Influential Books

I was asked a great question by @twestonkendall on twitter the other day. He asked me what the top three business book are that have influenced how I think about business. My first reaction was to refer him to my Guru reading list on my website. But then I thought about it a little more. I created the reading list on my site to offer resources to people running, or thinking of running, small businesses. But I think that Todd was asking a different question. Maybe he wasn’t and I completely misread it, but I thought it had a little different flavor.

 

The books that influenced the way I think are not necessarily books designed as resources for small business owners. So here, in no particular order, are the books that have shaped the way I look at business. I did cheat a little. I made my first list and just couldn’t trim it down to any less than four. So there.

 

E-Myth Revisited By Michael Gerber

This is a great book that really helps to illustrate the difference between the doing the work side of a business and the business side of running a business. A GREAT read for people thinking about running a business.

 

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

I really loved this book. It is a great showcase of how much of a social science economics really is. A shockingly large number of seemingly irrational actions are explained by the art (and science) of economics. It would serve anyone well to understand this and to keep it in mind.

 

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

A great primer on the more theoretical side of economics. Where Freakonomics shows you how the science can be applied to random, everyday scenarios, this book gives a great primer on most of the major ideas and concepts in economics. A must read for any business person.

 

Syrup by Maxx Barry

This is a fiction book, which might make you wonder why it is on this list. But anyone in business knows that there is one rule. All the best ideas and plans and theories generally don’t survive first contact with the customer. Enter Scat, the main character. His story proves that “fake it until you make it” is perfectly legitimate and is really, at the end of the day, what we are all doing. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works and then you get screwed. You just never know.

 

So there you go. Obviously nearly every book I have read has influenced me in some way. But these four have had the biggest impact.

 

 

Crush It – Book Review

I recently finished Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk. My first comment, it is a really good book. I really enjoyed it. One of the things I liked to most about it, which is the same thing I like about Mr. Vaynerchuk to begin with, is his style is very real and straight forward. I also really enjoyed how positive Gary is in everything he does and how great he is at inspiring people. It really is one of his greatest talents.

The book is about the power of personal brands and how to create them using social media. He starts by telling his story, which is great. Then he goes into talking about how, in culture that social media has created, you can monetize any passion. The best part about the book is that it is equal parts inspirational self-help (which I think can be valuable when done right) and practical guide.

But then, we would expect nothing less from Gary.

I am adding this to the Guru reading list, but with a caveat. It really is a designed for a sole proprietor or a lifestyle type business. If you run a larger scale enterprise, there might be better inspirational only books. Let your marketing department handle the social media stuff. But this would be a good guide for you to hand them.

Enough – Book Review

I recently had the pleasure of reading a fantastic book called Enough by the indomitable Patrick Rhone.

The book is a fantastic read. It is a collection of essays and thoughts by someone who, in my opinion, is one of those people who is becoming oh-so-rare in our time; an honest to god deep thinker. The title of the book really says it all, “What is Enough”?
Less is not more any more than more is less, more or less. It is only when we reduce more or increase less so as to satisfy our needs and desires that Enough can be found.

-Patrick Rhone

I have always believed that happiness is a choice. People are very easily wrapped up in the quest for more. I have written several times about the idea of “having a number”, knowing your exit strategy, and understanding why you started your business in the first place. Being an actual writer, with talent, Patrick explains this concept much more eloquently than I ever could.
But to sum it up, before you start your business, you need to know how much is Enough. So read this book to make sure you know how to figure that out!

Internet is Knowledge is Power

I saw a great little article, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan. It said that 1 in 5 Americans are not online.

20%.
Holy cow!
Now, I know being a bit of a geek I have a confirmation bias, but I don’t know anyone that is not online.
I’ve always felt that the Internet speeds and costs we experience in the United States is ridiculous. We are a nation of knowledge workers and it is easier to get natural gas to my home then it was to get Internet to my home (and cheaper too!).
What the hell do I need gas for? If the gas and the Internet went off simultaneously at your home, which would you notice first? Right, me too.
if knowledge is power, and the Internet represents the collected knowledge of humanity, and America is falling behind in Internet access, is it any wonder that we are also losing our super power status?
The most interesting part of the article was the characteristics of those not online:
Seniors
Un-Educated
Poorer
Now, I don’t want to get into a causation versus correlation argument but I think it is safe to assume there is at least some sort of connection here. What was even MORE interesting was the reasons these people are not online”
-Too expensive
-Nothing worth accessing
-Don’t have access to a computer
-Too complicated
Are you seeing a “DUH” moment here? Because I am! The poorer, uneducated, and likely under- and unemployed portion of the population (the ones that are the focus of so much legislation to try and create jobs for) don’t have access to, or the training to use, the most powerful force in business in a century.
DUH.
You figure out a way to get free and ubiquitous Wi-Fi that covers 80% of the American population and I can guarantee you that we will not only retain our super power status, but that a new economic revolution would happen.
And we wouldn’t need stupid legislation to create jobs.

Islands of Profit Review

I recently just finished a great book called: Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink by Jonathan Byrnes. I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Byrnes is lecturer on management at MIT and this definitely comes across in the writing. The world of business books tends to be very un-academic, as it is one of those fields where degrees and publications are less a measure of success than dollars and cents are. But there are definitely people who take a more academic approach to business. The difficulty I am facing here is that the whole point of my blog is that you do not need an academic approach to excel in business. For that reason, while I enjoyed the book, I will not be adding it to the Business Guru Reading List. But it is only because the purpose of the list is to get non-business people up to speed and this book goes far above and beyond that goal. If I ever create a Business Guru Ph.D reading list, this book will be one of the first on the list.

 

That being said, I am going to do my best to give you an idea of what it is about and why I liked the book. It is a fairly lengthy book and covers a LOT of information, but I will do my best to summarize the main points here.

 

First, some context: This book is written primarily for senior level and C-Level executives of large companies. It assumes that your company has clear silos: Sales and Marketing, Finance, Operations, etc. The idea is, as one review mentioned, an extension of the 80/20 principle. Much of your business is not actually making you much money. The problem is that sales people tends to focus on gross sales numbers, not on the profitability of those sales. There are a variety of ways that sales can be unprofitable and you not know it:

 

  • Order frequency and timing
  • Order mix
  • Distributions issues

 

Mr. Byrnes devotes the first third (roughly) of the book to describing some of the common causes, examples and a systematic method of identifying these “islands of profit”. While it might seem like this is not very difficult, he goes into tremendous detail on the system. Small business owners might think the system is overkill, but for large companies analyzing this kind of data can be tough. Pulling info from ERP systems, working across silos and with different departments can all create many more challenges than you might expect. There is also good information on how to realign incentives of sales staff with profitability instead of gross sales.

 

The middle section of the book is dedicated to selling for profit. Once the cost and profit drivers have been identified, how do you work with customers to increase profitability? He gives some good treatment to the new trend of working with customers and vendors to develop closer relationships and integrate more closely. This is the area where, if you really want to get ahead of your small business competitors, you should put some attention. It is still a fairly “new” idea in the large business space, which means that small business folks are still 10 to 15 years away from doing it on a regular basis.

 

I really enjoyed the end of the book, which focused on leading for profit. There is some great stuff here about how to make sure that your managers are working at the right level, how to train leaders, and how to create cultural change in your company. In my humble opinion, this was the most useful section. As someone who is trying to turn managers into leaders, I found a lot of good ideas from here.

 

So, that is my “short” summary of the book. I hope you find it interesting and if you want are bored with some of the books on the Guru Reading list (which I can’t imagine), you might kick it up a notch with this book.

Strengths Finder 2.0 – Review

If you are like me, you have had the opportunity to take countless personality tests, communication style exams, and skills tests. The business world is full of them, and full of reasons and times to take them. Some people think they are completely useless and others swear by them. My experience is that they, like most things, are best in moderation. You can garner useful information and insights but you should never underestimate the immense complexity that is the human mind.

 

Enter my next book for review: Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. The book is fairly short, as it mostly a description of the different personality strengths that Mr. Rath uncovered in his studies. The book comes with a code that you can use to take the personality quiz online. Afterwards, it gives you a list of your top 5 ‘strengths’. These can be found in the book with a description, some examples of those traits and some “ideas for action” that help you learn to use your strengths, along with some ideas for working with someone with those strengths.

 

I found the insights to be pretty helpful and spot on. But the downside is that there are so many strengths, with five selected for each person, that they are difficult to put into practice easily. Other tests I have taken, that break things down into, say, a weighting between four styles, are easier to grok and therefore use on a daily basis.

 

So, with that being said, I am adding this to the Guru reading list, but would recommend that this book be used as part of an annual planning day. If you have a small company or a management team, this might be a good way to match team members to specific goals or projects, based on strengths. If you are doing some team building, this might be a good way to make stronger teams and discover reasons why some teams are have issues with dysfunction.

 

As a day to day management tool though, I recommend checking out the Kolbe A test or the Meyers Brigg test.

Booked Solid Review

I just finished the great book Booked Solid by Michael Port. Usually, when a book’s cover promised outrageous things like “how to get more clients than you can handle, even if you hate marketing and selling!” I think, riiiiiggght. You, of all people, have the magic snake oil that allows you get something for nothing. Sure.

 

While this book isn’t going to be the answer to all your prayers, I was VERY impressed with how Michael walks you through the process of creating a cohesive marketing campaign. It is done in a simple, step by step format so that even people who, yes, hate marketing, can get it done. It does not tell you that it will be easy, or that you wont have to work at it. But at least with his systems you can make sure that your work is focused and effective. I have distilled down the beginning part into an outline (that I am actually keeping as a reference for myself.

 

Why People Buy What You Are Selling

  1. Identify your target market
  2. Understand the urgent needs and compelling desires of your market
  3. Determine the Number One Biggest result your clients get
  4. Demonstrate the benefits of your investable opportunities

 

Develop a Personal Brand

  1. Your who and do whatstatement
    1. Who it is that you help and what you do for them
    2. Your why you do itstatement
      1. Why you get up in the morning to do the work that you do
      2. Your tagline
        1. One sentence description based on why you do it

 

Sales Cycle

Stage One

Get them to do something: go to a website, call a number, or fill out a form

Stage Two

Demonstrate your knowledge or solutions free of charge: Tip sheet, special report, or white paper, or e-book.

Stage Three

Build rapport and continue adding value with follow-up communications.

Offer a low barrier to entry product (e.g. low cost and low risk to customer) : e-book, manual, guidebook, seminar.

Stage Four

Over-deliver on the low barrier to entry product to make client more receptive to next offer

“Invite” them to the next level product, a medium-lever barrier to entry product

Stage Five

Build additional rapport with personal attention, invitations, and additional value until they believe that your services are right for them, without you having to sell those services.

Move clients to the highest-priced product

 

Always Have Something to Invite People to Offer

We need to create an online community. It would allow small business owners to connect and share their problems and solutions. It would also provide a library of resources for small business owners. The theme of this group should be something like: Business owners who want to take their business to the next level”.

 

Five Steps to Developing an Information Product

  1. Choose the role you are planning
    1. Expert: Here is what I’ve done and is my theory on why it works
    2. Interviewer: Compile information from other experts
    3. Researcher: Go out and gather data and then analyze it
    4. Repurposer: Use and modify existing content for another purpose
    5. Choose your product framework
      1. Problem/Solution: State a problem then offer the solution
      2. Numerical: Create a series of keys or lessons
      3. Modular: A product with two sets of framework, main and chronological
      4. Compare/Contrast: Showcase multiple scenarios and compare them
      5. Reference: Create a product that be used as a reference source
      6. Choose a title that sells
        1. Suspense: The Secret Life of…
        2. Tell a Story: The Path of Successful Entrepreneurs
        3. Address a Pain: Top 10 Fears Every Leader Has
        4. Attention Grabber: Caught! Six Deadly Mistakes
        5. Solutions: Seven Keys to GTD
        6. Emotional Connection: What XYZ Tragedy Taught Me About Life
        7. Build your table of contents
          1. Easy to present
          2. Organize information
          3. Should give readers a clear understanding of the information
          4. Create your content
            1. Create two to five key points per section (based on table of contents)
            2. Do a data dump first, then tweak

 

Three-Step Product Launch

  1. Pre-Launch
    1. Warm-Up the audience

i.      Press Releases

ii.      Excerpts from the product in another form (video, audio, writing)

iii.      Stimulate discussion and then release details of the upcoming product

  1. Pre-Launch Checklist

i.      Software to database and manage buyer’s information

ii.      Shopping cart and merchant account

iii.      Sales page

iv.      Launch blog

v.      Delivery method for product

  1. Launch
    1. Determine the perception of your launch
    2. Always remember that you are how you market
    3. Add testimonials as they become available
    4. Post-Launch
      1. Potentially add an additional offering to re-ignite sales
      2. Decide to continue the offering or close it down

 

This gives you a taste of how systematic his system is and easy to understand. Now, this only covers the first one-thrid of the book. The rest of the book is designed around the seven self-promotion strategies that you can use to get the information you created above into the world.

 

Out of respect for Mr. Port, I am NOT including my outline of those, because I want you to go buy the book. It is a really great read, and contains LOTS of useful information for just about anybody.

Getting Things Done Review

Getting Things Done, By David Allen is an awesome book. Seriously, it revolutionized my productivity and organization. In a growing business (or ANY small business!), the number of items that you have to track grows nearly every week. A thing slipping through the cracks becomes more and more common. I can’t tell you how many business owners have asked me why their business wasn’t growing, or told me that they always feel like they are behind and just can’t get ahead. Many of these problems come from simple disorganization. Many great initiatives are complex projects, if you can’t stay organized with your day to day paperwork and tasks, how can you expect to launch new ideas or businesses?

 

Enter David Allen!

 

Mr. Allen has been doing this for a long time, and has lots of guides and systems for almost program you might use. His book has a TON of tips and tricks to help people manage their work flow. He has one main system though, to increase productivity. It breaks down something like this:

 

Take all the miscellaneous work, papers, notes, ideas, etc and run it through this matrix:

 

 

Is it Actionable?

No

Eliminate it – Trash

Incubate it – Someday/Maybe Lists

Reference it – Add to your filing system

Yes

Is it a Multi-Step Task?

No

Will it Take Less Than 2 Minutes? – Do it!

Delegate it – Add to Waiting For List

Add to your To-Do list

Yes

Create a Project Sheet w/ List of Actions

 

There are a LOT of details to go through to get to this point, of course. The weekly review is a critical time to make sure that everything is captured into your system. Having an inbox to capture everything is critical and so is emptying at least once a week. Taking the time to plan at different levels (Runway, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 feet, etc) allows you to create great projects and see them through to completion.

 

The system is also very customizable; I have used pieces and parts from all over the place to create my own personal system. There are specific guides for blackberries, for Outlook, Palm systems and more. I highly recommend that you also check out David Allen’s Blog, for ongoing great advice.

 

 

I can’t begin to cover all the great advice that David Allen has and his skill at helping you implement it. What I can say is: if you buy this book and actually put in some effort to learn and use the system, you WILL be amazed at how more organized and productive you are. I PROMISE.

A Professional Pants Kicking…

My oh-so brilliant brother pointed out that, while he agreed with many of my points, I tended to still use some of the partisan political language that may lead to some misunderstanding… To that end, he sent me this excellent article from the greatest newspaper on Earth (no exaggeration, it is the only news media I have ever found that is worth following and I read it every week): The Economist. Don’t let the name fool you, while it does have a business and economics tilt, there is a great deal of straight news along with political commentary and reporting.

After reading the article I responded to my brother by saying “Yeah, thats what I said…” albeit I could never have said it with the numerical support and elegant writing that The Economist does.

So check out the article here. And you can see a more detailed (and supported) version of what I was saying…

And although it is not a book, I am going to officially add The Economist magazine to my Business Guru Reading List. You won’t find a better updates or analysis on current events anywhere.

Life Hacker Book Review

I just had the pleasure of finishing my first pass through lifehacker, by Adam Pash and Gina Trapani. While not technically a business book, I have decided to add it to my Business Guru reading list. Business is all about doing things faster, better, cheaper and nothing is more important to a business person than time. Lifehacker is an awesome book and I am certain that everyone will find some tips and trick to make their lives a little easier. The book is so full of different ideas, that I could not possibly give a summary of them all here. But it includes purely technical “hacks” like how to host your own web server from home, to purely work-flow related ones like “how to manage your inbox”.  If you are like me, you have friends that are very tech- and gadget-saavy. But even when you have all the same tools that those folks have (a smart phone, dual monitors, laptops, tablets, etc) but they some always seem to be able to just DO more with them. If you want to learn how they do it, this is the book for you.

 

One piece of advice I will give, to save you some headaches. I found SO many useful things that it was impossible to do them all. What I did, and I recommend that you do, is to read it with a highlighter and some page flags handy. Pick three or four colors and associate them with a place or type of technology: home, office, phone, desktop, etc. As you read through the book flag things that you think would be useful for you to try and implement. When you are done, go through the book again, but just the flagged sections and make yourself a list in excel. Then you can use this (I am sure massive) list to prioritize items. Many of these tricks require building new habits, and you cannot build too many new habits at one time. You will also find that some will naturally come before others (e.g. it doesn’t do any good to set up a new task system on your outlook if you are going to move to a web-based task and calendar system, even though BOTH sounded like good ideas at the time).

 

My list has nearly 60 items on it, some that have been done, others that will be done as soon as this week and still others that probably won’t be done until I make a decision to invest some significant time and resources. But at the end of it, you will have a timeline or to-do list of personal productivity improvements that will give you an almost endless stream of ways to improve yourself and you productivity, without overloading you. And continuous improvement is what we this blog is all about, right?

 

So pick up a copy of this book and if nothing else, read the table of contents and flip to a couple things that catch your eye. I promise this book will pay for itself in no time.