Pamela Skillings is an author, journalist, blogger and entrepreneur who spent twelve years working as a marketing executive for major New York companies. In 2004, she realized that corporate life wasn’t working for her anymore. By 2005, she left the world of steady paychecks and free office supplies to launch her own company. She met other people like herself and decided to write a book capturing her experience and advice to help others make this big leap. Along the way, she married Alex Andrei, who is one of the best PR people I’ve ever received an email from, yet that’s not his day job. I get approximately 5 pitches a day and Alex’s stood out because he told me who he was, who he was representing (in this case his wife) and that she needed help. I received a review copy in the mail (me holding it on the left) and started reading. Those of you who purchase the book, you will be receiving the bright yellow copy on the right. Below is my interview with the fabulous Pamela.
Pamela, I do believe that people can love their jobs. Is escaping from corporate america for everyone though? Don’t we need skilled workers to be individual contributors, management, etc to run companies that help the world function?
You’re absolutely right. Not everyone feels a need to escape from Corporate America. There are plenty of good corporations out there and working for a big company can be a fantastic learning experience. If you’re lucky, you can find a way to love your corporate job.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of people out there who hate their corporate jobs, but stay because they feel like they don’t have other options. I wrote the book for those people because I know from experience what it’s like to feel trapped in what others would consider a “good’ job.
Can you talk about the current job market and how it’s changed from 5 or 10 years ago?
The idea of job security is now officially dead. We now know that no job is forever and that layoffs can happen at any time. As a result, we are realizing that we have to take charge of our own careers. That doesn’t mean that everyone should be an entrepreneur, but everyone should think like an entrepreneur when it comes to their careers. It’s your responsibility to plan for your future and make sure that you’re always learning and growing and moving toward your goals.
Another big difference is that there are so many more career options out there than there were in the past. Technology has made it much easier for people to start their own businesses, go freelance, and work remotely. As a result, career change has become a common rite of passage. The average person now makes multiple career changes over the course of a lifetime. You are no longer expected to pick one career path and stay with it forever. You have much more freedom to grow and evolve professionally without worrying so much about how moving around might look on your resume.
What can my readers do today to take the first leap to start their own companies? What are the challenges that may lie ahead?
Start by taking some action – even if it’s just a baby step. A lot of people dream about starting their own companies, but put off taking action because they hope that the perfect time will come along one of these days. But in my experience, that perfect time rarely comes along until you do some prep work. Taking action might mean buckling down to write your business plan, reaching out to a more experienced entrepreneur for some advice, or building your product prototype. You don’t have to quit your job, you don’t have to invest thousands in state-of-the-art equipment, just start moving forward. Momentum is a very powerful force, but you can’t take advantage of it until you get off your butt and do something. There will definitely be challenges ahead – everything from finding time to finding funding to finding customers. But the very first challenge for any aspiring entrepreneur is finding the courage to get started.
What are your thoughts on personal branding and do you feel that establishing one’s brand online through blogging is a clear path to entrepreneurship?
Personal branding is important for everyone, and especially for those considering career change. Many people stay stuck in unfulfilling careers because they have trouble thinking about personal brand beyond their current job titles. In order to position yourself for a career change, you have to understand how to communicate the value that you can provide in a new role. What are the existing skills and qualifications that you can leverage? What are some possible weaknesses and how can you present them in the best light? Why should an employer or investor want to ally with you and your brand?
Blogging can definitely be a valuable strategy for building both your brand and your business. A great blog lets you demonstrate your credibility and expertise and helps you connect with potential customers and influential people in your industry. That can lead to amazing business and marketing opportunities.
I like when you talk about small companies. You share the statistic “small businesses generate 75% of new jobs in the country and 50% of the American workforce.” What are the pros and cons for joining or starting a company?
If you’re thinking about making a move from a large company to a small company, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into. One of the great things about working for a small company is that you’re likely to have more hands-on involvement in how the company is run. There aren’t four levels of bureaucracy between you and the CEO. If you have a great idea, you can probably yell it across the room. If you want to take the lead on a new project, you probably can. And if the company is a huge success, you will probably share in the rewards.
On the other hand, you will probably also be asked to do a lot more of the grunt work at a smaller company. Everybody tends to pitch in and get their hands dirty. It’s also even more important to do your due diligence before taking a job at a small business. Small businesses are more vulnerable to market forces, so you want to make sure that the situation is stable.
It’s hilarious that you refer to being in a cubicle at work as “cubicleville.” Do you really think its demoralizing to sit in a cubicle? When you were a VP, did your office make that much of a difference?
Oh yes, I probably would have quit my job much sooner if not for that office. I had a window with a view and a door that closed, two major luxuries in any New York City work environment. Before I moved into that office, I was sitting in a gray cubicle farm with fluorescent lighting. It looked like the set for a depressing movie about the bleakness of corporate life. My particular gray cubicle was located far, far away from the nearest window and way too close to a guy who loved his speaker phone. It was very demoralizing. But if I had loved my work, I don’t think the cubicle would have been such a big deal for me. In one of my previous positions, I didn’t even have a cubicle, just a desk in a row of other desks in a big chaotic room. I loved that job because the work was interesting enough that I was able to block out all of the noise and annoying people around me.
“Many corporate refugees flee to small companies for the chance to start making management decisions instead of just management presentations.” That is an awesome quote! What are your thoughts about always having to sell anyways though? Since we represent ourselves and our companies, we must all have to understand the concepts of marketing right?
Marketing and sales skills are absolutely essential for any entrepreneur. The fantasy about working for yourself is that you’ll have complete freedom and answer to no one. But there will always be people that you have to sell your ideas to: your clients, partners, investors, employees, reporters covering your industry, etc. When you run your own business, however, all of that marketing and selling is in service to your big idea and making your dream a reality, not just satisfying some boss’ whim.