It is always a bit hard to narrow down favorite books a designer/entrepreneur should read to just a few, but non-fiction books that relate to business and marketing can often provide nuggets of practical wisdom that can change how we design and make money. That being said whenever I chat with someone on the topics of business and design and I feel that they are eager to learn more, I always suggest these three books.
If there was one book I would suggest every designer and entrepreneur should read it’s the E-Myth, or the Entrepreneur Myth. Michael Gerber talks about how most businesses are started by technician type individuals who start a business and immediately start working IN their business rather than ON their business.
1. Most new businesses are started by technicians — people who are skilled at what they enjoy doing.
2. Technicians assume they understand how a technical business works. In reality, they never do..
3. Building a business takes three skill sets: (1) The entrepreneur (2) The manager (3) The technician.
4. Businesses generally go through three phases of growth:
Infancy — when the technician is to the fore.
Expansion — when better management skills are required.
Maturity — where an entrepreneurial perspective is needed.
The best model for building a successful business is to view your operation as the prototype which a large number of franchise or turn-key operations will later duplicate. The challenge then becomes to maximize the amount of time you spend working on your business rather than in your business. I’ve found this idea extremely useful even when I don’t necessarily want to franchise. By clarifying and parsing out the different roles of my design business I can see and define how those would look if handed off. Gerber suggests having each role typed up and everything about it defined clearly, and that you should already have the experience of doing that work well so that you can have right-sized expectations for the person you’d hand the role off to.
‘The franchise prototype concept is a proprietary way of doing
business that successfully and preferentially differentiates every
extraordinary business from every one of its competitors.”
— Michael Gerber
Citation, Summary: http://carrollbiz.org/sbdc/resources/e_mythrevised.pdf
Selling The Invisible:
This book is a gold-mine of stories, and is extremely well written, the author Harry Beckwith is a native Minnesotan (and actually writes in the Starbucks I go to,) but I don’t think I knew he was a neighbor when I first read the book. The book is composed of pithy stories that give you ideas of ways to make your (invisible) service more visible.
A key point that Beckwith makes is that selling services is fundamentally different from selling products. When a customer buys a product that he or she is happy with, the physical existence of that product acts as a constant reminder of how satisfied they are, and what a good choice they made. Think of someone who has bought a luxury car – every time they see the automobile sitting in their garage they are satisfied, every time they hear that comforting clunk of the car door they are reassured, and every time they start the motor they think what a good choice they have made.
In contrast, services are invisible, and they don’t therefore act as a constant positive reminder to the customer in this way. Beckwith makes the point that many purchasers of services aren’t even sure what it is that they are buying, since it hasn’t typically been delivered yet. Clients typically cannot evaluate expertise (which is what service marketers are selling), since they lack the technical skills with which to evaluate the expert. In most cases, they cannot tell whether a doctor’s diagnosis was correct, whether a tax return was filed properly, or whether a marketing plan was crafted well. Accordingly the customer’s motivation may be as much or more risk avoidance (i.e. minimizing the consequences of a bad decision) than trying to get the very best service that might be available. Good service marketers will understand this and try to provide assurance that there will not be problems.
It’s hard to boil down the key points here because they are often somewhat specific and the topics sprawling, but here are some.
Stand for one distinctive thing that will give you a competitive advantage. (p.103)
To broaden your appeal, narrow your position. (p.105)
Get the idea that if you can do the hardest thing well, you must be able to do everything well) in your corner. (p. 107)
Don’t start by positioning your service. Instead, leverage the position you have. (p.112)
Positioning statements should address the following six points:
In positioning, don’t try to hide your small size. Make it work by stressing its advantages such as responsiveness and individual attention. (p. 120)
Setting your price is like setting a screw: a little resistance is a good sign. (p. 133)
Beware the deadly middle. If you price in the middle, what you are saying is “We’re not the best, and neither is our price, but both our service and price are pretty good.” Not a very compelling message. (p.134)
Don’t charge by the hour. Charge by the years (of experience). (p.138)
In services, value is a given. And givens are not viable competitive position
Don’t use adjectives. Use stories. (p.176)
If you are selling something complex, simplify it with a metaphor. (p.194)
Don’t raise expectations you cannot meet. (p.220)
To manage satisfaction, you must carefully manage your customer’s expectations. (p.222)
Citation, Summary http://www.consulttci.com/Book_reviews/invisible.html
Book Yourself Solid:
Only work with ideal clients.
“There’s nothing wrong with your dud clients, of course. They’re just not right for you.”
– Book Yourself Solid, page 8
Port’s Book Yourself Solid system hinges entirely on the concept of only working with ideal clients. Why? Many businesses will make the mistake of working with people who don’t have the qualities of their ideal clients. Thus, frustration arises more often and the quality of the work can suffer. This kind of situation does not lend itself to endless referrals of more ideal clients.
To combat this, Port suggests creating your “Red Velvet Rope Policy” in order to let in your ideal clients and keep out the rest. This process begins with developing a description of who your ideal client really is. Focus on listing their qualities, values or personal characteristics. Once you’ve done that, Port recommends pruning your current client list and getting rid of anyone who does not meet this criteria. It’s a radical step, but one that will put you on the path to long-term prosperity and happiness.
Learn to Speak About What You Do in a Compelling Way
“We hear the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’ all the time. Your professional category alone is the wrong answer.”
– Book Yourself Solid, page 51
It’s a classic cocktail party question and there’s nothing worse than feeling that you don’t have a good answer to it. But when you have a confident and interesting way to tell people about your work, you can hardly wait until someone asks you the question. Port says that the best way to answer is the following: I help (summarize your target market)… (reveal a deeper core benefit of your clients’ experience).
As a web designer I can find it challenging to fully communicate the core benefit of what I do. Sometimes I take a cue from a character in Mad Men, and say “I help get the word out about what’s excellent about your product or service.” (Role of Marketer) Sometimes I say “I help make shit look expensive.” (Role of Graphic Designer) When I’m helping craft a digital experience I can say I’m the advocate for the user’s of the website (Role of User Experience Designer.) But I think more often I just say, I help small to medium businesses by working with them to create a website that will help them get customers and that they can be proud of. I think Michael Port’s advice here is extremely poignant, sometimes it’s just that simple.
Become and Establish Yourself as an Authority
“Like it or not, becoming a category authority, an expert in your field, isn’t optional if you want your business to be as successful as it can be.”
– Book Yourself Solid, page 68
Every successful business has one thing in common: they are known in the industry for something specific. Something that makes them stand out from the pack and draws ideal clients to their door. Even if you don’t feel like you’re an authority on a certain category, it is easier than ever before to become self-taught and gather social proof that establishes your credibility. Port asks readers to consider the following questions in order to identify and hone their authority and expertise:
In what areas are you currently an expert?
In what areas do you need to develop your expertise?
What promises can you make and deliver to your target market that will position you as an expert?
What promises would you like to make and deliver to your target market, but don’t yet feel comfortable with?
What do you need to do to become comfortable at making and delivering these promises?
Port provides readers with a truly step-by-step approach to develop their sales and marketing system. The book includes many activities and questions to encourage the reader to practice what they are learning, which ultimately makes the book an even more valuable resource for business owners.
Citation, Summary http://www.actionablebooks.com/summaries/book-yourself-solid/
If you are in the market for books a designer/entrepreneur should read, you might also enjoy my antics on Twitter. Follow me at @timbdesignmpls