The 3 books that helped me and my business
One of my favorite litmus tests for whether you want to run a business is to ask yourself if you enjoy reading business books. I know it may sound silly, and running a business is definitely not like reading a book. It is, however, the common thread I see between all my friends who are small business owners. It’s not about the books so much as the desire to keep learning, growing, and getting better that are at the core of every successful business.
Back in 2011 when I started my business, all the tools, resources, and workshops that are available today weren’t as omnipresent, or as obvious. (They also tended to be dominated by white male guru style businesses which had no interest to me.).
While I didn’t read these three books until I’d been into my business for a few years, they were immensely helpful for me as I started working smarter and really thriving in my business. I thought I’d share them here as they’re books I find I’m recommending all the time.
Designing Your Life: how to build a well-lived, joyful life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans was inspired by one of the most popular courses at Stanford University which uses design thinking principles and applies them to your own life. It was the perfect book for me when I was headed into a career pivot, but there are great exercises to help with making your day to day work more fulfilling as well.
For a taste, check out the NYTimes article ‘Want to Find Fulfilment at Last? Think Like a Designer’ or the NPR interview with the authors on the Diane Rehm Show, “Using Design Theory to Build a Better Life.” They also have a course on CreativeLive. (Note: UK book cover posted above.)
Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit for less by Greg McKweon was a game changer for me and I commonly referred to it as my “bible” the year I read it. We live lives that are jammed packed and we feel the pressure to do everything these days, so much so that we don’t do anything to its full potential. One of my favorite diagrams in the book has two separate circles. The first resembles a sun with several lines of equal length coming out of the side. The second is the same circle with one long line with an arrow coming out of it to represent how you can put the same energy into one thing and ultimately go deeper and make a bigger impact. (I realize that my multitude of different kinds of projects is not necessarily the best representation of this principle in action, but you have to trust me, my mindset shifted.)
Start With Why by Simon Sinek started as a TED talk. It gets at the core of what you’re doing, going deep into the “why” – the purpose, cause, or belief. “Because it’s a trend” or “to make money” is not a good “why” for establishing a business. As Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” Knowing why you’re doing something will also make being in business more rewarding for you, as well as helping with decision making. Start with the video (there’s even a 5 minute short cut), then read the book if you have time. He also has a course on Skillshare for how to share ideas that inspire.
Ok, given my comment above, I totally realize that I’m guilty of sharing three books by white men. I’m clearly a fan of these authors, but I also want to make this blog as inclusive as possible, bringing voices to those traditionally less vocal in this sphere. Never fear, that will be unfolding throughout my posts to come. And, as always, I invite you to share what you know or have discovered by leaving a comment on this post.
When it comes to business books, your local library is a good place to start. Curiosity for the win! Here are a few projects online which I wish I had starting out:
Freelancer’s Union – a community that advocates for freelancers, started by Sara Horowitz
Jen Newman’s Creating Your Own Path podcast sharing different creative journeys
Freelance Wisdom – a resource of stories of creative women in business
Breanna Rose (aka Rowan Made) used to have a project called Be Free, Lance. The project no longer is online, but you can find her business advice for designers on her blog.
How I got started to make the leap to FT – a biz ladies post from Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge.
Freelance Considerations: lessons learned on the AIGA blog.
What are the books that shifted your mindset when working on your business or were just starting out? What kind of books do you wish existed? Don't be shy! Leave them in the comments below so others can learn from them too. I’ll add any resources that I think may help.
You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and the entrepreneurial spirit.