I’m not a big reader of books. Business books or fiction.
I much prefer podcasts. They fit into my lifestyle. I can listen when I walk my dog, Barney, when I’m tackling the laundry mountain or in the car (on my own – my family don’t share my love of podcasts).
Books require more of a commitment. You can’t multi-task when you’re reading a book. And business books often require a level of concentration I just don’t have at the end of the day.
However, I know there are some great business books that I’ve been missing out on as a result. Some I’ve even started reading before, but never quite got round to finishing…
So, I resolved that August would be “book reading” month. I aimed to find time every day (no I didn’t manage that!) to read a bit, reading more when I was away from home.
How did I do? Well, I managed to read 6 business books. Some you may have heard of but there are others you may not have done. And here are my thoughts. On all of them!
I’m linking all of them to my Amazon account if you want to purchase any (these are affiliate links). But I’d encourage you to support your local bookshop rather than Amazon if you can.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin
I started with a classic marketing book, This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I’d not read it before.
I was surprised to find I didn’t learn anything new. He talks about all the things I believe in. This isn’t because I’m a marketing genius like Seth Godin, but I suspect because all the gurus I have been following and learning from learnt from him (or other disciples).
And I enjoyed reading it. It makes sense to my logical brain.
If, like me, you were brought up in the 20th century, you will have seen that ads were the way you got people to buy what you were selling. It was all about taking what you had and “getting the word out”. These mainly built “brand awareness”. And a lot of people still think that is how you should market your business.
But the most effective marketing, according to Seth and many others, is more about listening to what a “small viable market” needs and serving them. What coaches call “niching”.
We all identify with “people like us”, whatever “group” you might belong to. So it may be a case of “people like us” dress a certain way (whether your “people like us” is tech pioneer, blue-collar worker, goth, or a Kardashian wannabe). “People like us” behave in certain ways, have similar beliefs and buy certain things/services. And of course, as you build trust with potential buyers, you need to show them that “people like them” buy the kind of things you’re offering.
Seth also talks a lot about how you make people feel. “People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel.” Generally we all want to be “respected, successful, independent, appropriately busy, and maybe a little famous.” “Do work you’re proud of and do it for people you care about”, according to Seth. We don’t necessarily care about the details.
Although there wasn’t anything new as such, I found the book very easy reading and he explained things very well. I’m pleased I found the time to read it and would definitely recommend you do too.
Amazon link here
Dot Com Secrets by Russell Brunson
This next book has been on my bookshelf a while and I had started to read it before, but never managed to get more than about halfway through. Given it was highly recommended by someone I respect, I started again, determined to get through it this time.
The book is about sales funnels and value ladders.
Sales funnels being the process where you take potential clients through a defined path from never having heard of you to becoming clients and then raving fans. People rarely buy “cold” especially if your offer is a significant investment. They have to go through the steps in the funnel before becoming a client (or not, as the case may be as you will lose people at different points along the way – hence the term “funnel”).
A value ladder takes people from buying something that’s small value up to your flagship offer. The idea being that it is easier for people to commit to a small value purchase and the best people to sell higher value offers to are people who’ve bought before.
All good so far.
But, he loses me (and I suspect many others) as you go through the book. One of the chapters talks about the 27 elements of a funnel. That’s the point where it becomes complex. And it may be deliberate given this book is the first point in his funnel. You get some quick wins, realise there’s more to it and buy more from him.
There are elements I can (and should) put into practice. Whether I actually do is another matter. It was valuable reading but definitely one for more advanced marketers…
The other issue is that it is, deliberatively, quite a manipulative system. And whilst I can see the value in implementing parts of what Russel recommends, I can’t imagine doing the whole thing. It feels unethical to me.
Interestingly, just after reading this I found myself in one of his funnels (not his but another coach using his software, Click Funnels, and the approach outlined in his book). It was good to see his system in operation. I signed up to a free offer (a great offer) but needed to add my credit card details to access it. I was then subject to a couple of sales pages for other items (which weren’t free) that I had to click through (at the bottom in small print). That irritated me! But the idea is you’re more likely to add them if you’ve already given your credit card details. It did feel like one of those timeshare promotions from the 1980s though…
When I want to build out a funnel I may go back to this book. It has some useful things in it, but it’s definitely not for anyone new to digital marketing.
Amazon link here
No Filter by Sarah Frier
After the brain gymnastics that DotCom Secrets required I needed an easier read next.
I chose No Filter which is the story of Instagram, from pre-start up to the founders leaving. It was a fascinating, easy read. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Instagram was founded on a very basic idea. It was designed to be an app where you could share your life through good quality photos (interesting that’s not what it is now), connecting with others who appreciated similar things. And by using filters, you could elevate these photos into “art”.
Famously Instagram was sold to Facebook for $1 billion (it was actually more like $700 million when the sale went through as Facebook stock was lower at close than when the offer was made) when it employed just 13 people and was not making any revenue (let alone profit). But given the contribution to Facebook’s earnings since Facebook has done very well out of the purchase.
The founders stuck rigidly to their ideals (about taking the time to post the beautiful pictures). Until they heard that teenage girls were spending hours to post the “perfect” image and then dissecting the comments (if they weren’t quick and effusive enough they assumed that “friend” didn’t like them enough). That (and the rise of SnapChat) led to the introduction of Stories. Stories giving you the chance to post things that were not perfect.
The other interesting perspective from the book was Facebook’s fear/paranoia that Instagram was cannibalising Facebook. Taking people off Facebook. Facebook was more profitable than Instagram and therefore they wanted people to spend more time on Facebook than Instagram. This led to issues over support and resources.
As someone who has migrated from Facebook to Instagram (at least for business purposes) I think this is nuts! If Facebook’s feed were better (and if they shared my business posts more) chances are I wouldn’t have needed to find an alternative to Facebook. There’s definitely a business lesson there about concentrating on improving your own business rather than worrying about “competitors”.
Still it was a fascinating insight into the building of one of the most important businesses today. Highly recommend if you enjoy those kind of books.
Amazon link here
Atomic Habits by James Clear
This is another book I had started to read before but never managed to finish.
There are parts of this book (especially in the first half) that I found hard going. I didn’t find them relevant to me and/or couldn’t see I would put them into practice.
But the second half of the book was really good. And I can see why this is one of the classic business books.
As the title suggests, this is about small changes you can make which, together, can make a big difference to your lifestyle.
It’s about making good habits easier and bad habits harder. Like laying out your gym clothes and trainers so they’re the easiest things to put on in a morning. Like hiding the biscuit tin on the top shelf so you have to get the step ladders out of the garage if you want a biscuit (at least if you’re as short as me).
One of my favourite bits was about making the small, easy first steps. It’s the doing something for 2 minutes which will encourage you to keep going. Best of all was the revelation that (especially if your mind knows that you’re just trying to trick yourself into keeping going beyond those 2 minutes) you can literally do just that. So run for 2 minutes, turn around and walk back home. But do that consistently. Then after a few times maybe allow yourself to do more if you want. Soon regular 2 minutes will become regular 5 minutes, then 15 and then the 30 minutes you really were aiming for. I’m going to try this (although not with running – I’ve already decided I’m no runner!!)
I know many people who have read this book several times and rave about it. I can definitely see me rereading some parts again and trying some of the ideas.
Amazon link here
Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Make Time, written by two ex-Google employees who pioneered Google’s “sprints”, is all about how you make the time each day for the things you really want to do.
Those things might be business. Or they might be personal. They’re the things that we wish we had more time for. So it might be cooking, training for a marathon or spending time playing with your children, or it might be writing a book, starting a podcast, or making and launching that course that you’ve wanted to do.
There’s more than 80 tips in the book. Not all of them will appeal – most won’t. But the idea is you try a few.
According to the authors, the average American “wastes” 4 hours each day scrolling social media, reading the news etc and spends a further 4 hours watching TV. I don’t watch much TV (and certainly don’t have 4 hours to do so), but I probably spend longer than I realise scrolling, reading the news, etc.
The authors recognise that these are easy things to do. They’re designed to tempt (oh look – another entertaining cat video) so they recommend (in a similar way to Atomic Habits) making it more difficult to fall into these time traps.
- One suggestion is deleting the apps from your phone (not sure I’ll be trying that one).
- Another is to reduce the amount of news you consume. On the basis that if something really important happens you’ll hear about it, it is generally just doom-mongering/there’s nothing you can do about it, and reading once a week is enough to know what’s going on in the world. I’m not sure I can go down to once a week, but I’m certainly planning to cut down.
- There are also suggestions about dealing with email
The idea is to allocate some of this time to a “daily highlight”. Some days that might be a bigger piece of work you need to dedicate focused time to (like a presentation), other days that might be something that will improve your life (spending time with friends/family, training for that marathon or launching that course).
The book talks about ways to maintain focus during that highlight time (there’s a whole section on the best times of day to have coffee, as well as other ideas like playing music, shutting your door, wearing headphones – on the basis that people will be less likely to distract you). Whilst I can only see a couple of thing that I think are really worth trying, I do plan to do so.
This was a much easier read than Atomic Habits and much more practical too. And it just cost me 99p for the e-book in the Apple Store…
Amazon link here
Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed
I asked for recommendations for business books to read and this one was highly recommended by two ex-colleagues.
As a northern, state school educated female who didn’t go to Oxbridge but worked in the City, I’ve always been a fan of diverse groups. Not just demographically, but in terms of background and experiences. I can see how different viewpoints can be helpful to solve complex issues. It’s a bit like a quiz team full of history buffs where no-one has any clue on the sport or music rounds (1980s pop is about my only contribution to a quiz team). You’re much better off with people with different areas of expertise.
I found the book incredibly interesting. Some of the stories were fascinating (could the CIA have prevented 9/11 if they had recruited more Muslims rather than recruiting on intellect/fit?).
The key issue of having teams with similar backgrounds/experience is “group think” and, potentially worse, thinking this is a good thing. There are some interesting statistics about the performance of teams with similar backgrounds/experience compared to cognitively diverse teams. I wished I’d read it during my City career. I think I could have articulated the problem of recruiting mainly highly numerate males much better if I had.
There’s also a section on the issues of hierarchies and the problem when you have a dominant leader who discourages new ideas, different viewpoints, and others pointing out the flaws in their plan. People die as a result of this. Having a diverse team is not enough in itself. You have to listen to the voices.
There are some fascinating ideas about the value of exchanging ideas through networking, or at least being social. It is through discussions with others (who have different backgrounds/experiences/ideas) that progress is made. Not just a case of two heads being better than one, but sometimes that several heads might be better than the sum of parts.
It is hard to see how this book will change how I operate now (apart from encouraging me to network or socialise more). I don’t have teams of people working for me. But intellectually I found it one of the most interesting business books I’ve read (albeit not always the easiest of reads as some of the stories are quite long).
Amazon link here
I’ve enjoyed reading these six business books during August. Whilst I’d love to read more books going forward, I know I won’t keep up this kind of a pace!
None of the business books I read were a waste of time. I got something out of all of them.
My favourite was probably the story of Instagram, No Filter. It was a very easy and interesting read and I knew only snippets of the story. I also really enjoyed Rebel Ideas. It’s a book I think everyone should read.
I suspect the book that will have the greatest impact on my day to day business is Making Time (with Atomic Habits having some impact too).