The Wealthy Freelancer, 12 Secrets to a Great Income And an Enviable Lifestyle by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia

Rating: ****1/2

Read:  Cover to cover

Category: Small business, entrepreneurial

I hate titles like “10 Easy Ways to Become a Millionaire” or “The Four Hour Workweek”, but let’s face it, it’s just me.  Publishers, authors, readers – everyone else loves tapping into making minute rice even faster in the microwave pouch.  I need to be rich, damn it, and I need it now!  So, I was reluctant to read The Wealthy Freelancer – to me a 12 secret oxymoron.  Title notwithstanding, the word “Freelancer” in the title moved me to read it, because the freelancer industry has an opportunity to boom in the coming years and the people I write book reviews for, well a lot of them are freelancers.  So here’s the more than pleasant surprise.  This book is (should I say it?) is the quintessential guide for all freelancers to read – but it will be the biggest disappointment for those who really thought they would get microwaved minute rice.  They talk about what “wealth” really means, dumping “ugly” clients (another great book on the subject of the client “dump” is Booking Yourself Solid by Michael Port), bringing focus to your business, creating a buzz piece, cultivating and nurturing your business, even how to make sales calls – all standard stuff starting from the beginning.  A lot of freelancers come to doing their own thing after they start hating their job, they don’t have job or they have a passion they want to pursue.  They may be good at what they do, but many lack the ‘well rounded’ skill set (sales, marketing, networking, book-keeping, pricing their goods/services) of running a complete business.  There are some really great ideas in this book – and I’m happy to say, my initial reaction was quickly proved wrong.

My Takeaway

If you are a freelancer or in a partnership this book is a must read if you don’t have enough clients, if your stomach drops when you see the phone number from an “ugly” client incoming, if you are on a roller coaster of cold and hot income spells, or think that sales, marketing and building a client base means you have a website, there is no time to waste.

If you are an indie – check out indieAWESOMEness, the community for the coolest people on the planet!

Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier

Rate: ****

Read: Cover to Cover

Category: Branding, Big Idea, Communication

I like a book that has the reader’s time in mind.  This is a very short book; Mr. Neumeier calls it an “airplane read.”  He has a few very simple (aren’t the simple ideas usually the best?) ideas that he puts into a chronological order using a hypothetical (wine) business to illustrate his big idea.  He is talking about branding – but since he started out as a designer, he combines form and function (and a little beauty) in the process.  He is on the same Tsunami as Seth Godin (Purple Cow), Luke Wilson (Disrupt) and many other surfers in the new (huge) wave of marketing and branding in the 21st century.  They all say there are really only two ways this thing is going down.  The first is to do what everyone else is doing, trying to build your brand by differentiating on price, speed and improvement on the same type of products and services, or putting your efforts to creating something that is really different and truly unique.  He calls the process “zagging” as in “when everyone zigs, you should zag.”  He gives you a short painless history lesson, and then just when you’re a little depressed because you realize you are doing these things, he opens the gate and let’s you walk on the stepping stones (from naming your company to truelines, taglines, core product, passion to engagement) to that big house on the hill or in his case study, the unique wine store he imagines, Bibli.

My Takeaway

An excellent read for small business, entrepreneurs and independents.  It’s even a better read for people just starting out with an idea.  But what kind of “zagging” can you do when you’re already “zigging?”  How do you “zag?”  There was not a good answer to that, because in the second part of the book the “zag,” described handling entrenched business models of corporations – diversification, competitive cycles… yawn.  Oh, excuse me.  So, for independents who are already in the “zig” (you already have  crummy name) look to this book for thinking about the quintessential “disruptive” idea for, maybe not your product (or maybe your product or service), but perhaps how you can engage your customers in a different way, create an outstanding design for your website, or by discovering the concept of pulling your customers in rather than pushing information out to them.  Still a terrific read with some incredibly valuable information.  Read it.

Personality Not Included: Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity – And How Great Brands Get It Back by Rohit Bhargava

 

Review (only most awesome deserves 5 stars)  *****

Read:  Cover to Cover (skipping some of the “how to get you giant ass corp bosses to go along”)

Category: Marketing,Branding

Twitter Review:  Let your freak flag fly and let your true colors shine.

Look, we’re in a funny (not haha, but strange) place when it comes to marketing our small or independent businesses.  The old way of doing things, print media, electronic media, direct mail, seems to be pretty much over (hallelujah – none of us could afford it anyway).  But now the kool-aid for today’s savvy marketers is to create a “story” about you and/or your small business and/or insert your personality, and grow the WOM (word of mouth).  This is the basis for creating the “personal brand,” creating a compelling and memorable back-story so that your customer/client/followers/evangelists can repeat it.  As my Aussie friends, say, “all good” and I say, “pour me a cup.”  Authors who write business books, this author included, typically use the “big” names to illustrate their points (and possibly their gravitas), StarBucks, Dell, Oreck, ING Direct, but in this case, I have to give Rohit Bhargava a break, he says he personally interviewed every business he writes about.  The only downside/upside to his writing, is that like so many good authorities, he comes from a corporate background (SVP of Digital Strategy and a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, one of the the world’s largest marketing and communications agencies).  But let’s not hold that against him.  You just have to read the book from your point of view – the concepts are universal to all business, including yours.

My Takeway

So what is so compelling, that I am encouraging the reading of this book?  Because when you are a small business person, an independent, freelancer or entrepreneur, this concept is the quintessential model.  You are the ones who can pivot easily into this terrific, compelling, cost effective way to build a brand.  Yes, I used the “B” word.  You are the gals (and guys) that actually HAVE a back-story.  Most big business is already entrenched.  They have a PR department to tell then what is “authentic.”  They have a LOT to lose by communicating directly with their consumers (as seen in the hubbub, scramble for attention on Facebook with the “like me please like me” button).  There is a trend now, for people to be charmed by your passion, to follow the little guy, to stand up and spread the word about you and your services, products and ideas.  This is a book that can take you from start to finish in understanding how to put personality into your business, but here’s where his book is very different.  In the second half of the book Rohit gives you everything you need to apply these ideas to your small business.  Easy charts, guides and tools that give you the action plan you need to get started.  If you take his advice and use the tools to implement a “personality” into your small (but beautiful little) business, fasten your seat-belts because you may be in for for a very enjoyable ride in 2012.

Elaine Joli

  Short video by Rohit Bhargava:

Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian J. Slywotzky

Rate: *****

Read:  Cover to Cover

Category: Big Ideas, Marketing, Entrepreneurial

Well, it’s not very often (to be honest, never) have I put down my afternoon tea (sweet chai), jump off my reading chair (very, very, comfortable) and march over to my white board to write down something that I find so new, so important and so potentially business-life changing.  I wrote down one of Slywotzky’s terms in big bold black letters.  Of course, he had me at the very beginning of his opening: “We often think that demand comes from pulling the right levers: more marketing, better advertising, more aggressive sales efforts, distributing coupons, offering discounts.”  Right?  Isn’t that what we try to do?  Here it comes.  “But real demand is not about any of those things.  Demand creators spend all of their time trying to understand people.  They try to understand our aspirations, what we need, what we hate, what gives us an emotional charge – and most important what we might really love.”  Slywotzky (I wonder if his friends call him Sly?), takes us on a story filled journey of demand companies like ZipCar, Netflix and Kindle as well as dozens of others to deeply illustrate his concepts.  He describes the invisible line between the “ho-hum” and “I gotta have it.”  He does it seamlessly and he does it well, because he understands that readers like context.  But he really does it honestly.  He doesn’t sugar coat it and tell you how easy it is – quite the contrary, when you finish the read – all the companys’ backstories, he makes you say to yourself, “Damn it, this is going to be tough – but perhaps, just maybe I can create a demand product, or maybe I can incorporate a few ideas here to irrevocably change my biz.

Here’s my takeaway:

Here’s an example of how he amplifies by example that has stuck in my mind (Myth of the Average Consumer):  He recites a backstory of a manager for one of Amerca’s great symphony orchestras.  His job? To figure out how to attract a stream of customers who are willing to pay high ticket prices and make their way downtown to hear live performances of classical music – all in preference to any of the dozen other forms of entertainment.  “Get people through the doors!” is the traditional mantra.  The assumption is that, once people venture into the local symphony hall to hear a concert, the sheer beauty of the music will draw them back.  Ergo – more people, continuing attendance.  There’s only one problem, it isn’t so.  The problem is one-time visitors (he calls them trialists) never return.  In an effort to reduce the churn the new manager researched the trialists in order to  find out why.  Turns out, all the factor analysis for the symphony experience (78 different attributes from classical music experience to the architecture of the auditorium) were facscinating but counter-intuitive.  What was important?  At the top of the list was parking! The simple ability to travel to and from the concert hall with a minimum of fuss was the single most powerful “driver of revisitation.” It was the key demand trigger for trialists.  Of course, the subscriber never complained about parking, so why did they have to worry about it?  Because veteran members had devised their own travel solutions – eliminating parking from their hassel map.  Hassel map? 

That is the word I wrote down on my whiteboard.  Hassel Map.  This one concept, these two little words, could change your business.

Tell To Win by Peter Gruber

Rate: ****

Read:  Cover to Cover

Category: Communication, Marketing, Sales

Im not really big on the TV genre, reality shows, but I will admit to being hooked on The Voice (Mondays on NBC).  It fits into a narrative I have long believed in – too much depends on our eyes, irrationally so.  (There is a great book out there dealing with the subject, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell).  So, my enthusiasm for the show is three-fold.  One is that the contestants are judged solely on their voice, and second is the absolutely stellar voices that come out of, seemingly, the great unwashed.  But here comes the third, and I think one of the most important.  Before they sing their big hearts out, contestants tell us a little story about who they are, what drives them, their ambitions and their family – essentially their backstory. All of them are heartfelt and come from an unscripted deep place.  I empathize with their struggle in wanting what is seemingly so unreachable – making a career happen when the odds against them are so great.   After I listen to them tell their story and they go on stage, I root for them.  I can’t help it.  I want them to succeed.  I want those judges to turn their chairs around because I know it’s not only the singing I hear in their voices, but I know what it means to them.  Without knowing their story, I can be a impartial observer.  Sight.  Sound. But knowing their story, well…that makes all the difference in the world.  That’s what Peter Gruber calls “emotional transportation”.  Audiences feel sympathy for characters whose struggles and concerns make them seem authentic and vulnerable.  That’s the idea behind Peter Gruber’s book, although he’s a bit more pragmatic.  He understands the power of the story.  He understands that to motivate people to understand you, your idea or your product, you should tell a story.  He says everyone, whether we know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business, and by creating compelling stories, we have the power to move customers, partners and stakeholders to action.  The folks on The Voice tell really emotional, vulnerable stories- but Gruber insists that purposeful stories – created with a specific mission in mind is essential for persuading others to support your dream, vision, or cause can be just as powerful.   He takes you through the formula for good storytelling – getting the listeners attention, give your listener’s an emotional experience by narrating a struggle to overcome a challenge and finally to galvanize your listener’s response with an eye-opening resolution that calls them to action. So, put away those powerpoint slides, your facts and figures, your mission statement, your canned elevator speech, your idea of what you’ve been told it takes to persuade your audience, and try telling a compelling story.

My Takeaway

Too many of us in business have this idea (probably because we have seen it done over and over again) that the “correct” way to make a sales pitch to a client, or convince a customer about our service/idea/product, is to drag out prices, statistics, features and benefits as fast as we can, hoping something sticks.  It happens from the get-go.  “Hi my name is ……… and I’m with…………, a company that can provide you with the best…………… in the country.  Let me tell you a little about the product that can change your business. Blah, Blah Blah.  Oh…thanks anyway for your time.”  The point of Gruber’s book for me, starts with the relationship build.  And the quickest way to have your idea/product/service “stick,” is to emotionally transport them to a place of understanding, to let them “visualize” and remember you/your product/service/idea.  People always seem to have time for an interesting story.  When you tell a story, you engage, you don’t seem to be “selling” anything.  We can all learn to tell good and relevant stories, and this book gives you the tools that can make you a good story teller so that you capture and inspire your audience, rather than bore them into submission.

MoneyBall by Michael Lewis

Rate: ***1/2

Read: Skipped some of the excruciating baseball stat details

Category:  Business

Tweet Review: An idea, some resources and an unwavering belief trumps money every time.

I like baseball but I’m not a fanatic.  I like Brad Pitt but I’m not a fanatic.  So, when MoneyBall the movie came out (I am a movie fanatic), I went to see it, thinking the same thing as everybody else, a nice little drama about an underdog that changed something.  In this case, how an entrenched but most beloved industry run by the old boys gets a kick in the ass.  Fantastic storyline.  I can see why Brad Pitt thought this book would make a great movie.  I saw the movie first and all I could see were the principles of great business thought leaders put into action.  For me this is a story about innovation, a disruptive idea and leadership.  It has a little Jim Collins (Good to Great) – “get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, and then drive the bus”.  It has a little Seth Godin (Poke the Box) to start something; Luke Wilson (Disrupt) take an old idea in an entrenched industry and make it new;  it has a sprinkle of Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry (the Method Method) challenge the bigger, richer guys with a leaner, meaner organization, a smattering of Jason Fried (Rework) don’t follow the rules – all told in the story telling format that Peter Gruber (Tell to Win) encourages you to do so that you remember it.  The book was really written about a manager that didn’t have enough money, would never get more and how he created a competitive edge by thinking differently – challenging the status quo – which is what we are all trying to do in business.  Do more with less.  Make something great, not by throwing money at it, but by looking outside the box.  Billy Beane, in embracing a new model for choosing players looked objectively at the stats, got the old guys off the bus, brought the new guys on the bus and then drove the bus (if you only get one concept from Jim Collins – this has really got to be it).  It’s not very often that you get to sit back and watch a business story come to life – so if you don’t want to read the book, at least rent the DVD.

My Takeaway

To make the movie/book meaningful, it would be helpful if you knew the concepts I am taking about from the above named authors.  At the very least, in the movie the is a certain schadenfreude (pleasure derived from others misfortune) that comes when the old know-it-all scouts get a comeup’in.

Elaine Joli

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rate: ****

Read: Cover to cover

Category: Small Business, Entrepreneurial

Twitter Review: A take-no-prisoners approach to running a business in the 21 century

A friend and I were talking about books over a delicious hot cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop – no Starbucks for us.  I asked him what his favorite book for small biz was and he didn’t hesitate, didn’t waffle, didn’t look toward the ceiling – nope.  He said it right away.  Rework.  And then he smiled and said, “I just love that book.  It’s my bible.” Now, I’m going to backtrack a little (no I’m not going to talk about religion) and say that I find two approaches to business – one is hip and the other is hip replacement.  Chris Brogan – hip.  Donald Trump -hip replacement. Guy Kawasaki – hip.  Jack Welch – hip replacement.  Jason and David, co-founders of the remarkably successful 37 Signals (and if you don’t know the company, watch those stairs) definitely fall into the hip category.  They crush the old knee joint of business methodology, replacing it with a new, shiny, technologically advanced titanium implant.  Run faster, jump higher, feel better.  They write like they have a stop watch tied to their ass.  Each thought comes with a hastily rendered illustration and then a page or two on expanding the idea.  Business growth?  Overrated.  Mission statement?  Yawn.  Press releases?  Spam.  Advertising?  For suckers.  They reject growth, meetings, budgets, boards, salespeople and almost everything else in the “real world.”  But you can’t argue with their success.  In 1999 they started out as a three-person Web-design/consulting firm.  Unhappy with the project management software available, they created their own and named the company 37 Signals.  Five years later, they have generated millions of dollars in profit a year and continue to make boatloads of money to this day, with a very small staff.  In Rework, they take the model home of business and in their words, “take it down to the studs,” rebuilding in a new way.  This isn’t an autobiography (Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Zappos or the Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry) – this is an advice book.  Easy to read, outrageous, funny and double espressoed, these two absolutely make you believe even if you know nothing about business (or everything), you can build your dream if you just do it.

My Takeaway

Let me just say, my knees ache a little in the morning, so I know what the old boys say and do in business.  And it served us well.  But so did coupons in the mail (replaced by Groupon) and the good old boys network (replaced by indie.bz, LinkedIn).  Time to put the old dogs down.  Humanely, of course.  But down nevertheless.  I like their advice.  I think it democratizes business – who can get in, who can succeed, what you have to do to succeed.  They say nonsense to the old standard practices and I agree.  I want to put in a caveat here – I think their advice is for people who don’t anguish over keeping their desk clean, order their closets by color or arrange their spices alphabetically.

Elaine Joli

all things Jason Fried