The big 5 mid-year game-changing questions

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I can still taste the barbecue from last weekend’s 4th of July cookout.  We had heaps of green salad, fresh corn, roasted green chilies, grilled steak and watermelon.

Then it dawned on me:  half the year is over.  What happened?

First: The Review

What a year this has been. Normally optimistic New Year plans and dreams were dimmed for so many by fear and uncertainty.

I witnessed an unprecedented amount of job loss, many in my circle of friends and blog readers. A lot of businesses have been hit hard or gone under.

This year has been a tough one for my husband’s construction business. I wrote a bit about it in my book in the section on money. When I wrote the chapter in August of last year, I thought that by the time it was published that things would be back to normal.

But they haven’t returned to normal. Old normal at least. Now it is new normal:  certain markets are not just skittish and slow, they are downright ghost towns. The other night, my husband’s longtime construction buddy Bob, hearing about my book, said ” I am sure your basic business advice is: whatever you do, don’t start a heavy equipment construction business!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Thankfully there are some bright spots in my husband’s future with large projects due to start soon.

On the personal side, we have had Greek myth-worthy adventure this year. Three-headed emotional beasts in the form of family challenges, business challenges, sick parents and health scares have kept our eyes open and hearts beating quickly. As much as we have tried to remain strong and positive, the journey has been really difficult, as I am sure it has been for those of you who have lived similar tales of adventure.

The good news is our marriage is strong, and our family is healthy. Our sense of humor is intact.  My empathy for those impacted by the economy is fierce.  And as I imagine many of you out there feel about your own struggles this year, I know that we did not live through this experience for no reason.  Like other really challenging periods of my life, the lessons and growth from the experience will pay dividends for years, if not decades, after the pain subsides. I like what Oprah wrote about her beef industry lawsuit experience. A prosecutor was calling her a liar and a manipulator, yelling and shaking his finger:

“The louder he yelled, the calmer I became. I got very still inside and said to myself “That is not who I am.” In that moment, the answer I had been waiting for revealed itself. I realized that whether you’re on trial or going through a trial — difficulty, pain, illness, heartache — the trial stands outside of you, flailing, ranting and raging, trying to tell you who you are.

All trials force the question: Who are you, really? And you must trust yourself to answer. It is up to each of us to get very still and say, “This is who I am.” No one else defines your life. Only you do.”

My business

My sector of entrepreneurship/career coaching/online marketing has exploded. Everyone is realizing the need to think differently about work, and diversifying streams of income is critical for career resilience.

My book made its way into the world and the reception has been amazing.  I have expanded opportunities to work with more people in my Quickstart program, and have marveled at the progress of my clients.  And I have hit the road again for the first time in five years, visiting with people up-close in their own communities.

So I find myself at a wonderful personal and professional place: very tapped into the gloomy mood of the globe, yet feeling wildly optimistic and energetic.   I have information and experience that can help people right here, right now. I have been saying “We are all self-employed” since 1996 and people are finally listening.  So I am going to hit this half of the year with a vengeance.

Focus:  The Second Half of the Year

Looking forward to the next six months, here are the five questions I am asking myself, and my answers. I encourage you to do the same:

1)  What am I going to focus on?

The screaming theme that I am hearing from all corners of my market is short-term relief vs. long-term vision.  Most people don’t have a ton of wiggle room to get a business off the ground, or to coast between jobs if they get laid off.  So we need quick, effective, comprehensive ways to rally together and get people generating income quickly.  This involves both tactical and strategic thinking, and a good framework for planning. So I will be scanning the world for tools and information, resources and successful case studies.  And I will be forging connections with groups of all sizes – local, regional, national and global, to get us all talking .  Some examples I am thinking of:

  • Job search experts who know how to work with budding entrepreneurs who need to be their own venture capitalist for a couple of years by taking a “real” job.
  • Business leaders who realize that the mafia culture days are behind us, and are willing to support employees who have small businesses on the side of their day job.
  • Small business organizations, networks and social media sites that will provide support, resources and information to aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t have time to wade through extraneous information and need assistance fast.
  • Online business experts who know how to mine the web for ethical, profitable pockets of money to help supplement income.

2) What am I going to improve?

Last week was a systems breaking point. It was 10:12 in the morning, and I was happily working at my computer, assured that my calendar was clear.  I got a panicked email from my friend Susan Hyatt who leads Martha Beck’s coaching program that said (in her perennially cheery way, even in times of strain) “Hello, Pam, where are youuuuuuuu?”  I logged on to the Martha Beck site and realized that I was supposed to be teaching a class on marketing for coaches, which I had failed to transfer into my calendar.  Thankfully, I jumped on the call and the students were patiently waiting, but it was a sign from above that the time for serious help and systems had arrived.

I have been in bootstrap mode for a long time, wanting to keep my business lean and flexible, but I simply have too many irons in the fire and am missing opportunities for major growth by not hiring capable staff to manage the details of my business.  I am going to re-read Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System that inspired my blog post last year. (Visiting his site to get a link, I just saw there is a free download of his book until Tuesday, July 14 here).

3) What am I going to grow?

I have been thinking about creating useful, focused e-products for a long time to supplement my book and blog, and to give some instructional design and “coaching in a box” services to people who can’t afford to pay for one-on-one coaching. I have a ton of content, mainly stored in my blog and podcast archives, which I constantly dig up and share with clients.  I need to organize this into distinct products that will be easy to digest and apply.  Having resources to support my growing audience, which do not all demand one-on-one time, will allow me to serve more people and jump-start more businesses.

4) What am I going to leave behind?

The last four years have been a true gift since I have been able to grow my business on a part-time basis, focusing on raising my two babies and taking care of my extended family while slowly building up a client base and a body of work.  I have enjoyed the slow and steady pace, lack of stress and creativity associated with just doing whatever the hell I feel like.  Now, since the kids are bigger and I am feeling ready for a new challenge, I am ready to step into a more structured business.  This makes my inner rebel a bit sad since I know that it will mean I won’t have as much flexibility.  But is the right move for my life now, since structure will enable growth, which will enable more impact.

5) What new thing am I going to study?

In my work with clients, I have come to understand that the killer question is not necessarily “what is the business idea?,” but rather “what is your business model?” I cannot get Sonia Simone’s Is Your Tribe Holding Your Down? Copyblogger article out of my head (which examines the “cool” social media kids who are often broke vs. the internet marketers).  I know Sonia and other people like Naomi, Havi, Jonathan, Chris and Chris are studying this as well. I am hungry to find business models which combine:

  • Open, truthful communication
  • True passion and interest, often paired with social benefit
  • Great market segmentation and solid understanding of niches
  • Effective use of technology and tools to enhance and extend learning
  • Use of social media for community building and marketing
  • Non-slimy yet persuasive methods of selling to support a healthy business
  • Streamlined systems and use of virtual resources to manage the administration of the business

I am so excited about these ideas that I can almost use two words together in the same sentence, which I promised my editor Emily I would never say again when I turned in my manuscript last year: “Next… Book.”

I am hungrily studying all kind of models used by entrepreneurs today, with the Goldilocks and the Three Bears method of discovery:  Too hot (slimy, cookie-cutter or manipulative) too cold (old school, clunky) and just right (new school, creative, feasible, flexible).

I will use my own business as a Petri dish as I have done these past four years building the Escape from Cubicle Nation community and brand.

What I hope to come out with is some clear guidance for budding entrepreneurs on how to structure a new business that doesn’t cost a fortune, delivers a great living, leverages individual strengths while expanding community and allows the entrepreneurs to like what they see in the mirror in the morning.

The Wrap Up

Whew, I didn’t quite expect to write so much.  I guess I had a lot brewing in my head.

What about you?  Can you take a bit of time to ask your Big 5 Mid-Year Game-Changing Questions?

  1. What are you going to focus on? (You cannot focus on everything and make progress)
  2. What are you going to improve? (You cannot grow at a sustained level without making some major system improvements. Sooner or later, you will start to lose ground in the areas that have been natural strengths)
  3. What are you going to grow? (You have tons of knowledge/material which just needs to be refined in order to deliver powerful benefits to the world)
  4. What are you going to leave behind? (If you are taking on new challenges, you will have to give some things up. And those should be the ineffective/self-sabatoging parts of your life or business that hold you back from growth)
  5. What are you going to learn? We stay fresh and creative by learning new things. What topic or field lights you up that you haven’t devoted time to learn about?
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34 Responses to “The big 5 mid-year game-changing questions”

  1. […] get inspired, we considered these “Big 5 Mid-Year Game-Changing Questions“ posed by the author Pamela […]

  2. Marlo says:

    Just discovered your blog- this article is much needed. Thanks.

  3. Nice. I took much needed time to answer these then posted my answers as a facebook note. I also asked friends to check out your website.

    Thank you. Thank you.

  4. […] and is excellent. This blog post of hers is useful for anyone, whatever role you play. It’s five big, game-changing questions (and I love big questions) about what might be different in the second half of 2009 for […]

  5. sas says:

    Thanks this was really helpful.
    .-= sas´s last blog ..i have loved me a plan* =-.

  6. […] The big 5 mid-year game-changing questions My sector of entrepreneurship/career coaching/online marketing has exploded. Everyone is realizing the need to think differently about work, and diversifying streams of income is critical for career resilience. Read Full Story […]

  7. Terry says:

    I’m focusing on living in the present moment and experiencing all that life has to offer right now. I’m not thinking about the future or the past, I’m just staying in the now and learning to truly experience it down to the last detail. No thoughts, just a kind of pure joy seeping into my mind! I love it.

    Thanks for this post, it hits a few key spots for me.

    .-= Terry ´s last blog ..How I Am Getting Happier While Becoming Wealthy =-.

  8. […] few days ago, the fantastic Pam Slim published a post on her site that centered around the notion of examining one’s progress and direction, six […]

  9. Marcia Hoeck says:

    Great post, Pam. This year has been a game-changer for all of us — I don’t think I know one person who hasn’t had some really, really tough challenges this year, even if they didn’t have financial ones brought on by the economy. So your mid-year reflection and stock-taking makes perfect sense. We all need to keep close tabs on how we’re moving through this time and be deliberate about our choices, because it’s for sure that the actions we used to take aren’t going to work any more.

    Scary and exhilarating. Thanks for the big thoughts.
    .-= Marcia Hoeck´s last blog ..Begin Getting Unstuck and End Your Bottleneck in 15 Minutes =-.

  10. Thanks for an amazing article. I went through something similar in a different system, but never put “standing tall” as eloquently as you have.
    .-= Robyn McMaster´s last blog ..Twitter Transforms Teaching =-.

  11. Wally Bock says:

    Great personal intro to a powerfully simple set of questions. Brava!

  12. Nancy says:

    HI all,
    Just missed the free download of the book, but perhaps that’s a saving for me because time is always limited. Your soothing courage and advice from Oprah’s ordeal (who knew she had ordeals?) to keep track of “who I am” is so excellent.


  13. Open, truthful communication
    True passion and interest, often paired with social benefit
    Non-slimy yet persuasive methods of selling to support a healthy business

    These all come together in the benefits. When the benefits in the copy are real and when the driving force for a business is serving others, God’s work of providing daily bread and all good things is done among us. We Lutherans call it “vocation” or calling.

  14. Enjoyed this post.

    It’s pretty courageous of you to be so open!
    .-= Whitney Johnson´s last blog ..Can Nice Girls Ask? =-.

  15. Ken Marable says:

    Thanks for this! Although in hindsight not very many of my answers were surprising, it was good for me to actually verbalize the vague notions of what I had to do. Plus, I found I had to correct “I will try to” several times with “I will” which feels very nice. It’s largely stuff that I’ve been “trying to” for years, but I set realistic goals for the next 6 months and am more excited than every to work on them!

    Two things that did surprise me were :
    1) “I am going to leave behind endless note taking.” I have made plans and jotted down ideas to fill notebooks, but never finished any of it. So I’m going to use some systems I found to structure my planning and guide it to actual production. I’m not going to sit for a couple hours with a blank notebook in front of me “coming up with ideas”. I have plenty for now and need to turn them into action.

    2) I’m going to forget about making money… for now. Yeah, it’s sliding more into the Tribe of Cool Kids, but I’ve found myself spending more time figuring out who to make my products profitable than actually making the products to the point of missing many great opportunities and market vacancies because I was too busy weighing different business plans to actually have any finished product available! (Not to mention, my creative juices keep occasionally being stifled by a voice saying “But that’s not commercial enough.” I also keep focusing on making a little money this month to help pay bills, but missing out on making more money next year to get out of the cubicle!) Well, no more. For the next 6 months, I guess I’m more of a Cool Kid just producing content. But once I have actual product in hand I can weigh and implement the many business plans I have.

    So thank you again for helping me to crystallize what I need to do in the next 6 months!

  16. Emma says:

    Pam, I needed this so much! Thank you.
    .-= Emma ´s last blog ..With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah =-.

  17. Jenny Ferry says:

    Hi Pam,
    I love the Big 5 and these questions are an excellent basis for checking in on both performance and learning goals, not only now at mid-year, but also at regular intervals both professional and personally. I’m going to commit to quarterly reviews as it feels right for me.

    Also, good for you for taking on the round up of an authentic, open, flexible and robust business model that’s non-slimy. In the spirit of the “Dear Gentle Reader” posts, I would love to see broad input on what works and doesn’t work. In fact, I’d happily join a “working group” of other petri dish businesses so you’re getting a wide spectrum of industries and orientations ( i.e. B2B, B2C).

    Timely post, alright. Thanks bunches and looking forward to the next…BOOK! 🙂
    .-= Jenny Ferry´s last blog ..experience the beat =-.

  18. Pam, thank you!
    You have so many gems here. I’m amazed and grateful at what you’ve shared here. Thank you for getting what was brewing in your head into this post. I’m going to spend some time with these thoughts.
    .-= Mahala Mazerov´s last blog ..Help Wanted =-.

  19. Kevin says:


    Great article! As a business owner I really needed a blog post like this. Thanks so much.

  20. Hi Pam,
    Yes, we are all self-employed! Glad you pointed that out. As soon as people realize that, they will be less frightened to leap from fantasy full-employment into self-employment. Will ask myself the five questions! Thx. Giulietta the Muse

  21. Karin Manske says:

    Wow, Pam, what a great article! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see what you are cooking up next regarding business models. It’s real easy to fall into either the too hot (slimy, cookie-cutter or manipulative) or the too cold (old school, clunky). The just right (new school, creative, feasible, flexible) can be much harder to figure out as it has to do with ones’ own truth and integrity.
    Wishing you much success on your tour,
    .-= Karin Manske´s last blog ..What Lights You Up? How You Got Where You Are Now =-.

  22. Hiro Boga says:

    Thanks for this inspiring, thought-provoking post, Pam. I’ll sit with your questions, and envision the flow of my business for the rest of this year.
    .-= Hiro Boga´s last blog ..What I Learned About Life & Business From Crossing The Road In Bombay =-.

  23. Pam, your candor is refreshing. I’ll take two of your questions – leaving and learning. I am going to leave behind a few pounds, and flexibility (aka lack of structure). I am going to learn French.
    Your idea of job search experts to work with budding entrepreneurs is sticking in my mind. I have a few clients now who fall into that category.
    Perfect timing, sincere thanks!
    .-= Melissa Wells´s last blog ..How Do You Know Your Resume is Great? =-.

  24. Kimmoy says:

    Pam I absolutely love this post, it’s definitely a time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. I am happy to witness your growth, I look forward to seeing how the rest of the year pans out! I’m glad to have you on my side to help me grow as well:
    1. I’m going to focus on delivering valuable information to the aspiring & experienced plus-size entrepreneurs.
    2. I’m going to improve the way I write and speak so that my message is clear and powerful.
    3. I am going to grow my plus-size business community.
    4. I’m going to leave behind fears because I know they don’t come from my God who is the almighty all by Himself!
    5. I’m going to learn how to work with WordPress once and for all, and how to increase sales conversion without feeling yucky.

  25. fas says:

    This is a must read guide to all new business owners. Very well written and documented, super stuff.
    .-= fas´s last blog ..Choosing The Best HDTV TVs =-.

  26. Sarah Bray says:

    Thanks for this! Now is a big risk-taking time for me as I launch a new design endeavor and hire my husband to help me take care of things.

    My focus is going to be on letting go of the fear that comes along with letting go of his (crappy) income and becoming …not solo. Scary but the possibilities of expanding our freedom is intoxicating!
    .-= Sarah Bray´s last blog ..Newsflash: Not everyone can succeed with online networking =-.

  27. Briana says:

    After your workshop on Friday, I already can’t wait to hear what you find in the next 6 months (not to mention the next book – woot!). The things you’re planning to focus on and study sound so amazingly helpful to all of us. (Hmmm, maybe I should study them myself, huh?) Are you sure I can’t focus on everything and make progress? *Sigh* Thanks so much!
    .-= Briana´s last blog ..Come Twitter your time away =-.

  28. Mike says:

    Those are five important questions, and rather scary. For me, I tried to come at them from the totally reverse angle. For example:

    1. What am I NOT going to focus on?
    2. What am I NOT going to improve?
    3. What am I NOT going to grow?
    4. What am I NOT going to leave behind?
    5. What am I NOT going to learn?

    What this helped me do is to trim down some of the extra vagueness that was rambling around in my mind . . . helped me to focus. And it also helped me realize that 3 things that I did not want to drop or grow, I would not.

    Questioning is one of the best ways I learn . . . that is if I listen to the answers.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Please Tell Me What You Think =-.

  29. Laurie Foley says:

    My favorite word in this entire post is “resilience.” You embody it and inspire the rest of us to do the same. Thank you for this fantastically open post about your business and your life. You continue to inspire me!
    .-= Laurie Foley´s last blog ..What is Stopping You? =-.

  30. Hi Pam,
    I love how you have used this post to highlight the importance of taking a time-out to review what has happened and plan for the next segment. This is what my Life Coaching business for Young Professional Men is all about!
    I like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears metaphor but do you think a model exists to build a successful business? For me, it has been a lot of risk taking, trial and error, and blind faith.
    .-= Andrew Parkes´s last blog ..The F-Series – F1: What the F is Life Coaching? =-.

  31. What a great blog post! You can certainly partner with us any time! Which reminds me that we have exhibit space at the conference, and you might want to come sell your book.

    This has been an amazing year, probably the worse financial year of my life. If I looked at it in one way, I’d say I was “ruined.” Looked at another way, I feel just like you do — i, too, have been saying “forget about jobs” since I left Intel in the mid-90s. I have found an entire new receptivity to this message this year, and I no longer feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall.

    It’s an ill-wind that blows no good. There will be an endless market for people experience in helping others start businesses.
    .-= francine hardaway´s last blog ..To Change Education, Change its Funding =-.

  32. Tina says:

    love this post Pam – i’ve been in the same space, with the first half of the year gone and getting ready to focus on the next half! And then feeling a bit stuck/muddy there too – thanks for the 5 questions, i’m totally going to set aside some time to answer those… hmmm.
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..Question of the Week: Do YOU need to be the one to do everything on your to-do list? =-.

  33. Melanie says:

    What an inspiring post! I’m just starting up my business, but these questions will definitely help me pull together a strategy for the rest of 2009.

    Re. your answer for #1… I’m working in job search strategy for creative folks (and entrepreneurs), and I’ve got a goal of helping 1000 people get back to work or get their first “real job” in the next year. I’d love to chat with you and see if we could collaborate!

  34. Sally says:

    This awesome article could not have come at a better time!

    .-= Sally´s last blog ..Holy Smoke! =-.