In the 21st century, there are countless ways to learn. I mean, there are podcasts, online courses, YouTube videos, conferences, workshops, masterminds, and so many other options.
These are all great resources and opportunities; however, I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I need to learn the old fashioned way with black text on white paper where I can write notes in the margins, make highlights, and dog ear the pages I want to return to.
With this in mind, in this episode of Priority Pursuit, we’re talking books. And, I’m excited to share what I believe are 10 must-read books for creative entrepreneurs!
Note: You’ll find links to purchase each of these books from both Amazon and Second Flight Books below each description. Second Flight Books is a wonderful bookstore in Lafayette, Indiana. If you can, I want to encourage you to show Second Flight Books a little love by shopping small and purchasing from this local bookstore!
Regardless of what kind of business you operate, if you have yet to read Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller, you need to read this book ASAP for the sake of your marketing efforts.
Determining your business’s brand and unique value proposition (the benefit you bring your customers and others don’t) can feel daunting and impossible. However, in this book, Miller—who is an author, business owner, and business educator—walks you through exactly how to define your brand, determine what your customers actually need, and clarify your brand message to (1) avoid customer confusion and (2) actually make sales.
Again, I would recommend this book to any business owner or marketing professional, but if you work in a saturated market or industry, you HAVE to read this, because Building a StoryBrand will teach you how to make your business stand out in all the noise.
After you’ve read Building a StoryBrand, you’re going to want to read Miller’s sequel: Marketing Made Simple.
While Building a StoryBrand primarily walks you through the practice or philosophy of defining your unique value proposition and brand message, Marketing Made Simple gives you an A-Z digital marketing strategy and checklist.
You’ll learn how to define your “one-liner,” exactly what to include on your website, how to create a lead generator, what information to include in email campaigns, and more. If you follow Miller’s checklist and step-by-step instructions, you’ll finish Marketing Made Simple with a ready-to-implement sales and marketing funnel.
According to Author and Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University Cal Newport, the key to becoming successful in any industry is having the ability to do “deep work.” Newport defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” And, in a world full of countless distractions, being able to work deeply is no easy feat.
However, in his book Deep Work, Newport explains how you can teach yourself to avoid distractions, create environments made for productivity, and prevent yourself from getting caught up in too many tedious tasks—email, social media, etc.
As creative entrepreneurs, I think most of us tend to be drawn to books and other resources that promise increased profits or other flashy offers. But, the ability to work deeply—which is not something I’ve mastered by the way—is a skill and superpower few have. If you can learn to complete mentally challenging tasks without giving in to distractions, your business will only see improvements.
Now, Atomic Habits by James Clear is a book that I wish I would’ve been on shelves a decade ago. In this book, Clear—who is an entrepreneur, photographer, and author—essentially argues that success of any kind is a result of small, consistent choices and actions.
Few people start businesses without some kind of goal in mind. But, the thing is, while everyone sets goals, few people reach their ultimate goals simply because—according to Clear—they fail to create the systems and form the habits required to make those goals possible. As Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
In Atomic Habits, Clear teaches readers multiple strategies for forming desired habits, breaking bad habits, and making daily choices that will put you closer to your dreams.
My favorite strategy from Atomic Habits has to be what Clear calls “habit stacking.” Essentially, we all already have habits. If you’d like to form a new habit, you can pretty easily do this by “stacking” your new habit onto an old habit.
For instance, Zach and I use a budget app called EveryDollar, and we’re both pretty bad about remembering to sort the transactions. However, when Zach cooks most evenings, I stand in the kitchen and chit chat with him. Knowing this was already a habit and that I often have to ask Zach about purchase to decide what label to give them, I sort these transactions while Zach cooks and we chat, which has formed a new habit.
Atomic Habits has been great for both my business and my personal life, and I cannot recommend this book enough. In fact, I may make it a book that I reread annually.
While most people believe that productivity is all about saving time and doing more, in his book Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less, CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company Michael Hyatt argues that, “Productivity is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done.”
As a result, in Free to Focus, Hyatt gives readers a step-by-step plan to help determine (1) exactly what they should be working on and when and (2) what they should not be working on and what to do with these tasks (cut, automate, delegate, etc.). Because, when you know what to focus on based on what matters most and where your skills actually lie, you will see bigger results, enjoy your work more, and even be able to work less.
In all honesty, this book was a panic buy in an airport for me. I’d forgotten to pack a book for a trip—which I never do—so I ran into the bookstore, thought it looked promising, and am now so glad that I read Superfans: The Easy Way to Stand Out, Grow Your Tribe, and Build a Successful Business by Pat Flynn.
According to Flynn—a former blogger turned passive income expert—as business owners, it’s easy to get caught up in followers, subscribers, likes, shares, and the ideal client concept. And, while it’s important to be aware of engagement and know who you’re targeting, business owners often forget that there are real people behind these numbers. And, people crave connection.
As a result, in Superfans, Flynn offers multiple strategies for creating connection—both online and in person—that will help you (1) get to know your audience better, (2) determine how you should be serving your audience and how they’d like to be communicated with, and (3) eventually form “superfans”—customers who don’t just engage with your content but work with you and consistently rave about you and refer you to others.
If you’ve been listening to Priority Pursuit for any time at all, you know that in my experience, client experience is my top business priority. And, Superfans played a huge role in helping me decide what I wanted my client experience to look like.
Now, How to Win Friends & Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success by Dale Carnegie was originally published in 1936. And, it’s become a classic that stands the test of time because it’s full of wisdom and stellar advice for nearly any situation you’ll ever have with other people. And, you can’t run a business without people.
In this book, Dale Carnegie—who was a lecturer and public speaking instructor before authoring his infamous book—offers practical ways you can make people like you, help others see your point of view, and influence people to change without damaging relationships.
For years, How to Win Friends & Influence People was recommended to me, but I wrote it off. However, since reading this book about a year ago, it’s been a game changer for both my business and personal life. I may or may not have used a few of these techniques on Zach!
While all the books we’ve focused on so far have been marketing, productivity, client experience, and business focused, as we wrap this list of 10 must-read books for creative entrepreneurs up, I want to finish with a couple books that are more heart focused.
As a perfectionist, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist was recommended to me a few years ago by a friend at exactly the right time.
In this book, Christian author and speaker Shauna Niequist uses a series of essays to share how she used to be entirely consumed by her work, stressed to the point of giving herself Vertigo, and consumed with resentment due to her busy schedule.
Through a series of life events and strained relationships, Niequest eventually decided to take steps to make her schedule her own and simply enjoy being who she is—success aside—and doing life with her husband and kids.
I don’t always love memoirs, but Niequist’s thoughts and heart mirrored my own in many ways, and I found a lot of peace in this book and a desire—which I often need to be reminded of—to be more present than productive.
Now, this next book isn’t directly related to business, but considering it’s very easy for my business and work to become an idol for me, and I have a feeling that you might be able to relate to this, Gospel Treason needs to be on this list.
This book was actually recommended to Zach and I by our marriage counselor and really changed the way that I see my work and how it affects both my faith and my relationship with Zach.
In this book Brad Bigney—Christian author and pastor of Grace Fellowship Evangelical Free Church in Florence, Kentucky—essentially asks, “Are you finding it hard to grow as a Christian?” If you answer “yes,” Bigney argues that you might not be finding growth in your relationship with Christ or other relationships—such as your marriage—because you’re knowingly or unknowingly worshipping idols—something other than God that your life, heart, mind, and identity revolve around.
In Gospel Treason, Bigney explains how you can both identify your idols, how idols can be detrimental to your life and relationships, and how you can repent and free yourself from these idols with God’s help.
Now, full disclosure, when I sat down to make this list, I planned to only list five books; however, I just couldn’t help including the nine listed above.
And, because it feels wrong to have a list of nine books, we’re going to wrap this episode up with a book that has been recommended to me by countless people I trust and is next on my business book reading list: Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz.
Mike Michalowicz is a business author and entrepreneur, and in his book Profit First, he teaches business owners a formula (“Sales – Profit = Expenses”) that results with a truly profitable, money-making business, rather than a business that is flailing and consumed by expenses.
As I record this episode, we are approaching the end of wedding season and the busy fall photo season, and I am so looking forward to having less on my plate and being able to snuggle up with a few good business books and focus “on” my business instead of “in” my business.
If you decide to give any of these 10 must-read books for creative entrepreneurs a read, I’d love to know your thoughts! Please shoot me a DM on Instagram at @victorialrayburn and let me know your takeaways!
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