I like learning from other entrepreneurs’ mistakes. Saves me the trouble of doing so myself. That’s why I enjoyed reading Ryan Blair’s book, Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went From Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur (the title’s enough to pull you in, right?)
Blair talks about his time as a thug kid who spent more than a few nights in jail, and how his life was turned around thanks to key mentors who cared about his success. His story’s your typical “pulled-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps,” with an extra dash of bad boy.
Blair covers the gamut of advice for wannabe millionaire entrepreneurs, from finding mentors to raising money. The first chapters tell his story, then he offers chapters with advice based on his own experiences. I take issue with his chapter, “Pros and Cons of a Home Based Business,” because he defines home based businesses as network marketing businesses (multi-level marketing). As you and I certainly know, there’s a much wider range of businesses based out of homes (my own included) that have nothing to do with MLM.
I like Blair’s point that there are specific drivers for people becoming entrepreneurs:
- Fame & recognition
In thinking about it, I’d have to say that Independence is my top driver. What’s yours?
If you’re looking for an entertaining read from a guy who appears to at least appreciate all he’s achieved and the folks who helped get him there, pick up a copy of Nothing to Lose.
I read a lot, as you can gather from my book reviews. While not every book stays on my shelf for future reference, there are some that I constantly refer back to. Here are a few.
1. World Wide Rave by David Meerman Scott
I’ve long been a fan of Scott’s writing, and his books always make my list. This one provides a hard look at getting people to talk about your product. Because you can’t “create” a viral video. It has to become that way. Scott’s acerbic observations always make me want more: “Nobody cares about your products (except you).”
2. The Entrepreneur Equation by Carol Roth
Easily my favorite book this year. I seem to go for books that give you the hard truth, rather than sugarcoating it and telling you how to make millions. Roth pushes you to ask yourself whether being an entrepreneur is really for you. Hopefully you’ll come out on the other side.
We focus a lot on books when it comes to great resources for startups, but let’s not leave out ebooks and Kindle books. I love the Kindle: I can take it with me instead of the stack of books I usually do when I travel. I can find new content. Access it from other places. They’re often free, can be read on a computer, mobile phone or Kindle and provide really useful information. Here are my picks for startups:
1. Zero Dollars, a Little Talent and Thirty Days by Jennifer Laycock
This ebook is interesting because the author, Jennifer Laycock, spends 30 days starting a business without shelling out any money. It’s an exercise worth observing, if not doing yourself. Laycock links to some great resources and schools you on things like analytics and online advertising.
2. Engineering Your Start-Up by James A. Swanson and Michael A. Baird
If you’re the founder of a tech startup, running it isn’t the same as running, say, a t-shirt company. This Kindle book addresses the specific areas you need to know well, like protecting intellectual property and managing the five critical elements of a successful startup. The authors share their own experience to help illustrate points and examples.
Sometimes businesses, small and large, shoot for the moon, and instead of catching a star, simply fail miserably. The premise of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims is that instead of trying to get from A to Z in a single step, instead, try to get to B. Make a little bet, not a giant one.
Sims defines a little bet as: A low-risk action taken to discover, develop, and test an idea.
It’s often the brilliant ideas that we stumble upon, rather than start with. In Sims’ words: most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas—they discover them.
He gives plenty of examples to illustrate his point, but for this, Twitter comes to mind. What was supposed to be an internal communication tool for a company that focused on a different kind of software became that company’s brilliant idea, by accident.
Innovate Through Experiments
Sims talks about experimental and conceptual innovators. Most companies struggle, trying to be conceptual, which he identifies as those, like Mozart, who pursue bold new ideas and achieve amazing breakthroughs early. But most of us don’t fall into this category, so we waste a lot of time. We’re what he identifies as experimental innovators, or we should act like them. These innovators try things and fail, then try other things until they have success. They don’t put all their eggs in one basket.
In the down economy, it can be hard to bring in any revenue, let alone make a profit. That’s why Patricia Sigmon’s book, Six Steps to Creating Profit, comes at a good time. Her tips help service based businesses of all sizes reduce costs and increase revenue.
While it sounds easier said than done, Sigmon offers up some tips on how you can expand into other areas and sell more of what you’re already selling. Her tips include:
- Loss Leaders: get people in the door with something you can afford to give away or lose money on so that you can then sell your higher products or services to customers.
- Expanding Your Market: look for opportunities in other areas that you’ve been ignoring.
- Relationship Selling: build a long-term relationship with your customers by offering a monthly service they want.
- Cross-Selling: When a customer buys one service, offer a complementary one for a greater sale.
There are plenty of ways to take advantage of these types of opportunities, and Sigmon offers some great strategies.
One of the best books I’ve read in a while, Carol Roth’s The Entrepreneur Equation gives a very honest look at what being an entrepreneur really means. Roth addresses people who think they want to start small businesses, but who in fact, may not be prepared for what it will really entail. In her words, “You can do anything you put your mind to, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” And I agree. As I said in a previous post, just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you’ll be a good business owner.
I know we live in a connected world, because when something cool happens to me, my first reaction is to blog about it or post to social media. I Yelp as soon as I visit a restaurant. I ask my Twitter buddies for recommendations before real life friends. So Lisa Gansky’s book, The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, appealed to me.
In it, Gansky talks about businesses that offer products or services that can be shared, like Zipcar. Here are her qualifications for a mesh business:
- Something that can be shared, within a community, market or value chain, including products, services and raw materials.
- Advanced Web and mobile data networks are sued to track goods and aggregate usage, customer and product information.
- The focus is on shareable physical goods, including the materials used, which makes local delivery of services and products – and their recovery – valuable and relevant.
- Offers, news and recommendations are transmitted largely through word of mouth, augmented by social network services.
She introduced me to some amazing mesh companies I didn’t even know existed, and she offered tips on how businesses can offer mesh products or services. Throughout the book, Gansky offers easy-to-grasp concepts that can help any business owner, mesh or otherwise.
Gansky says that mesh companies have more opportunity to gain a customer’s trust, as well as to destroy it. Trust, she says, is social, and so all business is social. If a customer has a bad experience with a Zipcar, for example, he will immediately tell his circle of real life and social friends. That’s why it’s key to meet or exceed expectations with the mesh business.
So whether you have products or services that can be shared, read this book. It’ll teach you about how to offer a stellar customer experience and how to use social networks to stay on top of consumer opinion of your brand. Who knows? You might even learn something!
I needed a break from the how-to marketing books I’ve been reading. Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets it Right by Dal LaMagna, founder of Tweezerman, was just what I was looking for. LaMagna uses his story, hopping from one failed venture to another, then finally hitting bullseye with his beauty tool company, to teach tools to entrepreneurs.
I personally love learning from others’ failures. I’d rather you tell me how you failed to keep me from making the same mistakes than for you to simply give me advice with no basis. That’s why this book resonated so well with me. The first half of the book, I’m thinking, how the hell does this idiot go on to found a mult-billion dollar business?? And I think that’s the point.
The great thing about writing this blog is that I get to read a lot of great books and share them with you! Here’s a list of what I’ve been reading that I find readworthy and want to pass along. It’s a nice mix of marketing and business. Enjoy!
1. Raising Eyebrows by Dal LaMagna
I haven’t even finished reading this book, but it’s already #1. The subtitle is “A failed entrepreneur finally gets it right.” I’m halfway through, and LaMagna hasn’t even gotten to the business that put him on the map: Tweezerman. He uses stories of his business failures to teach subtle lessons about entrepreneurship.
Why I Like It: I’m really tired of advice books that promise to teach you how to do something but then don’t. This was a refreshing break from those.
I’ve been blogging about trust lately, and one huge component of trust, in my mind, is connecting people to others. Putting them first helps build that trust. I just finished reading The Connectors by Maribeth Kuzmeski. It reinforces what I’ve said before about networking, but applies the concept to the wider reach of business relationships.
One of the best parts of this book is its interactive format. There are quizzes and sections you can fill out to organize your thoughts and learn more about what type of connector you are. For instance, there’s a useful quiz at the start of the book that teaches you just that. You’ll be one of these types of connectors:
- Power Connector: You have a need to connect people and engage with them.
- Energy Connector: You reach out to others, but not daily. You’re interested in others and want to connect, but don’t focus on this regularly.
- Casual Connector: Reaching out to others isn’t a focus in your business. You tend to focus on smaller numbers of people.
I think I was an Energy Connector. No matter what type of connector you are, you can use Kuzmeski’s Red Zone Connectors Formula to become better at connecting people.
- Develop a True “What’s In it for Them” Mentality. By providing benefit to others, it shows how you respect and care for them.
- Curiously Listen: We’ve all been caught with someone who only pretends to listen, and it shows. Practice active listening to really understand what people are trying to say.
- Important Questions to Ask That Attract Connections: Get away from yes/no questions and ask ones that get people to open up. Use skill #2.
- Get the Sale to Close Itself: If you’re doing the other elements correctly, people will want to buy from you.
- Create a Memorable Experience: Make people say “wow!” when working with you and they’ll come back again and again.