The Most Successful Small Business In The World by Michael E. Gerber

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Rate: *****

Read:  Cover to Cover

Category: Big Idea, Entrepreneur, Small Business

Michael Gerber should not be a new name to you (if it is, tisk-tisk).  He is the author of thirteen books, including what the PR guys call a mega-bestseller (sort of like a power seller on ebay).  If you haven’t read the E-Myth Revisited, I recommend you read that one before this one (maybe that’s how he got the mega).   As in his other books, he is like your wise grandpa (assuming your grandpa is Sam Walton on your father’s side or Warren Buffet on your mother’s), part philosopher, part inspirationalist, part evangelist and poet, but always passionate about steering you in the right direction.   And he has nailed one thing that, to me, has always been the stop sign, the red light and for some, the cyanide in growing our self-employed life.  He strips away all the extraneous help – better marketing, how to use SEO, be an expert, grow your business in three easy steps – he throws all that out the window and starts with a premise that no one wants to hear.   “That small and independent business are populated by owners working for a living…that all they ever wanted to do was create a job; to create control over their personal income; to create a place to work; a place to do what they know how to do.  In short, they want to be self-employed.”  What is wrong with that, Gerber says, is that it is no business at all.  He wants you to understand that you have the potential, the brains, the chutzpah, to look at your business as a business, not just a place to answer the phone when it rings, complete a job and wait for the next customer.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But if you follow certain rules, you can change not only your own future, but you can change the world.  Yup, you can change the world if you change your paradigm to how you see what makes a business vs. what your business makes.  Great stuff.  But like all great grandpas, he hits you with his cane and then gives you a lollipop and says, “I know you can do better.”

My takeaway:

While I was reading the book, I had an inspiration from his words that will change my own business.  This is no easy feat – I am a “creative,” and ideas happen faster than planes landing at JFK.  But this was a BIG idea that will impact my present business and it came from Gerber’s chapter on the First Principle, “A Small Business, Built Rightly, Can Grow 10,000 times Its Current Size.”  So this is not just another book to read, say “Wow, that was great” and then go on doing the things you’ve always done.  You are reading this blog because you want to know if this is a book that can change/add/empower you in growing your business.  If you are interested in having job that you created for yourself, and just want to know how to get more business, this book is not for you.  However, if you want, nay need and desire to create a business that you can grow, sell, innovate and possibly change the world – this is a must read.

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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.

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

the Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn an Industry Upside Down by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry

Rate:  ****

Read: Cover to cover

Category: Branding, Entreprenerial

Twitter Review:  Build a product that has value, and don’t let anyone stop you.

Who doesn’t love a David and Goliath story?  This is a miraculous adventure taken by two guys, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry who decided to take on one of the toughest, most entrenched  industries imaginable – cleaning products for the home – Goliath indeed.   An industry that has a hundred year start, tens of thousands of employees plus millions of loyal customers.  What did they have?  An idea, a car and a belief that the world could be a better place if cleaning products not only worked great, but could be good for the environment, smell nice, look nice and, wait for it – cleaning could be an enjoyable experience?  What were they smoking?  I love the quotation of the back of the book by their parents, “We’re still in shock that two kids who couldn’t even make their beds without groaning would go on to start a cleaning company.”  What many saw as entrepreneurial suicide, they saw as an opportunity.  They looked at the size and power of these behemoths, and they countered with speed and agility.  They fought the giants with imagination, engagement, groundbreaking innovation and created a culture.  They also identified a tribe and a small niche market who maybe, just maybe, would love what they love.  This book is their story.  Full of heroics and failures, of genius and ignorance.  But more than just a tale of their unlikely success, this book is full of how they did it, why they did it, and just like their brand, they want to help you with specifics of building a brand that makes a difference, warts and all.  Oh, by the way.  I just purchased my first Method environmentally friendly dishwashing soap, and doggoneit, I feel a bit better about myself. Go figure.

My Takeaway

Although this book has a lot to do with the retail/wholesale sector, the backstory of selling their products out of the back of their trunk and growing the biz is a universally entrepreneurial one.  It took them ten years of experience before they wrote this book – and it is the quintessential idea of having a value based business – regardless of what product or service (or idea) you sell that in the end, will get you where you want to go if you start from an authentic and value based place; if the core of your brand is the values that drive it – not money, not growth for just market share, not by intimidation – but by plugging away at design, esthetics, and by building a culture internally that spread to the marketplace. Well written, engaging, easy and delightful to read, with some extraordinary concepts that entrepreneurs, freelancers, independents and small business could all benefit from.

Elaine Joli