Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do as the writer of a business book is to cut through the fluff and change people's lives. Many of us feel uncomfortable making grand claims for our ideas. We hedge them around with qualifiers and we're anxious to cover off all the objections we imagine readers might have, or all the various different ways our message might apply to people in different situations.
And very often, the message gets lost along the way.
David Taylor writes in a completely different way to any other writer I've interviewed. He calls it predictive persuasion, and he's refreshingly unapologetic about the simplicity of his message and the directness of his style.
Here's why - he cares more about what people do than what people think of him.
'I don't really mind what they think of The Naked Leader or the message. I just want people to fulfil their own potential in their own way in the very short time that we each have on this planet and it is a very short time indeed.'
There's so much here to inspire and challenge you about how and why you write. And even more to challenge you about how you live.
One of the first episodes of The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast featured an interview with Michael E. Gerber talking about one of the most extraordinary business books of all time - The E-Myth Revisited. So it feels very appropriate that we end 2016 with Michael talking about his new book, Beyond the E-Myth: The Evolution of an Enterprise: From a Company of One to a Company of 1000.
Michael turned 80 in 2016, but both the book and the interview demonstrate that his passion for helping small business owners achieve success hasn't dimmed since the E-Myth was first published in 1985, in fact the sense of urgency and passion is if anything greater.
There are big questions in this episode, and the turn of the year is the perfect time to face them.
"Look at yourself more seriously. Stop thinking about how you're going to get by and start pondering what you're going to leave behind."
New to the Club? Missed a few episodes? Or just want to revisit some of the most mind-tingling insights from recent guests?
This is the place to start. A few selected highlights from episodes 31-39, including:
Think of it as an early Christmas present. You're welcome.
You know about the Curve, even if you don’t think of it in those terms. You’ve noticed how successful businesses have been developing offerings at a wide variety of price points, and how they’ve been focusing particularly on giving stuff away in order to get people’s attention and engagement. You probably do it yourself – it’s the entire principle behind content marketing, in fact. But have you thought strategically about how and where your book fits in?
Nicholas Lovell, this week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club and author of The Curve: Freeloaders, Superfans and the Future of Business, explains it further:
‘The Curve comes in three parts. You have to find an audience. That probably, but doesn't necessarily, involve free. You have to earn the right to talk to them again. It's no good having a newsletter that you get people to sign up for if they immediately unsubscribe because your content is boring and rubbish. Then, having done those two things, found them and got the right to talk to them again, you have to let those people who really want to spend money with you, the people who love what you do, the Superfans, spend lots of money on things they really value.’
Your job, and your book's job, is to move people along that curve. Your potential superfans will finish your book and say to themselves, ‘That was great! Now what?’ This week's episode will help you give them a good answer.
I'm fed up with saying, 'I haven't got enough time. I want to have a different conversation about time.'
Grace Marshall was naturally disorganised, but also incurably impatient. She therefore decided the only way to make sure she was able to develop her business while raising a young family was to get really, really good at managing her time more effectively.
She got so good at it that she became the first female Productivity Ninja with Think Productive and has written two books on the subject. As you might expect, she has some kick-ass tips for writers to overcome procrastination and get the book written (and you'll be glad to hear she found it hard too!).
Essential listening for anyone who has 'write book' on their to-do list.
Robin Waite was a web designer who got increasingly frustrated with clients who only thought about websites. He understood, although they didn't, that your website is only part of your online strategy and your personal brand. Online Business Startup was written out of frustration, but the result was the transformation of Rob's own personal brand.
This is also a masterclass in how to write a book at speed: despite having a new baby and a full-time job, Rob managed to dictate, transcribe and edit his bestselling book in just six weeks, and he shares the full details of how he did it in this interview.
'My book's sold several thousand copies, my videos are going into tens of thousands of views across Facebook and Youtube and Vimeo. I've couldn't have had that impact, without having the book and the personal brand and this whole ecosystem set around it.'
This is an interview packed with practical ideas: don't listen unless you're ready to be challenged and to take action.
In business today it's personal. Across every sector, businesses are shifting their emphasis from the transaction to the relationship, from simple communication to community. Membership, says Robbie Kellman Baxter, is a transformational trend.
In this episode we talk about the implications of that trend, but we also explore Robbie's own approach to writing her book The Membership Economy - how she discovered the power of writing as a problem-solving tool and how she used the research period to extend her network upwards and outwards.
Robbie's approach to her own book is refreshingly and challengingly direct: 'I didn't write the book to sell a lot of books and make money as a book author. I wrote the book because I'm a consultant, and I wanted people to have that kind of one pound business card to understand this is Robbie Baxter and this is how she frames the challenges in the business world, and if we worked with her this is how she looks at things.'
There's SO much good stuff in this interview for you if you're running a business and writing about it.
Steve Krug tells it like it is. 'People don't read nearly as much of [your book] as you think.'
Painful though it is, much of writing is actually editing: reworking sentences, cutting out fluff, converting long paragraphs to bullet-points, so that you get your point across.
Steve used all these tricks and more when the wrote the bible of usability experts - Don't Make Me Think. He wanted it to be readable in a two-hour plane journey, because that's about how long his target reader would be able to give it. And to achieve that he did a lot of 'throwing stuff overboard'.
Writing, says Steve is like usability: 'it's all about 'keeping the user in mind and trying to be as kind to them as possible and trying to make it as rewarding an experience for them as you can.'
Invaluable, practical and refreshingly sane advice whether you're writing a book or a page of website copy.
"What separates the successful writers from those who 'kind of want to' write," Bec Evans realised during her time working at a writers' centre, isn't talent or even the original idea, important though they are. "What made them successful was their persistence, building that writing habit, and, fundamentally, finishing their projects."
And so she developed WriteTrack, 'Fitbit for writers', a clever way of using technology to hold yourself accountable for your writing progress.
In this podcast she dives into the psychology of setting goals, establishing a writing habit and understanding how to trick yourself into achieving success.
I'm particularly taken by the idea of rewarding myself with a bottle of champagne after a solid 250 words...
You know those business book authors who tell you, 'Dip in and out, read this book any way you choose'? Andy Cope, author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence, is not one of them.
"I specifically set this book out so it starts easy, and then it gets a little bit stodgy in the middle, and then it knocks your socks off at the end... It's like going to the swimming baths. You get your bathers on, and then you go out, first of all, you step through the chlorinated little bath, where your feet get wet but nothing else happens, so I take you through the chlorinated foot bath of academia first, because it's not very challenging, and then we go in the shallow end, and we splash around a bit and get a bit wet, until we get our confidence, and then, and only then, are you allowed in the deep end. If I chuck you in at the deep end first, you'll die. We do get to the deep end in the book, but we start in the shallow foot bath of chlorinated academia."
And it was at this point that I found myself actually crying with laughter, which is a first for this podcast.
Andy describes himself as "in a very lonely part of a Venn diagram", as he's most of the way through the world's longest PhD but also writes stories for 8 year olds (mine loves them). I promise this interview will make you laugh, but it will also give you some incredible insights about life in general and writing about big ideas in particular.
Amy Wilkinson pulls off an extraordinary feat with The Creator's Code: she interviewed 200 top entrepreneurs to discover what had made them successful, then rigorously distilled down her findings into 6 universal skills - the Code.
The research, on 'the biggest data set currently in the entrepreneurship world on high-scale or high-impact entrepreneurs', took 5 years. The 300 pages of the book were distilled down from 10,000 pages of transcripts.
As you'd expect from someone who lectures at Stanford and Harvard, the research was rigorous and the grounded-theory approach behind it is cutting edge. But as you might NOT expect, the output is not an impenetrable scholarly paper, but an engaging, readable narrative.
If you're struggling with translating a large body of material into an accessible story, or if you simply want to find out what's behind the success of 200 top entrepreneurs, all of whom have taken companies from zero to $100m in annual revenue in under a decade, this is an unmissable episode.
Amy also draws out the parallels between starting a business and writing a book that matters, and reminds us that if it's not easy, that's OK:
'It's difficult to be a first timer in any field, really. You talk to people that are first timers in writing books, in starting companies, first-time professors, first-time doctors that are just getting started, first-time lawyers. Everyone is learning and growing, and it takes a lot of energy, and effort, and focus, and it takes some time. The thing about the modern economy is that we are all beginners all the time.'
As always, for the full transcript see www.extraordinarybusinessbooks.com.
When Patrick Vlaskovits told his dad he was writing a book called Hustle, his father was baffled: 'Why would you want to write a book about stealing?'
And that's part of the interesting thing about this book - it's about giving things a name, or in this case taking back a name, giving shape and weight to things we know but perhaps haven't articulated to ourselves. It's full of phrases that hit home, such as 'cycle of suck', 'mediocrity of meh'. Patrick argues that this is a key duty of the writer in our society:
'The greatest impact that authors can have is to give names to phenomena that don't have names yet. That things perhaps are felt, perhaps are sensed but haven't been articulated...'
In this episode we also explore the pros and cons of writing as a team, with some great practical advice on how to do it well, and the power of storytelling.
Patrick doesn't hold back, and his advice is awesome. Brace yourself.
New to the Club? Missed a few episodes? Or just want to revisit some of the most mind-tingling insights from recent guests?
This is the place to start. A few selected highlights from episodes 21-29, including:
Sit back, relax, listen, enjoy. Be inspired.
We spend our lives just one click away from the answer to any question, with instant access to entertainment, education, distraction, connection to the hive mind. Our digital culture makes so much possible, but what's the cost to us?
In this episode Tom Chatfield explores the nature of attention and creativity, how print books engage us differently and why that matters.
Write This Book is a beautiful, tactile experiment in interactivity and physicality, because as Tom says,
'We need things to have friction and texture. Really, memory and understanding are information plus emotion, if you like, and to make things stick in our minds, to make things really belong to us, to work out what we mean rather than just what is out there in the Web of information, is becoming more and more valuable as we're lucky enough to have more and more information at our fingertips.'
If you're interested in how print books serve us in an increasingly digital world, this is a fascinating listen.
Seth Godin is my hero. Whenever I need an example of a clean, authentic, punchy writing style, he's the one I turn to. When I'm talking about interesting new publishing models, he's my go-to guy.
It took me quite a while to work up the courage to invite him onto the show. While I still hadn't asked him, he hadn't said no, right?
Yet when I did finally find the nerve to send the invitation, inviting him to talk about blogging, books, and business, he replied within seconds. 'I'd be thrilled... Let's do it.'
I suspect I was thrilled-er, to be honest, but we did it, and here's the result. He's funny, inspiring, honest and just a little bit life-changing. This episode is a bit longer than usual because after I'd wound it up in the usual time and said, off-mic, 'Man, I really didn't want to end it there, I would have loved to have kept on talking,' he simply said, 'Well, I'm not going anywhere. Let's keep talking.'
So we did. You're welcome.
When Barbara Gray thought about pulling together the research she'd done over her years as a top-rated equity analyst into a book about the fundamental disruption within the fast-moving market, she asked some friends for advice on publishing.
'The publishing model is broken, Barb,' they told her. 'Sorry.'
She did have a chat with an agent, but realised that if she took that route the book wouldn't see the light of day until 2018, by which time it would be ludicrously out of date. So instead she took to the Reedsy publishing marketplace, found an editor, and is in the process of managing publication herself.
In this interview she talks about that process, and about how the shift from scarcity to abundance - the key theme of Ubernomics - has empowered authors and changed the dynamics between publishers, authors and readers.
Giles Colborn is an expert in creating beautiful user experiences, which means making things simple and putting the user first. Writing a book, he says, is no different:
'You have to have a number of things very clear in your mind. You have to understand, at a very deep level, what it is you want to say. You have to understand who your audience is, and you have to appreciate the way in which the writing is likely to land with them. The temptation as an author, or as a designer, is to try and pack everything in, to try and say everything you want to say, to try and put every feature you want into the product, and the difficult thing to wrap your head around, very often, is that the book is only half of the story... what really matters is what happens when it lands in somebody's hands, what happens in their head in response to it.'
In this episode, we discuss just how hard simple writing is, and why what you take out is just as important as what stays in.
Julia Pimsleur was angry. The statistics on women's business success - only 4% of venture capital goes to women-run businesses, and only 3% of all women entrepreneurs ever reach $1m in revenue - appalled her and she thought someone should do something about this. It was something of a shock to realise it was going to be her.
I said to my assistant at the time, "I really want to go out and get the word out that there's this problem that needs to be addressed. Can you please research, for me, how I can do more public speaking on this important issue?" He came back looking sheepish and said, "Um, you have to write a book." I was like, "What do you mean you have to write a book?" He said, "Yeah, no one is going to have you come speak if you don't have a book." I was like, "I don't have time to write a book, I'm not writing a book."
The book, Million Dollar Women, is linked to a powerful online business model that has grown out of it almost accidentally:
When you write a book, it's almost like having a baby. You have to then be open to all the life changes that come about with it.
Julia's passion is inspiring, and anyone, particularly any woman, struggling with that common feeling of 'not enough' needs to hear about how Julia overcame this in both her business and her book.
As a psychologist, Tony Crabbe was fascinated by our habitual response to the question, 'How are you?' 'Busy.' Every conversation and every observation of human behaviour seemed to point to a constant sense of overwhelm, and he saw it in his own life too.
'I had this growing gnawing sense that I was failing to be the dad I wanted to be, failing to have the impact in the career I wanted because of this busy-ness. As a good psychologist, I went to do research and I thought "What can I learn from great psychology that will help me on this?"'
What's particularly interesting from an Extraordinary Business Book Club perspective about this book is the way it mixes research evidence, human stories and practical application so effectively.
'I wanted to write a book that took research from really great studies but applied it to something, a user problem that people were really grappling with. I made it practical... academically robust, but at the same time deeply simple and practical.'
If you like me are interested in that tricky balance between academic research, engaging stories and drawing out the 'so what' in your book, this interview is pure gold.
A landmark episode this, with one of my all-time podcasting/writing heroes, Joanna Penn, who started her The Creative Penn podcast before the term was even invented. Her new book The Successful Author Mindset brilliantly demystifies the process of writing, and in this episode she shares how she's overcome her own demons of fear and self-doubt - demons that are shared by every writer, but which feel so uniquely our own.
She gives some great tips for pushing through the resistance, especially the special kind of energy required during the 'saggy middle', which I personally found invaluable, and on finding your 'voice'.
If you're struggling with any aspect of your writing, this is a great episode to pick you up and give you a whole load of practical tools for making things better.
In this week's episode I chat to John Bond, former MD of Press Books at HarperCollins and founder of Whitefox, which provides publishing services to authors and publishers, about how publishing has changed over the last few years, where it's going, and what that means for authors.
'Writers are getting more impatient and more entrepreneurial... they no longer find it acceptable that there's a process that traditionally involved finding a publisher, maybe via an agent, and that a year to 18 months later that book would see the light of day... It's a very exciting time to be producing things and connecting with people that might want to read them.'
This week's guest is Dr Penny Pullan, author of Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams, and one of the winners of my recent 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge!
Penny describes how she fell first into the world of virtual working and then into writing books about it, and shares some great tips for fellow extroverts who (like me) wilt at the thought of sitting alone in front of a screen for hours.
The Extraordinary Business Book Club is 20 episodes old! To celebrate, this is a 'best bits' compilation, with some of my personal favourite clips from the interviews so far. From structure with Michael Bhaskar and Karen Williams, through the marketing funnel with Bryony Thomas, lean authorpreneurship with Brant Cooper, and metaphor with Michael Neill, to the story of what happened to Natalie Reynold's first draft, which still makes me feel slightly sick.
If you're new to the Club, this is a GREAT place to start.
In this week's episode I'm joined by The Author Maker Ginny Carter, book coach and ghostwriter. We talk about why the 'bestseller' label can be a vanity metric, how to streamline your book and your marketing, and what Ikea furniture can teach us about ghostwriting.
In a world in which we're bombarded with information and have choices available to us every waking moment, curation - 'selecting and arranging to add value' - is just as important as creation. Michael Bhaskar argues that it's essentially a business model: you have a responsibility to your customers, your clients, your readers to select, organise and present material effectively.
He also gives some insights into his own secret weapons as a writer, juggling his books with a full-time job and a new baby: structure, coffee and Google Docs.