Over the past decade I read hundreds of business and marketing books. Some were useful, some rehashed the same old advice you heard hundreds of times, and others used too much filler to meet the 200+ page publisher requirements.
At the time of this writing, I am in the first stages of building a new venture. Here are 5 of the most valuable books I am re-reading before launching the project.
Book Selection Criteria
When it comes to books, there are tens of thousands of choices. Here is the criteria I used for selecting, and recommending the following 5 to you:
- Pragmatic. As little fluff as possible. The ideas should be realistic and actionable.
- Mindset. Skills are easy and cheap to acquire. A strong mindset is required to take consistent, focused action.
- Concise. Each book is either the source of original ideas, or curates the best thinking available.
- Quick. With a toddler at home, I don’t have time to waste. Each book should be a quick, densely insightful read.
Based on those parameters, here are the reading recommendations, with summaries for each:
4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris
A classic in the digital nomad and startup community. This book vaulted Tim Ferris to the top of the business thinker heap. I am specifically interested in revisiting the concepts of:
Business Idea Testing — Tim used Google ads and landing pages to test product ideas. Before we launch our project, I want to make sure there is a viable market.
Selective Ignorance — Too many inputs are grinding productivity to a stop, and introducing unnecessary anxiety. This idea helps create time and focus for the important work.
Mini-retirements — We’ve been chasing growth for years, and even though I have more control over my time than a 9-to-5 worker, my work / life balance is still not where I would like it to be.
If you are interested in the book, I would suggest checking out your local used book store first. Chances are they will have at least one copy. Alternatively, you can order a copy from Amazon, or watch the summary below:
ReWork, Jason Fried
This book summarizes business lessons from the founder of 37 Signals, an insanely popular software company that built tools like BaseCamp while doing the exact opposite of every other Silicon Valley darling. In our recent podcast interview, Justin Jackson mentioned it was one of his most influential books. Here are some of the key concepts I plan to revisit:
No Growth Plan — We plan to keep this new venture very small (myself and my wife, with a little bit of hired help).
Success And Failure — Jason’s recommendation is to focus on learning from success. Failures teach us what not to do again. If something succeeds, you can dissect what worked, and focus on repeating it.
No Time — as someone who is balancing a teaching, speaking, and consulting schedule on top of podcasting, writing and a few other pursuits, this should be a great reminder to focus on what matters, and to eliminate distractions.
You can order the book from Amazon, or watch the summary below:
Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker
Even though I’ve “read” Peter Drucker, it was mostly skimming because I never looked at myself as a manager. This book comes as a recommendation from Darius Foroux, who used these ideas to build a strong personal brand, focus his efforts, and amass a loyal following of close to 20,000 subscribers. Some of the key points I want to rehash:
Focus On Strengths — Rather than trying to equalize your skill set, focus on building on your strengths. Peter’s recommendation is to create a personal feedback loop by writing down what you plan to accomplish in the next 9 – 12 months, then monitor what you ACTUALLY accomplish. That will provide clues to where your strengths lie.
How Do I Work —Building on strengths, be mindful of how your perform. Are you better as a leader, or a manager? Independent, or part of a team? Do you need structure, or prefer to be left to your own devices? Knowing this allows you to amplify your strengths.
What Are My Values — When your value system is aligned with what you do, and how you do it, it creates space for maximum effectiveness. In a recent interview with Kylie Toh, she revealed her top 5 values and how they guide her work. I plan on revisiting and clarifying my value set.
This is another old book, but it may be harder to find used. I found an audio version on iBooks for $1, and that is what I would recommend. Alternatively, you can read a copy of an article the book was based on here or watch the summary below:
22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing, Al Ries
Published in 1993, this book stands the test of time. It’s short, concise, and actionable. It is a great reminder to build a strong marketing foundation. It’s easy to get lured into Facebook’s latest ad units, or think about how to infiltrate a virtual reality world. This brings the conversation back to the basics. Stuff that really matters. For example:
Law Of Perception — Reality is only a story we tell ourselves. As marketers, we have the ability to weave a story that will build perception about our products and brands.
Law Of Opposite — If you can’t beat the market leader, position your brand as the antagonist. Become the opposite choice, and angle for a strong second place in the market.
Law Of Success — Reminder to not let success go to your head and inflate your ego. If it does, that leads to arrogance. And arrogance leads to failure (remember BlackBerry?)
This is another book I would recommend looking for in your local used book store. Alternatively, you can find it on Amazon, or check out the summary below:
Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday
Another recommendation by Darius. I read this book a while ago, and dismissed it as manipulative and simplistic. However, individuals and brands who put some of these techniques in practice were able to build their authority and position themselves as market leaders. Ryan shares some of his battle stories as the director of marketing for American Apparel and marketing manager for a few popular authors. He shares specific advice on how he was able to get his clients into national media.
Here are some of the insights I want to revisit:
Headlines — how to structure headlines in order to capture the ever diminishing slice of attention. This works when pitching articles as well as writing them for your own blog.
What Sells — Although I’m not a big fan of using what could be called the Freudian approach to capture attention (sensationalism, extremism, sex, scandal and hatred), it does provide a good insight into what actually captures and holds the attention of today’s readers.
Free Content — Most bloggers and publishers who live and die on advertising are constantly in need of fresh content. Help them (and yourself) by writing for their publication.
Even though some of the practices in this book are borderline manipulative, it contains plenty of actionable advice on how to build a media presence, and in turn authority. Here’s the Amazon link, and a summary:
At this time, there are too many books to choose from (over 73,000 in Small Business & Entrepreneurship section on Amazon alone). Some will argue these are not The BEST 5 to choose, and will probably mention other classics like E-myth Revisited and Lean Startup. And that’s fine.
The secret to progress is to pick a direction and take action. These 5 will provide more than enough actionable insights for anyone considering starting a side project or a small business. Probably more than you could implement in a lifetime.