3 min read
16 Jun

I didn’t really read many business books while I was employed. One reason was time; I struggled for that outside working hours and wanted to use my commuting time to unwind and distance myself from work #sorrynotsorry. Hard-working I was, but a 'hustler', definitely not. That wasn't the only reason though, I don't think. Looking back on the books I did manage to finish I realise now that I had the wrong approach to choosing them. I followed the 'recommended' lists too readily rather then thinking properly about what I wanted or needed to improve upon.

I found the presentation of the material in these past-read books generally to be quite dry, not holding my interest. (Which is a shame because I’m an avid reader who can devour a gritty police procedural with alarming speed.) The central premise was often complicated and full implementation of the advice involved a fairly time-intensive commitment. Moreover, they often advocated that quite substantive personal changes in behaviour and practice were necessary to be ‘successful’. If you're time-poor and/or lacking confidence to begin with, not following through on the advice you've read that you must do to be successful can set you back a bit.

As a business owner I'm now more in control of my time and I set aside dedicated slots of reading time in my week. At the moment my focus is on running a business and this has led me to create a reading list to work through before Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd. turns 1 in October. This time I took personal recommendations on what to read from the online communities I've joined. I sought out reads where I thought 'that's me' or 'that's my goal' instead of being swayed by a list that the crowd may be following, but that's inappropriate for me.

Two of these books I've read recently really resonated with me and I've contributed 5* reviews on Amazon, not something I do often. (Please note: I’m writing independently and have not been asked to review nor incentivised by either author.) Both books are written by business owners who tell their own story, but also include many other examples to illustrate their ideas. Each has a simple but tight central premise that is delivered consistently without sounding too directive. Each also challenges the broader body of wisdom on their respective topics, but both provide lots of practical advice about how to implement in your own business. That said, I think anyone 'in business' whether it is their own or not, will find some value in the ideas presented. In no particular order:

Company of One (Paul Jarvis, Penguin)

I had already bought this book when I heard Paul discuss the story of his business with Steve Folland in the Being Freelance podcast series. After listening, I resolved to read it next. The subtitle of the book is why staying small is the next big thing for business. The popular notion that ‘bigger is better’ is challenged. More specifically, that growth should be the KPI for every business. What if a business owner doesn’t want or need to scale? (...‘that’s my goal’.) 

I liked how enough time was spent defining what a Company of One is. Without giving too much away, think ‘mindset’ not ‘entity’ and you’re on the right track. That’s one of the reasons this book is a great read for anyone in business, not just a freelancer or small business owner. In fact, Jarvis is explicit that anyone can create one, even in a team environment. Having come from working in several different-sized teams in agency and client environments I can see how this could be successfully applied.

It’s undermining to call this an exercise in thinking though. Chapters are devoted to providing ideas on how to successfully scale businesses that want to stay small; from just starting out to continuing past the tipping-point, the point when many businesses expand and add layers of complexity because they can’t see another way and/or believe they are judged on scale. Lots of examples from other businesses illustrate the points made in this book, making it easier for readers to understand the concepts and work out which may be most relevant to them.

Reading this has validated my decision to work freelance part-time and given me the confidence to be unapologetic to others about this. If I grow my business too much I will inevitably lose the free time that I have created to undertake voluntary work, which will be a personal failure. I fear that I would also end up in a similar position to when I left employment - in roles where the day to day tasks take me farther away from what I actually love doing. These happily coincide with where my skills are most advanced. If I grow too quickly I will also miss out on the valuable learning opportunities that I have created by setting up the very smallest of businesses. 

Anti-Sell (Steve Morgan, independently published)

I purchased this book because I was unable to attend an event where the author was speaking. As the title suggests this book is about sales, my least favourite task as a business owner. My fear and loathing started way back. The traditional sales process within agencies didn’t pair well with my natural personality and skills. I avoided it for as long as I possibly could, but that became more difficult as I became more senior. I struggled in pitches and with a responsibility to generate income. So, one of my biggest reservations about starting a business was that I would be exposing myself to this process with nowhere to hide. However, with a network of contacts built up over 18 years I decided that initially I could probably get by for a little while without having to sell myself coldly.

Anti-Sell (...’that’s me’) is basically written for me - a freelancer who hates ‘sales’. It tells the story of the author and other freelancers who have won business without relying on a traditional sales-person approach or using paid advertising. It is packed full of ideas about how to generate awareness and get your business in front of prospects without needing to employ a single cold technique. I also appreciated the chapter that suggested which of those approaches would work best for different personal circumstances. 

I think that this book could also be a useful read for anyone who wishes to raise their profile without overtly selling themselves - freelancer or not. But it’s not for you if you’re after a secret trick - there isn’t one and effort is still required. I realised that I’d actually already started to implement one or two of the ideas in my own business naturally. Now I have the confidence to continue that path having heard from others in my position that it really does work. Leaving me more headspace to focus on what I enjoy most - data and analysis.

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