Do you work hard or do you work smart?
If you’re a true entrepreneur (and that definition includes you if you’re a dynamic employee), then you know there’s really only one choice.
You’ve got to do both.
Hard work plus high productivity is the holy grail of entrepreneurship. The more you can do with less, the greater your prospects of success in work and business.
Entrepreneurship is now genuine study subject in many colleges and universities (wasn’t in my day), however, most of us don’t have the time, spare dough, or inclination to head off to Stanford or LSE to do MBA. Thankfully, through the miracle of modern technology, nearly every piece of knowledge and expertise is readily available to us in the space of just a few clicks of the mouse or swipe of the finger.
And so, here is my list of books, apps, tips, podcasts, blogs and videos that have helped me with my personal business struggles, and which I hope will help you with yours.
(Don’t have time to read this list now? Click Here to Download the PDF to read later)
I’ve tried not to go for the most obvious stuff so hopefully there are a few in here you hadn’t thought of. This is stuff I have used myself, so can personally vouch for. I’ll be adding to the list whenever I discover something new. But if you can think of anything that should be on there, just comment at the bottom, and if I agree, I’ll add it to the list.
Very long post this week so feel free to skim read. (And don’t forget to grab my freeElevator Pitch Guide, if you don’t have it already).
15 Books (in reverse order)
15. “The 4-Hour Work Week – Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferris
Problem it tackles: How can you change the way you work so that life doesn’t have to be all about work?
The Book’s answer: Tim Ferris is basically a life hacker, with a pretty extreme lifestyle of cutting corners (legally) to achieve maximum outcomes with minimal input. You wouldn’t want to follow his approach to everything he does, but there are some great time/effort saving tips – like only check your emails twice a day, and outsource everything you can to a Virtual Assistant.
Verdict: Worth the read and will change your approach to many things that currently eat up your time without giving you much benefit.
14. “Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh
Problem it tackles: How can you build a brand that customers absolutely love?
The Book’s answer: Prioritise customer service over everything else including short term profits. Focus all efforts on wowing the customer and the money will follow.
This book made me feel sane because I’ve always believed you should go above and beyond to serve your clients and customers. Yet, when all around you see others succeed whilts offering poor customer service and customer value, it can make you doubt yourself . Nice to know that someone who sold his company for $1.2 billion to Amazon, thinks the same way I do, though I’m still waiting for that first billion. I actually got this as an audio book, which is actually narrated by Tony Hsieh (founder & CEO of Zappos) himself, which was a bonus.
Verdict: Learn from the master if you customer service is central to your approach to doing business.
(I’ll summarise the next few as this post would be far too long otherwise. It’s already pretty meaty as it is!)
13. “Steve Jobs – The Exclusive Biography” by Walter Isaacson
Lesson: Obsess over every aspect of the customer experience to create a brand that people will rave about. Surround yourself with a team of the highest calibre people you can find and you’ll achieve exponentially greater results than you and they thought possible.
12. “Start Small. Stay Small – A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup” by Rob Walling
Lesson: (primarily for tech companies) 99% of entrepreneurs will not build a unicorn (business with a billion pound valuation) and that’s OK. You can still make a perfectly good living if you accept that your business will stay small and optimise each aspect to maximise its profitability.
11. “Nail it then Scale It – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation” by Nathan Furr & Paul Ahlstrom
Lesson: Just cos you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. First figure out what product or service your customers really really want, then build that. Most of us build first, then afterwards try to figure out how to persuade our customers to want what we’ve built.
10. “Accounts Demystified – The Astonishingly Simple Guide to Accounting” by Anthony Rice
Lesson: For those of us whose brains get fuzzy when we look at a balance sheets. Apparently, accounts & company finances actually do make sense once you get it.
9. “The Lean Startup – How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries
Lesson: Don’t wait for perfection before you put out a product. Get it out there quickly no matter how flawed, listen to what your customers say about it and observe what they go through when using it, then iterate and improve continually. Repeat this cycle and in a much shorter timescale you’ll have a product or service that people rave about.
8. “Don’t Make Me Think (Revisited) – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug
Lesson: The vast majority of websites (and that means yours and mine) are not particularly intuitive or user-friendly, making it difficult for customers to actually get to the point we want them to. (I confess my site www.greatspeech.co falls squarely into this category, so I’m working on it). Simplify your user-onboarding (the technical term for the usability experience your site visitors get) by making every step you want them to take clear and obvious.
7. “Great Leads: The Six Easiest Ways to Start Any Sales Message” by Michael Masterson
Lesson: How to write headlines that actually make people want to read the rest of what you have written. (Love this book!)
6. “Team of Rivals – The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Lesson: How to forge a team full of strong and challenging characters and achieve your vision. Inspiring and humbling – if you think you’ve got it tough, Lincoln had civil war, financial devastation, and political turmoil to handle, and no one thought he was the right man for the job. Great lessons in the art of leadership.
5. “Traction – How any Startup can achieve explosive customer growth” by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Myers
Lesson: The 19 different channels that entrepreneurs can use to gain traction for their business. These guys have really broken down a great system to help you figure out what is your own best route to market, and then how to maximise your success with that channel.
4. “Ask: The Counterintuitive Online Formula to Discover exactly what your customers want to buy…create a mass of raving fans…and take any business to the next level.” by Ryan Levesque
Lesson: A system to help you figure out what your customers want so you can give it to them, just by asking them the right questions. (Note: ignore the first half of the book, which is just him telling us his story of how he figured out the system. Nice to know but not crucial).
…my top three books are:
3. “Blue Ocean Strategy – How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant” by W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne.
Problem it tackles: (as the title says) how can you escape the blood bath of the ‘red oceans’ where you and your competitors have to fight it out over an ever-dwindling pool of customers?
The Book’s answer: Seek out and define your ‘blue ocean’, by taking what you do and applying it to a totally different arena; then dominate that space before your competitors even realise what you’re doing.
For me it was a revelation to realise the endless possibilities available if I was prepared to look beyond the obvious avenues for work & business. (It’s because of this book that I’m now working with my co-founder on what I hope will be a great new idea for a legal tech service – coming soon!). Some great examples in this book of how companies like Cirque du Soleil, CNN, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines found their own ‘Blue Oceans’. And I like that the book covers both strategy, and execution – there’s a great section on how a New York police captain turned what at that stage was the murder capital of the country, New York, into one of the safest cities on the planet.
Verdict: A great book that could completely shift the dynamic of your business.
2. “Contagious – how to build word of mouth in the digital age” by Jonah Berger
Problem it tackles: how can you talk about your business in a way that people will feel compelled to share?
The Book’s answer: This book condenses what appears to be years of extensive research into a code of 6 fundamental elements or steps that all of us can follow to generate great word of mouth for our business.
If you’ve ever wondered why one of your blog posts gets lots of views and the other is barely noticed; why the Susan Boyle video generated hundreds of million of views on YouTube; or why the Blair Witch Project movie became a box office smash without an advertising budget, this book really explains it.
Verdict: The only book I’ve read that actually has the answer to the question of why some things go viral and others don’t, and how to apply that to business.
And my number 1 pick is…
1. “Launch. An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love, and Live the Life of Your Dreams” by Jeff Walker
Problem it tackles: How do you launch a new product or service and guarantee that people will be clamouring to buy it?
The Book’s answer: Typically, we create a product, launch it and hope. Sometimes the results are great, more often than not, they are disappointing. Jeff Walker has basically professionalised that whole launch process.
Instead of waiting and hoping to see if people will buy, his approach helps you prime your audience to anticipate your launch, so that by the time you do put it out there, they are biting your hand off to to get it. What I love is that it’s a real step by step guide that anyone can follow. Although he focuses on using online tools, it’s an approach that will work for any business or organisation, with any product or service, any promotion (great for an upcoming sale for instance), with any idea, in any industry.
Jeff Walker also supplements the stuff in the book with further resources on his website.
Verdict: Definitely a must-read for any entrepreneur no matter what stage you are with your business.
11 Apps (in reverse order)
Some are mobile apps, some are web apps. Many are both.
11. SimilarWeb – Function: get stats & insights about any website or app including your competitors, so you can see how many visitors they get, where it comes from, what keywords drives most of their traffic, which social media platform is doing it for them.
10. Fiverr – Function: outsource simple tasks for just $5. I use it for simple graphic design tasks like removing items in image backgrounds, but they do almost anything. Focus on low level needs of course – it is only $5 (£3) so they ain’t gonna paint you the Mona Lisa.
9. Buzz sumo – Function: discover what’s popular online on any subject (articles, posts, tweets etc) so you know what you should talk about to get your customers to listen. (Note – I’ve only used the free version which is limited but good enough usually. The premium version is far to expensive.
8. Wix – design your own website with pretty user-friendly service. A small learning curve just to work out how its tools work, but it really is pretty much point and click. Loads of templates relevant to all sorts of industries, so you don’t have to design from scratch. And they host everything on their servers so your site will be pretty fast.
7. Survey Monkey – create surveys and find out what your customers actually want. Good to combine this with the approach in Ryan Levesque’s book Ask. Any survey with 10 questions or less is free, which is more than enough for 90% of our needs as entrepreneurs.
6. Evernote – collect notes of your ideas and thoughts. A really simple, yet surprisingly powerful tool that also lets you keep notes by text, voice, andn photo. Syncs across all devices, which is pretty useful.
5. Usertesting.com – get people to test how user friendly your website is. You’d be surprised how many things on your website or app are not as clear and intuitive as you think. This service will even send you a recording of professional users as they try to navigate your sit.
4. Trello: a visual tool to help you organise anything. Like having a board and post it notes on your device. Great for to do lists, project managing things, databases and pretty much anything you need to organise.
I can’t design and I know it. But I have design needs – flyers, adverts, business cards etc. Previously I’d have to outsource or use a tool like PowerPoint and then convert to jpeg. The results were unimpressive. Canva’s definitely the most intuitive and user-friendly design tool out there – whether you’re creating flyers, posters, Facebook ads, images to tweet etc. Solves a particular bug bear of mine, which was how to create an image with exactly the dimensions I want.
This app is fresh so it’s really early days, but it’s already one of my favourites. Basically, anyone, anywhere can create a live panel debate of up to 4 people on any topic and then broadcast it live to the world. It’s too early right now so there’s not enough good content on there yet. But with live-streaming becoming the trend of 2015, I think Blab will become a far better resource for entrepreneurs than we’re currently getting from Periscope, which tends to feature individuals waffling on about trivialities and doing self-promotion.
SADLY (SINCE WRITING THIS POST) BLAB IS NO MORE!!! It was a great idea but they just couldn’t get it to work on a sustainable basis it seems.
And my number 1 app pick is…
This tool will only make sense if you understand the power of the mailing list.
If you don’t, have a look at Derek Halpern’s (Social Triggers) video on how email compares to social media. (He’s a bit full on, but knows his stuff).
And if, like me, you’re frantically building your mailing list, then Leadpages is an indispensable tool. It basically lets you build landing pages, which you can use to collect the contact details (especially email addresses) of your target customers and clients.
This may sound obscure, and even unsexy, but there’s a reason Leadpages just closed a $27 million round of funding (probably valuing it at about $1 billion). It ranks its landing page templates in order of conversion rate, so you know that the page you create has a good chance of convincing people to give you their details. After that it’s up to you to engage them and turn them into buyers. .
The best tool on the market to help you build your customer database.
You can read this list later by downloading it HERE.
6 Tips (in reverse order)
6. The Best is often the Enemy of the Good
Don’t wait for everything to fall perfectly into place before you get going. Good is good enough for pretty much everything you’ll do as an entrepreneur. Get it done and put it out there, even if it’s not perfect. You’ll feel far better for it, and the confidence you gain from completing the task will spur you onto greater things.
5. Go Deep Then Go Broad
We often feel the need to offer everything to our customers, fearing that if we don’t we’ll be missing out on potential business. The effect of this is to turn us into a jack of all trades, but master of none. Above anything else, customers want a product or service that is tailored to their needs. Find your niche, go deep within it, and dominate. Then when you’ve done that, you can broaden your focus, using what you’ve learnt to apply it to a wider field.
4. Create or Join a Mastermind Group
This isn’t networking, which is primarily focused on meetings to drum up business. A mastermind group is a collective of other business peers, who meet together on a regular basis to share connections, and help each other solve business challenges. A mastermind group works best when each member brings a different set of skills and experience to the group dynamic. Most of all, if you find that you’re the smartest person in that room, find another room where you’re the dumbest.
3. Get out of the building
Instead of spending all your time just working in your business, get out and speak to your customers as often as you can. Listen to what they say about their problems, and how well your product or service is solving them. It’s surprising how much better a business performs when it’s being run with customers and clients directly in mind.
2. Develop a great business elevator pitch
We get exposed to thousands of brands and hundreds of adverts every day – each one of them competing for our very limited attention span. If you expect to make an impression on your target customers, you need a compelling and short statement about your business that convinces them to pay attention to your brand. As it happens, I’ve got just the thing for that – with my Elevator Pitch Guide.
1. Build your mailing list.
It’s a no brainer really. Collect the contact details of your target customers and clients, then communicate with them regularly. Despite the prevalence of social media, google advertising and other forms of marketing, the humble email remains the single most powerful means of getting the attention of your customers. Think about it. When Facebook & Twitter want to make sure they reach you, even they will email you. On top of that, you own your mailing list. No one can take that from you. Google can change its algorithm to knock you off page 1, Facebook can change its policy so only a tiny proportion of your followers actually see your posts. But your list is your own, and used wisely it will help your bottom line.
It’s why expert business marketers say ‘the money’s in the list’.
3 PODCASTS (in reverse order)
A mild mannered guy, but he tends to get an impressive cast list of guests to interview, which results in pretty useful info for all entrepreneurs. He’s got a magazine app as well though I’ve not read it. Pretty good apparently.
Phenomenal output from this guy as he delivers one podcast episode every day interviewing a variety of entrepreneurs to try to discover the essence of entrepreneurship. Took a little while for me to warm up to the guy’s style, but you’ve got to respect the effort.
Passive income is such a beautiful thing, but very hard to achieve. What I like about Pat Flynn’s podcast is that he’s pretty open about what he himself has done to build his passive income streams, including publishing his own financial results. He’s also a pretty good public speaker.
I know what you’re thinking. Is he serious about that title!? But this blog is packed full of pretty useful tips over a wide range of topics, so you’re bound to find some useful stuff to help with your business. And he is pretty rich now, so I guess he can get away with that title. Kinda!
This could just as easily have been listed under the podcast section, since Amy Porterfield supports every blog article with a podcast episode, as well as really useful free guides & giveaways, and online training. Her style and manner is refreshingly down to earth and easy going, so that you don’t feel too stupid with all the things you realise you didn’t know about marketing your business online. She’s a Tony Robbins protege, but thankfully not as hyper!
Simon Sinek – Start with why (Ted Talk)
This video is so strong (almost revolutionary in its core idea) that I will just let it speak for itself. It will make you think about whether you’re selling yourself short when you talk about what you do as an entrepreneur.
He actually has a best selling book ‘Start with why’, which I could have gone for. Truth be told though I didn’t actually find the book that much more informative (admittedly on a speed read) than this short video.
You can also use this link to watch the video
That’s all I’ve got. If you got to the end of this long one, congrats! Hope it helped.
If you’ve got a book, podcast, app or video suggestion of your own, do comment and share it with everyone.
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