If you want to learn how to find your online audience, Pam Slim is a good person to talk to.
Back in 2009, I was starting to explore moving my business online. I had been in business for decades, and I wanted to explore the online space.
I came across today’s guest, Pam Slim, and was incredibly inspired by her.
She was actively delivering transformation to people online, and little did I know that five years later, she and I would both be keynote speakers at the same event.
Pam Slim is today’s Online Business Expert Series guest. We talk about her latest book, The Widest Net.
She shares her thoughts on how to find your online audience — and how to make meaningful connections so you can grow your business in a way that aligns with your values.
The Widest Net will help you find your online audience
When you publish a book, you can’t be around to speak for it. A potential reader can look at the information on the back cover, skim the table of contents, maybe even flip through the pages.
But what would the book say? Here’s Pam’s response on The Widest Net:
“For me, the book would say you are not alone, and it doesn’t have to feel totally overwhelming to build an audience for your business, and also to identify really supportive partners who will help you on your mission to do the work that you love to do in the world.”
Building a business doesn’t stop when you find your online audience. Partners are important, too. No one can do this on their own, and you shouldn’t try.
Make your client your focus
The Widest Net helps people see their world differently. It embraces the idea of community and collaboration, the very opposite of the idea of the business owner as the center of everything.
Pam started online in 2004 with an email newsletter. She started her first blog, Escape From Cubicle Nation, in 2005. Blogs were big in those days, and communities sprang up around them.
As that space evolved, things changed. Something that she calls “empire culture” was created, with business owners becoming online celebrities and drawing everyone in around them.
“… we use terminology like empires, build your empire. We talk about crushing and dominating. And personally that doesn’t resonate at all with my values. I don’t really want to crush or dominate anyone. And last time I looked empires were really, really good for a few people at the top, and really not good for most everybody else.”
Ecosystems, not empires — build your community
She sees business as an ecosystem, with your client at the center with people, products, and services supporting them.
That’s why knowing how to find your online audience is so important.
They’re reading books, using software, and participating in events and communities.
Discussion grows around those things — social media groups, virtual meetups, places Pam refers to as watering holes.
“…focus on building partnerships, to support others who are also supporting them, and really to look at how we can move that whole ecosystem forward, as opposed to looking at it as, ‘I have an empire, I want to crush everybody and I want to personally win.’”
You can find your online audience by looking for adjacent people and interests.
“… naturally in my ecosystem with folks that I work with, they also work with intellectual property attorneys, with graphic designers, with website design copywriters, just in order to do the work that we’re doing together, they’re required to use those service professionals. So that’s a perfect example of what I call a peanut butter and jelly partner. Sometimes just asking your current clients, ‘Who else are you working with to solve this problem’ can be an immediate source of opening the door to new watering whole in the ecosystem.”
Light your beacons
We also talked about how to find your online audience through the concept of beacons.
As social media grew Pam recognized the need for a primary communication channel — your primary beacon. Otherwise your efforts are fragmented, which makes it more difficult to find your online audience.
She likes to have a strategic focus on a primary beacon, with satellites for social media. Those can be popup events that help you find your online audience. Sharing and engagement create connections.
Experimenting with popups can lead to something more permanent. It’s a way to try media and new networks to help you find your online audience.
But she has a word of caution:
“… there isn’t really a replacement for being consistent in something for a long period of time where people can have a general trust that they can show up and they can get access to you and understand your evolution.”
Her advice to folks who want to experiment is to recognize when you have a consistent beat and decide where you can be most successful in building a substantial audience.
For Pam, that’s her newsletter, which she began in 2004. She has subscribers who have been there from the beginning watching the evolution of her business.
The Widest Net is part of that.
How projects generate new ideas
Her first book was Escape From Cubicle Nation, published in 2010, followed by Body of Work in 2013. She was partway through The Widest Net when she realized the books were a trilogy.
Escape From Cubicle Nation was about the decision to either strike out on your own or stick with your corporate job.
Body of Work was written for people who work for themselves. The primary focus is the work you create, the things you want to contribute to the world.
The Widest Net grew out of one big question raised by Body of Work: How do you find your online audience? How do you build a community?
Being client-focused, Pam recognized how she could provide transformation for her readers.
“I didn’t really have a sense at all when I was writing that book, that my next book would end up being focused on that particular topic, because it could have gone many different directions. But that’s really the way that the work emerged as people got more solid in their body of work, I saw this is a huge problem that everybody has.”
If you’re wondering how you find your online audience, take heart — you’re not alone.
Tiny Marketing Actions help you find your online audience
Pam’s method is clear in The Widest Net — teach a concept and give an example. One of the concepts I love is Tiny Marketing Actions, which Pam began teaching years ago.
Tiny Marketing Actions makes marketing seem very doable, and very approachable, and not overwhelming.
When you find your online audience, Tiny Marketing Actions help you to build relationships with them.
“…those little tiny actions, I find, is where you really have those natural human connections that happen. A lot of marketing advice, if we look at it really in the context of how we actually connect as humans, it skips the whole part of just — introduce yourself to somebody, let them know you think their work is cool.
“Spend time hanging out, listen to what they’re about, notice how they interact and pay attention to others.
“… when you have the strategic map of where you actually want to connect, and maybe some people that would be amazing to connect with, then when you break them down into tiny marketing actions, they’re little tiny things you can do, sometimes in five minutes a day, that slowly and sustainably build a business.”
Authenticity meets discernment — how to show up online
Natural interactions created by Tiny Marketing Actions can lead to oversharing — authenticity can become a bit of a minefield.
If you’re not careful, you end up sharing something on social media that kind of sounds like the ingredients to a really bad country song.
Once you find your online audience, you want to keep their attention the right way.
Pam advises people to have a close circle for processing things out loud, and to be discerning in what and how you share.
“I’ve told sometimes vulnerable stories that are related to my own business, my husband’s business, because in the context of what I’m working with, people on — it really served the work, and I wanted to be really clear to have a point of connection.
“But I think having some discernment sometimes about that — if that is the way that you use social media, and if that’s aligned with your values — is really important. I will always say there are some people who can use the tools the way that feels comfortable to them and it could be resonant and it can be okay and they can still work with clients.”
What’s next for Pam Slim
Pam and her husband Darryl run the Main Street Learning Lab in Mesa, Arizona. They’re very active in the development of their downtown area, and have a special focus on inclusive development. Her husband is Navajo and they work with Native, Black, Latinx, and Asian American entrepreneurs.
The Learning Lab and the development of downtown Mesa is a central theme in The Widest Net. It’s a source of inspiration for her work.
She’ll be leading classes on Maven, a learning platform that she uses as a case study in the book. She’s also hoping to host some in-person retreats and events in Mesa for community builders, and to resume speaking engagements.
One thing you should know about The Widest Net is it has some of the most generous bonus materials that I’ve ever seen. It’s like a course!
The Widest Net is at pamelaslim.com/the-widest-net.
You can find Pam at pamelaslim.com
The book bonuses are available for direct download, no email address required. There’s a full workbook for all the exercises and also an ecosystem planning tool.
Pam’s primary beacon is her newsletter. You can sign up for that on her site.
Speaking of bonuses — she’s thinking about a podcast for The Widest Net. She had a popular podcast for years for her first book, Escape From Cubicle Nation.
Here’s how she sees a podcast fitting into her communication channels:
“… being someone who loves to collaborate and talk with people, that’s a really beautiful companion to the consistent work that I share in my newsletter. So look forward to that. Probably launching around February of next year.”
I’d like to thank Pam Slim so much for joining me on the Online Business Expert Series. Watch the video above to get all the amazing wisdom she shared with me.
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If you’d like to work with me to grow your online business, take a look my Offer Accelerator program. It’s for online business owners in midlife and mid-career who are ready to create and promote a high-value offer.