Great Resources That Will Improve Your Business
I’ve found that the two things I love about resource lists are:
1. The peace of mind from having excellent resources that are highly recommended, and then bookmarking that list.
It’s like I’ve found a goldmine.
2. Every few weeks, going back and picking 1-2 resources to research.
Any more than that and I get overwhelmed and indecisive.
This list is designed to nudge you towards the best resources that will make your work easier, and help take your business to the next level.
Something will catch your eye, and my suggestion is to buy the book/visit the site before you have the chance to get distracted.
I will keep it updated, please let me know which ones you found useful.
This may not be one of the usual book genres, but it’s certainly one of the most valuable types of book you can read.
Sometimes you need to have your tank refilled.
One Plus One Equals Three – Dave Trott
Dave is the best storyteller I know.
This book is full of fascinating stories of people who thought laterally and did remarkable things.
If you want a sample of his work, have a look at his website – a great indicator of whether or not you’ll love the book.
Leap First – Seth Godin
This two hour audio recording is a treasure.
A series of prompts, ideas and challenges to conventional wisdom, it will get your mind racing and stir up the projects that have been sitting in the back of your mind.
Passion without clarity can lead to frustration.
These resources will help sharpen your ideas and help you define what you want to build.
Designing For Impact At Scale - Fitzroy Academy and Kevin Starr
Kevin Starr runs Mulago Foundation, and has recorded some brilliant content on making genuine impact.
You’ll learn how to avoid the common traps that catch people with good intentions, and become clearer about what sort of change you want to create.
The Table Group’s Value System – Patrick Lencioni
Conversations about values can often be flaky and cliché, but Patrick’s framework cuts to the heart of the issue.
These tools will help you identify your core values (the things you tend to take too far), your permission to play values (the minimum requirements you expect of your team), your accidental values (the things you do without thinking) and your aspirational values (the things you want to be known for, but aren’t doing right now).
The clarity this gives you is tremendous – it will change how you hire people and how you lead your projects.
Good ideas survive competition.
If you want to have better ideas, one of the best tricks is to create lots of ideas, then pick the strongest/most intriguing.
These will help you create lots of ideas.
Three Lenses Of Innovation – IDEO
This is a simple tool that help you think about your business.
You can start by mapping out your current state, then exploring ways to push your idea into the centre of the three lenses.
This is great for naming the current strengths and weaknesses of your business, which in turn leads you to address whichever elements require the most work.
Can-If Map – Adam Morgan and Mark Barden
When we try and think up new ideas, our brains are good at finding creative reasons why something won’t work.
Instead, the Can If map changes our default thinking from “We can’t because…” to “We can if…”.
That small shift will transform your conversations, prompting you to dream up solutions instead of merely naming problems.
Their book A Beautiful Constraint is full of these gems.
Essentialism – Greg McKeown
When we dream up new businesses and projects, we tend to latch onto complex solutions.
What if your idea had a really valuable component, that was then smothered by less valuable details and busy-ness?
Essentialism makes you strip back your ideas to their core elements, saving you time, stress and money that you’d otherwise spend on the less remarkable activities.
A nice concept without the right business model is bound for failure.
A nice concept with the right business model can take on a life of its own.
These tools will demystify the process, remove your mental blocks and show you creative ways to test your ideas without spending a lot of money.
Business Model Canvas – Strategyzer
This one-page tool covers all of the most important parts of any business idea.
You can use it to explore your current idea, then dream and scheme 3-4 new ideas and see what jumps out.
It’s free to use, and can be sketched onto any whiteboard or napkin over a coffee or wine.
Building A Strong Business Model – Isaac Jeffries
Blatant self-promotion here.
This 88-page ebook explains how to use the Three Lenses of Innovation and Business Model Canvas, packed with examples, tips and tools for testing your ideas.
Business Model Environment Map – Strategyzer
A useful way of spotting the external trends that surround your business idea.
You can ride these trends to success, or you can let them catch you by surprise and push you into irrelevance – it’s up to you.
This tool is great for whiteboards, and covers competitors, social trends, macroeconomic forces and regulatory changes.
By having an understanding and opinion on each of them, your mind will start spotting opportunities and red flags.
Gear Up – Lena Ramfelt
This book is great for new businesses who are wondering if they’ve got all of the vital pieces of their business sorted out.
It gives a great introduction to topics like customer acquisition, and has lots of interesting case studies.
Design A Better Business – Patrick van der Pijl
A good one to read once you’ve explored the Business Model Canvas, Patrick offers the next set of design tools that will spark new ideas and help you validate your favourites.
Every good business is built on top of a compelling value proposition.
If you give your customers something that delights them, something that solves a genuine problem, something that they will happily pay for, then you have the chance to create a sustainable business.
This field is about two concepts: understanding how your customers think, then designing new offers that they will love.
Value Proposition Canvas – Strategyzer
The sequel to the Business Model Canvas, these two diagrams explore your customer (what they are trying to do, what delights them, what scares them) and your product (what it does, why customers care).
It’s a great tool for explaining your current customers and products, and nudges you to think creatively about who else could appreciate what your selling or what else you could build that would make their lives easier.
Creating Compelling Value Propositions – Isaac Jeffries
There are so many things that can sink a business, and I don’t know many that have made money by accident.
In order to remain financially sustainable, you want to have some clarity on how money moves in and out of your hands and how much you have in your pocket at any given time.
To do that, you need to have an understanding of your financial model – a dull topic with fascinating consequences.
Financial Model Series – Isaac Jeffries
These articles cover the foundations of financial modelling – how to think about your money, how to forecast your revenue, how to measure your costs and how to assess the profit or loss that you make.
By understanding these core elements, you’ll spot opportunities for improvement and can begin testing new ideas.
Financial Modelling - Fitzroy Academy and Amanda Goodman
This video series explains how you fill in a financial model in excel, and offers some handy templates that you can copy.
The best, cleanest accounting system I’ve seen.
Xero makes it easy to see how your money comes in and how it gets spent, which will help you spot issues ahead of time.
More importantly, because the process isn’t painful you won’t resent using it.
What I Know About Running Coffee Shops – Colin Harmon
While this is technically a book about cafes in Dublin, what Colin has written is the best guide to new business finances that I’ve seen.
He breaks down the way cafes work, and speaks with honesty and humility about the challenge of staying profitable.
You’ll love his simple principles about margins, sneaky expenses and the numbers you have to watch like a hawk.
Marketing is a fascinating field.
It surrounds so much of our lives, and when done well can be an art form – just look at George Lois.
These resources cover the timeless strategies that succeed, as well as the modern tools that make your job easier.
All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin
Seth argues that the role of a marketer is to tell your customers a story, about how they can become a better version of themselves.
People don’t actually care about facts, they care about what’s in it for them, and this book demonstrates how your company can start telling stories that delight your customers.
Predatory Thinking – Dave Trott
Once you know who you’re selling to, how do you get in front of them in a creative, unique way?
Dave Trott points out that 4% of ads are remembered positively, 7% are remembered negatively and 89% aren’t remembered at all.
This book is full of stories about clever people who saw hidden opportunities and landed themselves in that top 4%.
You should set up a Mailchimp account before you think you need one.
It costs nothing to start (you only pay when you send emails out), and it allows you to start collecting people’s email addresses before you know what you’ll do with them.
Mailchimp is a simple, professional way of managing email lists, and ensures that you’re compliant with the ever changing laws about privacy.
To me, marketing is all about “Who am I talking to and what would they like to discuss?”.
Branding is about “How do I catch their attention and prove that I’m worth talking to?”.
While you might not be a designer, these resources will help lift your game and identify the different brand elements that you need to create/improve.
Branding In Five and a Half Steps – Michael Johnson
This is a fantastic guide that covers the “why” behind any brand campaign, then merges into the “how” a brand comes together.
The case studies are engaging, and it will give you some ideas around what you think would work for your customers.
There’s a good chance that you shouldn’t be trying to use InDesign on your own.
However, for all of your basic graphic design needs, Canva is an excellent (and mostly free) tool for assembling visual content in a simple, painless way.
It’s great for social media banners, posters and resumes, and lets you play around with an idea before committing to a particular design.
Test Cards – Strategyzer
When you think you have a good idea, testing can feel uncomfortable.
Either you love the idea and you don’t think it needs testing, or you’re worried that testing will “ruin” the idea.
These cards are a great way of verbalising what you believe, how you’ll verify it, what you’ll measure, and what constitutes a pass/fail.
What reason could you possibly have for not thinking about those questions?
These cards are free to use, and could save you a lot of money and time in the future.
Value Proposition Design - Strategyzer
This book covers the Value Proposition Canvas, but more importantly it gives you a tonne of ideas for testing your value propositions in the real world.
A good one to flick through when you’re grappling with new concepts.
The 5 E’s Of Customer Journey
A neat framework for walking in your customer’s shoes.
This diagram covers five main stages that are involved in any sale, allowing you to map out what happens today as well as creating better experiences for the future.
I wrote a series of articles explaining the fundamentals, and there are a range of templates you can find online, some simple and some very complex.
Crowdfunding Platforms – Various
I should flag this upfront; I don’t believe that crowdfunding is magical or that it gives you access to a huge pool of funds.
I do believe that crowdfunding lets you pre-sell your new idea to your customers, and lets you measure their enthusiasm before you make a large investment.
I don’t have a favourite site, and feel you should be much more focused on “What should we be verifying” rather than “Which site has the biggest audience?”
For a lot of new businesses, crowdfunding is a great source of insight – just don’t expect a great deal of cash straight away.
Progress Board – Strategyzer
A progress board is a neat way of tracking all the little experiments that you run when building a startup.
It’s not mindblowing, but it helps you see how far you’ve come as well as not letting you forget about the important issues that need verification.
Once you’ve got the business model down, the next challenge is in growing the business.
This is a combination of setting up good processes, measuring customer feedback and running lots of small experiments.
You might not triple your sales overnight, but you’ll gradually boost your income and grow the company.
Growth Hacker Marketing – Ryan Holiday
An excellent introduction to the field of growth hacking, Ryan covers the philosophy and fundamentals with a range of interesting examples.
It will get you thinking about all of the little experiments you could conduct, and will highlight what parts of the process you’d like to study in more detail.
Hacking Growth – Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
Look, this one is harder going than the last one, but it’s even more valuable.
Sean and Morgan explain the process involved in making lots and lots of tiny changes, giving you lots of ideas that will strengthen your own business.
Oversubscribed – Daniel Priestly
This book will teach you how to design new products and services that have a line out the door from the beginning.
Instead of trying to coerce people into become customers, this approach is about stirring up interest and making sure your offerings are scarce – and therefore perceived as valuable.
The Art Of The Start 2.0 – Guy Kawasaki
An excellent guide for all of the stages involved in starting a new business.
Guy busts a lot of the common myths you hear in the world of entrepreneurship, and gives a lot of good advice in an entertaining format.
The section on pitching is particularly practical and insightful.
A passionate person can run a small business, but if you want to build something that isn’t dependant on you, you’ll need to set up good systems and processes.
These make for better days at work, better customer service, and gives you a business that can be sold further down the track.
The Table Group’s Meeting Structure – Patrick Lencioni
You’ve probably been to a lot of bad meetings.
To prevent this happening in your own organisation, you can borrow this format from Patrick and The Table Group.
It’s a clever balance of short daily check-ins to create internal clarity, weekly meetings to raise issues and talk about urgent decisions, monthly topical meetings with specific purposes, and quarterly off-sites to review and reset the direction of the business.
The E-Myth Revisited – Michael Gerber
A book about entrepreneurship that acknowledges how awful it is to start a new business.
Michael argues that there are three roles in a company: Technicians who do the work, Managers who run the day to day operations, and Entrepreneurs who explore ways of growing the business.
Trouble occurs when people are in the wrong roles.
You’ll learn about building systems and processes that make things run smoothly.
24 Assets – Daniel Priestley
As the name suggests, this book outlines the 24 assets that your business needs to develop in order for it to be sold in the future.
Some will be easy, some will catch you by surprise, and that’s valuable.
You’ll leave with a list of important things to build, test and refine.
Websites used to be difficult to build and expensive to update.
We are lucky that this has changed, it’s now possible for you to start your own site (for you or your business), create your own content, sell your own products and build your own audience.
These tools will make the process easier, and improve the professionalism of your work.
I’m fully aware that Wordpress has more functionality and I do not care.
Squarespace works on the principle that most people/new businesses don’t actually want customisation, they just want something that looks good.
You can pick one of their elegant templates and adjust them to your satisfaction, all without touching any code.
They are easy to use and are surprisingly cheap, and their one-page websites are great ways of measuring interest in your new ideas.
While Squarespace may be beautiful and flexible, Google is ruthless and complex.
Unfortunately, there’s no real choice here, you can improve your site to make it more visible on Google, or you can make it impossible for anybody to find.
Neil Patel does two things well – he explains how to improve your website, and he shows you how to write compelling headlines.
His articles are really long, so I’ll often get ready to close the tab and see two more links that look so interesting that I just have to click on them.
That’s how I know his advice is solid.
Google Search Console
Once you learn the principles of Google, their free Search Console helps you spot issues with your site and track how people engage with each page.
It allows you to understand your audience in more detail, see who’s sending people to your site, and gives you the satisfaction of seeing the numbers grow over time.
Pexels and Unsplash
Free use photos have come a long way since I started writing, and these two are my favourites.
Unsplash is a great source of beautiful photos, whereas Pexels is a great source of lots of photos.
As Marten Ascenzo always says: 98% of the images online are garbage.
These sites give you a higher chance of finding something useable.
A big mistake I made in the first few years of my writing was to download these lovely 11mb files from Unsplash, upload them to an article, then wonder why the page was slow.
Sites like Imagecompressor are easy to use and quickly shrink your pictures, which in turn improves how Google sees your site.