneurial ones. I took a class on online marketing which was completely foreign to me up until that point.” She says, “I had never read a blog. I didn’t know anything about it. One of my assignments was to come up with the name of a blog, and it took me months.”
Escape from Cubicle Nation
Pamela’s blog name was worth the wait, and “Escape from Cubicle Nation” was born. Pamela describes her early days of blogging as “going through the portal of Narnia.” She describes that there’s an entire world where “people are free and creative.”
Pamela connected and worked with people all over the world. She says, “It was a hugely influential time for me. Blogging was beginning to gain momentum.” Pamela received an enormous “boost” from Guy Kawasaki, an American marketing specialist, author, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who has since become Pamela’s good friend.
Pamela explains, “Guy Kawasaki was super supportive. He posted an open letter to CEOs across the corporate world that went viral. It was the thing that cracked open my audience.” Pamela kept consulting, and her blog became a funnel to get new clients. There was no paid advertising, rather the power of impactful content that resonates. Pamela also started a podcast in an attempt to build up her online presence through different avenues.
Pamela never expected to be a writer or to land a traditional book deal. She says, “It came out of the joy of connecting and blogging.” In 2009, a podcast listener who worked as an editor at Penguin approached Pamela, and Escape From Cubicle Nation was published.
Pamela’s writing resonated with this editor profoundly, so much so that she was inspired to quit her publishing job to find her own passion. Pamela has a way with words, and an uncanny ability to lead by example. But that’s not the end of the story because the editor of Pamela’s second book, Body of Work, also ended up quitting her job because she was similarly called to action. Pamela says, “I consider it a bummer because I loved working with them.”
Pamela has a similar impact on her clients. She creates an “intensive partnership” along with strategic advice to help professionals grow. She offers a free twenty-minute phone consultation to see if she is a good fit, and then clients choose from three different coaching options from six months ($7,500) to three months ($4,000) and even an all-day virtual intensive strategy session ($4,000). Pamela refers to every tier as an “investment.”
Seeing the Future
Mapping out trends requires looking at existing patterns. Pamela, on the other hand, is a bit of a soothsayer. “I do see the future a bit. I think because I’m so closely connected with my clients, just noticing what’s happening.” She says, “I wrote Escape from Cubicle Nation before the space expanded. I wrote my second book, Body of Work, because I was finding that people were starting to say, ‘You can only be cool and creative if you work for yourself’. And I thought that’s dumb and untrue. Many people work successfully for others. It’s more about wanting to create a framework for how we think about work and career. It’s more about what you want to build, and what the best structure is for you to figure out how to build that.”
“It’s about defining what you’re building that’s of significance to you and the world.” Pamela’s most recent book, The Widest Net, published this month, expounds on the topics in her first two books. Once a business idea is hashed out, it is time to find customers. This book has a step-by-step approach which includes both a workbook and a “mind map.”
Pamela has always been a “community builder.” That’s because she truly believes that “the way to build a business is through understanding an ecosystem.” She is not interested in “empire culture,” which she describes as, “People who use terms like fans, followers, platforms, and models.” Pamela is referring to the influencer mindset, one in which one person is revered above all others.
Pamela does not function this way in the slightest. She says, “I operate within an ecosystem where my ideal clients are centered. It’s my job to understand what they need to solve their problem, and to be a partner community builder.” Many of Pamela’s clients who meet through retreats or online, end up becoming friends with one another. A client testimonial on the website encapsulates this perfectly: “Pam attracts amazing people and it is a privilege to be a part of her community.”
Pamela is very intuitive when it comes to people and personalities. This is not by accident. “I have great taste in people. I’m super fascinated by people who are aligned in values. They bring interesting perspectives for solving big problems.” Pamela also relies on her background as an instructional designer. She says, “I’ve spent so many years looking at and analyzing performance problems and I bring that lens to the work that I do. The other is a big lens on inclusion.”
Main St. Learning Lab
Pamela’s husband is Navajo, so raising biracial children has made Pamela hyper-aware of equity in the workplace. She says, “I see everything through a lens of inclusion. I always wanted to make sure that I’m partnering with folks that come from different backgrounds.”
What is the Lab? The physical location where Pamela works as a coach and her husband sees patients as both a healer and a wellness consultant. They both see clients virtually and in person. The space is also a grassroots, community-based think tank for small-business economic acceleration. The Lab is offered to the community for a variety of gatherings, especially for marginalized groups including Native, Black, Latin, and Asian communities.
These activities are not monetized and each group manages them themselves. They’re called “Key Guardians.” When someone is running an event, they have the key – neither Pamela nor her husband dictates a curriculum. Community partners and entrepreneurs decide how they want to use the space. Pamela says “It’s a place to just try stuff. That’s what we love.”
When Pamela was writing her latest book, she also maintained the Learning Lab model in addition to consulting with individual clients or working with brands that serve the small business market. In 2022, Pamela is looking forward to running cohort-based classes, live retreats, and monthly “superclasses” which will serve as deep dives on particular topics. It’s not a membership model, but it will enable people to enjoy many learning experiences together.
While Pamela excels in her private business to the tune of six figures plus, the Lab is completely pro bono. Thankfully, though, Pamela has found a way to work and volunteer without putting in 100-hour weeks. No pneumonia necessary!
Pamela is not interested in becoming a unicorn. “That’s not the vision. It’s about having the right kind of partners in creating scalable IP.” There is no doubt that big partnerships are on the horizon.
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