9 Summer Reads for Small Business Owners

One of the best descriptions of small business owners came from a speaker at an expo in DC:  “People who work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else.” Even if you’re working a mere 50 hours, that doesn’t leave you much time for reading but the longer days of sunlight and the pool or beach are beckoning.

So put down your phone, close the laptop, and treat yourself to a book.  If you need a rationalization, consider it business support time, because it is.  The reads below can help you get motivated, learn a new marketing tactic or improve your productivity, maybe even all of the above.

Not all of the books are specific to small business but people I know and entrepreneurs like myself have found them helpful.  Most, if not all, are available used (which means you may be able to buy from another small business). If you have a suggestion to share, please do!

So here’s your nine, listed in no particular order:

  1. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. I love this book and go back to re-read a bit of it when I’m having a difficult day. Like the title says, it helps you reaffirm your value. It also encourages you to take risks and stick to your goals (despite the inevitable setbacks), and avoid what Sincero calls the Big Snooze.
  • The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard, et al. Lisa Carey, a small business coach in Northern Virginia, recommends this book for those who have people working for them but still take on too many tasks (monkeys) themselves. By doing so, Blanchard says in Harvard Business Review, “You become a hassled manager and don’t feel very good about yourself. And you have workers who look to satisfy their needs elsewhere, because they feel underutilized and unappreciated.” So dodge the monkeys and pick up a copy.

3. The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Small Business Marketing by Rich Brooks. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll find yourself wishing you had found this book earlier but I think you’ll still find it helpful. social media marketingAs a big fan of SBDC and Ray Sidney-Smith (a walking encyclopedia on many of these subjects), I can’t say it’s everything entrepreneurs need to know about things like SEO and digital marketing, but it does address a ton of questions.

4. New Sales. Simplified. by Mike Weinberg. Numerous sales experts have penned  great books on selling and business development but who has time to read them all?  I chose this one because it offers practical, specific suggestions on the mechanics of prospecting. If you are putting off calls that could help your business or not getting any results from them, check out the tough love section on why folks fail at phone calls.

5. Speaking of tough love, check out The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It recommended by Eric Lentz, an Ohio-based software application developer. Author Michael Gerber “points out how common assumptions, expectations, and even technical expertise can get in the way of running a successful business.” Who doesn’t need that?

6. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. New York City photographer Pat Bates suggested this rather easy read (147 pages) by the famous marketing guru who has published other thought-provoking bestsellers. This one focuses on leadership and making change through building a tribe of people who share your passion. Godin tackles the common misperceptions and doubts people have about their leadership potential.

While the book drew some criticism for lacking substance and being repetitious, it also made it onto some “must read” lists, including Huffington Post’s 5 Books Every Changemaker Should Read.

7. She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur by Carrie Green. As founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association and winner of Great Britain’s Entrepreneurs’ Champion of the Year award, Green definitely qualifies as a go-getter. Largely aimed at motivating those who are just starting out, the book chronicles Green’s entrepreneurial journey and what she has learned. Thanks to Australian marketing strategist Hayley Robertson for suggesting this one.

8. Predictable Success Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track- And Keeping It There. Rita Foss, co-founder of Ironistic, a digital marketing company in Alexandria, recommended this book that delves into the seven stages that organizations experience. Praised as clear and engaging, this is on a Forbes must read list for “any business trying to grow, or a business that has lost its way.”

9. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization by Olivier Blanchard. Bethesda video producer Pete Couste (who also heads the Independent Practitioners Section of the Public Relations Society of America) said he has found this book really helpful in measuring results.

The book drew high praise from a socialmedia.com reviewer, who liked the fact that the book not only addresses measurement how-tos, but also talks about integrating social media into a company’s processes and overcoming common objections to building a comprehensive SM program.

While it may feel that summer is slipping away, keep in mind that the first day of fall will not arrive for almost two months.  To be precise, the autumnal equinox starts at 9:54 pm on Sept. 22 when the Sun crosses the celestial equator.  That’s as scientific as I get – the Farmer’s Almanac people can explain it better. Bottom line – you still have time for a summer read. Enjoy.

I’m Not Cattle, Why do I Need to Brand Myself?

Red apple that stands out from the gray ones
Figuring out what makes you and your business unique can make a big difference.

If you’ve been in business for even just a month or two, you have probably run across marketing workshops or articles that talk about building your brand. And if you rolled your eyes at any of this, I get it. It sounds superficial, doesn’t it? Or for folks like me, it feels like a box you put yourself into that restricts who you are as a person or what you offer as a business.

In reality, it doesn’t have to be fake or limiting, especially if you go about creating it in a thoughtful way. After attending a workshop by DC-based leadership coach and speaker Christa Davis (hosted by  40Plus of Greater Washington), my perception began to shift.

One way to think of a brand is as a dish made off three ingredients: who, what and how. The Who, Davis explained, is comprised of your:

• values,
• passions, and
• strengths

While you want to project a positive brand, consider your weaknesses as well as your strengths to keep it real. After we made a list of each of the three Who items, Davis asked us to choose one word that reflected who we were. Not an easy exercise but not painful either. It definitely made me think and I liked the words I came up with (such as connector, as in connecting with audiences and connecting data points to see trends). I don’t consider any runner-up words to be lost or wasted as I will incorporate some of them into website copy and other marketing materials.

What’s next? The What, of course. What are you doing to develop your brand? For example, if integrity is what you want to be known for, is it clearly reflected in the experience and accomplishments you mention in your marketing? Are you volunteering or engaging in other daily activities that allow you to showcase your integrity? When was the last time you wrote a blog or social media post on the subject?

Moving on to How, as in how are you delivering your brand, Christa challenged us with these questions: (1) What impact does your presence make before you say a word? and (2) How are you presenting your value?
Again, not easy.

Personally, I find it hard to gauge what impact my presence makes but I’m willing to start asking people I trust to tell me truthfully: Does my energy, confidence, or communication style reflect [fill in the brand]? If the answer is sort of or not quite, then I have some work ahead of me but I will be grateful for the knowledge.

Why it Matters

Put simply, a brand tells prospective customers what makes you different from your competitors and why they should buy from you instead. “Our Who affects how we are showing up,” Davis remarked.

How we show up, whether it’s at a business meeting or a kid’s soccer game, matters; after all, those other parents may be potential customers or connections to customers you are seeking. For example, what makes you the right accountant for a family? They have dozens to choose from. You came across as friendly, low-key and understanding of people making mistakes and that’s what they were looking for. None of us will be a fit for everyone and that’s okay. After all, wouldn’t you prefer a client who likes you for who you are and how you do your work?

For more info on how to build your brand, check out these 10 tips from Duct Tape Marketing.