Today, I spoke with Pamela Slim, who is the author of Escape From Cubicle Nation, a book that just came out today, which is also the name of her blog. In this interview, she discusses a lot of interesting aspects of entrepreneurship. She talks about how not everyone can be an entrepreneur, how entrepreneurship has changed in the past decade, why people fear starting companies, and tips for leaving the cubicle to start a business. Pam’s book is very relevant right now because a lot of people that are getting laid off are looking to start jobs.
Should everyone try to escape from the cubicle nation? Why or why not?
Everyone is not interested in or cut out to be an entrepreneur. And to have a healthy economy, we can’t have everyone up and quitting their jobs to go solo. What I suggest is that if you are in a corporate job that feels really awkward, frustrating and not a fit for your natural working style, that it may be worth your time to explore entrepreneurship. You can start small, by following entrepreneur blogs and reading books and trying really small projects on the side. If you find yourself really drawn to the entrepreneurial lifestyle, just keep doing more and more of it, and soon you will feel real momentum and see results.
How has entrepreneurship changed in the past decade? What are the new opportunities out there?
It is so much easier to start a business these days due to a few factors:
- There is so much great free information available on blogs and websites. You no longer need to worry about finding an in-person mentor or expensive consultant, you can find a lot of information yourself.
- The costs of starting up a virtual business are minuscule. Using technology, you can get a nice basic website up and running, and using free social media can get your first customers.
- The global market is so much more connected that it is really feasible to have clients and partners all over the world. I serve coaching clients in India, Portugal and Hong Kong using Skype. Can you imagine how different that is than the old days of having to travel to meet in person, or pay for toll phone charges?
Why do people fear starting their own company?
Probably the biggest fear for aspiring entrepreneurs is living in a van down by the river. We tend to think in extremes, and imagine that if we quit our jobs, we could lose everything we have worked for and become totally destitute and unemployable. This is often our survival instinct talking to us, which is not a bad thing, since its job is to keep us fed and safe from predators. So I suggest planning carefully, setting aside money, and having a Plan B, C and D in case your original test does not go as planned.
Another top fear is that no one will think you are credible or see value in your product or service. To remedy this, the best thing to do is to fortify your self-esteem by reflecting on great things you have done in the past (at work and outside of work), and to take the time to really analyze the unique contribution you can make to the market. You don’t have to have tons of experience, you just have to relentlessly focus on solving your customer’s problems.
What three tips can you offer to aspiration entrepreneurs for getting out of their cubes and start building a business?
- Spend the time to identify the things you are really interested in and passionate about. You will need a lot of energy in order to build your business, and when you are doing something you care about deeply, that has meaning for you beyond making money, it really helps fuel your work.
- Test often and fail fast. Don’t spend all your time in the planning stage, trying to perfect your idea and answer every possible question in your business plan before interacting with actual customers. You should make business planning a regular, ongoing activity that is continually tested and tweaked. The more you quickly test ideas without spending too much time or resources, the more chance of success you will have.
- Don’t try to do it alone. There are tons of people in the world (many on the Internet) who would love to support you in your efforts. Look for peers, friends, teachers and mentors who can deepen your knowledge, dust you off when you fall down and bring your ideas to market much faster.
Is it smart to work at a company, while you build a business outside of work?
It can be a great strategy to build your business on the side of a day job. Many people do not have the luxury of a year’s worth of savings, so it is very pragmatic to slowly test out your idea while you have predictable income and benefits. The thing to watch for is burnout and conflict of interest. Make sure you check out your company policy about work outside the office, to make sure you don’t get in trouble.
And build in time to rest and recuperate, because if you work all the time, your body will rebel. I like to echo Gary Vaynerchuk’s stirring advice “Stop watching f*ing episodes of Lost! Work your face off!” We don’t all have Gary’s energy, but we can certainly learn from his work ethic.
Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach and writer who helps frustrated employees in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, is one of the top career and marketing blogs on the web. A former corporate manager and entrepreneur herself for more than a decade, she deeply understands the questions and concerns faced by first-time entrepreneurs. Her expertise in personal and business change was developed through many years consulting inside corporations such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Charles Schwab, where she coached thousands of executives, managers and employees. Pam has been featured as an expert for press such as US News & World Report, The New York Times, BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal. Her book “Escape from Cubicle Nation” is published by Penguin/Portfolio.