If You Could Read Only A Few Books In 2020, Read These

We all aspire to read more, but then life happens and our daily race to keep up with our over-extended schedules leaves little to no room to actually do it. That's why, if you do manage to find the time to read, I'd like to recommend the following books.

Why did I choose these books? Because they fall into one of the three categories of themes that I believe consultants should strive towards:

  • Narrowing your focus, finding your niche market, and crafting a message that will appeal to your target audience
  • Managing your time and eliminating distractions for more efficient and effective marketing and business development
  • Re-framing your mindset to achieve success

Here you go...

1. The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth by David C. Baker.

David C. Baker starts off by establishing the value of an expert. They are insights specialists.

The business of expertiseFrom the backflip of the book: Their main focus is on identifying patterns in a sea of data and then using these insights to  develop a unique offering that doesn't yet have suitable alternatives on the market.

The experts' value grows exponentially when the application of their expertise delivers desired results. Having defined the term 'expert' and their function, Baker dedicates the rest of the book to tracing experts' evolution of success in a marketplace.

He identifies the role of expertise in a developed society, the interplay between expertise and fulfillment, the relevance and sustainability of expertise, the differences between vertical and horizontal expertise, and more.

Here's what I learned from David: 

Luk's big picture

Nobody else can explain it like David does: your expertise flows from your focus (on 1 expertise domain) and your focus flows from your (narrow) positioning on the market. If there's only 1 thing you could take away from this book: the tremendous importance of a narrow focus in your consultancy work and the incredible impact this has on the depth of your expertise and the growth of your visibility and your authority.  

David's book has had a big impact on my thinking about expertise improvement, narrow positioning, staying upstream and the power of authority. 

My 4 biggest take away's

  • Focus with greater courage. It's David's hope that the book inspires experts/consultants to narrow their focus with greater courage, articulate more concise points of view (and publicly sharing it, e.g. on a website), steer them to greater clarity about who they are as a professional and how they can help their clients as a guide.
  • Becoming irreplaceable. If you do your job of narrow positioning really well, you have the opportunity as an expert/authority to become irreplaceable or less interchangeable for your clients and this power translates into a pricing premium.
  • Staying upstream. I've learned from David - on the journey to a stronger authority positioning - the importance to craft a consultancy positioning as a strategic/diagnostic role (upstream) and not as a role to do implementation or execution (downstream). He even advises not to talk about implementation during client meetings and not giving it prominence on website or social media. One could say: authorities don't do executional work (because it dilutes their positioning tremendously).
  • Saying NO to grow. The book inspired me to develop the concept of 'The Consulting Vicious Loop To Hell' (Saying YES to every/most opportunity) and 'The Consulting Glorious Loop To Heaven' (Learning to say NO to grow your consulting business). I have explained these concepts in this blog. 

My favorite quote #1 "Your narrow positioning is an exercise in irrelevance. The more irrelevant you become to non-ideal prospects by turning your positioning away from them, the more relevant you become to your chosen target clients. But that requires courage and discipline."

My favorite quote #2 "If you don't know what to say, you aren't an expert. If you don't know how to say it, you haven't practiced enough. If you find too many audiences when directing your writing, you haven't focused enough."

2. Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content Your Key to Success by Sonja Jefferson & Sharon Tanton.

In this book, Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton argue that creating high-quality, relevant content is the strongest business development strategy.

valuable content marketingFrom the backflip of the book: Such a strategy will get clients coming to you, significantly reducing (if not eliminating altogether) the need for outbound efforts.

Jefferson and Tanton share practical advice on creating and sharing valuable content in the form of website posts, white papers, blog articles, newsletters, video, and social media as well as via more traditional marketing channels.

They offer numerous examples, action lists, and goal-driven explanations. Their advice is applicable to a wide range of audiences, from sales and marketing teams in large corporations to small business owners and solo entrepreneurs.

Here's what I learned from Sonja and Sharon

(PS. Sonja and Sharon have helped me in setting up 'The Visible Authority'): 

Luk's big picture

Marketing has changed enormously over the past decade. People buy differently, so we need to sell differently. Marketing with valuable content has developed as a way to bridge the gap between the way people like to buy - researching online and via recommendations from social networks - and the way smart businesses like to sell - by demonstrating expertise, empathy, purpose and usefulness, not by shouting loudest.

My biggest take away

This incredible book helped me to thoroughly understand what the successful content marketing companies are doing:

  • Marketing online: they build relationships on social media and get their web strategies right
  • Valuable content: they create and share useful content, rather than pushing out self-oriented sales messages
  • Niche audience: they are clear on what they do and who their customers are with a clear understanding of the pain of their audience
  • Generosity: they freely give away highly valuable information and reap the return in terms of referrals, leads and sales
  • Quality is their watchword: they share high quality, well-produced content that sets them apart from the crowd
  • Being valuable is the way they do business: it's more than a marketing technique they apply, they are incredibly client-focused 

My favorite quote #1 "Educate your buyers, show them best practice, tell them what to look out for, give them valuable tips on how to achieve success, demonstrate how you have helped others in their shoes."

My favorite quote #2 "Valuable content is supercharged content. It's content with a bigger purpose, useful information created for a particular audience, content that hits the mark".

New call-to-action

3. How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services by Tom McMakin & Doug Fletcher.

This book addresses the needs of business professionals whose product is their set of skills. As such, it is a perfect read for consultants.

how clients buyFrom the backflip of the book: Tom McMakin and Doug Fletcher point out a very common problem - consultants are trained to do their job (assist clients within their area of expertise), not sell. Yet, the skill of selling yourself and your services is crucial irrespective of how high your level of expertise is.

McMakin and Fletcher encourage their readers to forget everything they are accustomed to think about sales and the sales process. They offer an alternative approach to selling - one that consultants may find more natural and authentic.

Here's what I learned from Tom and Doug:

Luk's big picture

Consulting and Professional Services are 'credence businesses': selling consulting and professional services therefore is hard because clients/prospects have to trust us before they buy. Clients must believe the expert will diagnose their problem correctly. Clients must believe the expert will prescribe an effective solution. Clients must believe the expert can and will do the work in a way that will achieve the outcome they want. Clients have to believe the expert will fairly price the service based on work actually done.

My biggest take-aways

  • The 3R's. The authors explain that 'trust' is transferred in 3 ways (what they call 3R):
    • Relationships (what I call 'the (social) network')
    • Referrals (what I call 'pain resolution social proof')
    • Reputation (what I call 'visible authority')
  • Consultants ARE 'the product'. I really liked (because not many other authors write about this) the part in the book that explains the inherent conflict between selling and being a consultant. The authors: 'We believe the historical aversion to the term selling has a lot to do with the fact that in professional services, we ARE the product'. The book can really help you to better understand how to promote yourself in a way that is effective and professional, without bragging and cheap self-promotion.
  • Times have changed. It is harder than ever to sell expert services. Repeat business and referrals still provide an important - and often the most important - source of business. But they are no longer sufficient by themselves to sustain growth and to create a reliable and consistent pipeline.
  • Generalists have no chance! The authors are firm: generalists will not succeed anymore in the long run. Eventually, you have to figure out where you're going to become deeply knowledgeable and how you will be showing to prospects that you have that knowledge, that you are a subject matter expert.

My favorite quote #1 "Stick to your segment. Focus is your friend. You want to be known as a dominant and consistent voice in your industry".

My favorite quote #2 "Better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in an endless ocean of near competitors. If you can't say you are the largest or best in a category, make your market definition smaller. Shrink the pond until you dominate your niche".

My favorite quote #3 "Business development is not an event and it's not a 'sometimes' thing. It is a process that I spend time on every day. If you want your firm to be consistently successful, you have to make a personal commitment to working at it each day".

My favorite quote #4 "Your expertise will sit alone, shipwrecked and starving on a distant desert island, unless you stand up and start calling attention to the work you do and the problems you are committed to solve".

SUBSCRIBE TO 'THE AUTHORITY' NEWSLETTER

4. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

Cal Newport offers a guide to developing the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task - "deep work."

Deep Work Cal NewportFrom the backflip of the book: Newport first explains the benefits both individuals and companies will derive from mastering the skill. He argues that it's the antidote to the sporadic, highly-distracted schedule we are accustomed to, where a never-ending flow of emails and social media keeps us from getting the sense of true fulfillment.

Having established the value of deep work, Newport explains the path individuals can take to develop the ability to focus. This training regiment calls for a transformation of how we think and act in order to be successful.

Here's what I learned from Cal:

Luk's big picture

Between alerts on your phone, a never-ending onslaught of emails, the dog needing to be walked, another idea you need to write down, the next article to read and any number of other things, it’s easy to get distracted in today’s world. I know the importance of carving out time to work ON the business, not just IN the business.

I am damned serious when I say that 50% of my past success in my consulting role was my state of mind to make it work: 20-30% of my time was and still is spent on business development. Always. And yes, I am extremely passionate about ‘mindset improvement’ and 'deep work'. Cal Newport has been an essential guide to me in the past years. 

Cal's book was and still is a great inspiration and toolbox for me to continue to deliberately schedule deep work.

My biggest take-away's

  • One task at the time, yes! Cal has taught me to improve my deep work, focusing on one task at the time in my daily work without getting interrupted. Interruption can be a monster with many heads. My monster is maybe less 'interruption by technology' (e.g. emails, phone, apps, etc.) but having a head full of ideas and opportunities drawing me away from my focus. I constantly need to structure and streamline my head and prepare myself for deep work. My almost infinite stream of new ideas often give me the false positive feeling of being very busy and accomplished (as several of these new ideas were quite successful in the past), but it's also a killing source of distraction preventing me from truly focusing.
  • Intentional and desired. There are different strategies for achieving deep work, of course. It's very important to understand Cal's message: deep work requires intention and is desired. You will need to rewire your head and get disciplined about it step by step. Cal stresses the need to have rituals that prepare your mind for it.
  • His 4 approaches.
    • The Monastic approach: secluding yourself like a monk (to difficult for me...Cal is talking about long periods of seclusion)
    • The Bimodal approach: setting a clearly defined, long enough period of seclusion for work AND (hence bimodal) leaving the rest of your time free for anything else (my favorite approach, I do schedule seclusion and combine it with my competitive sports training schedule)
    • The Rhythmic approach: forming the habit of doing deep work for blocks of e.g. 90 minutes and using a calendar to track accomplishments (my other favorite approach - I know all the great coffee shops in my neighborhood - in combination with my daily planner which I described in this blog.)
    • The Journalistic approach: taking any unexpected free time in your daily routine to do deep work (not my favorite approach, I need to 'prepare for deep work')

My favorite quote #1 "At the start of every workday, create a schedule that's divided into blocks of at least 30 minutes. In this schedule you should set both work and personal tasks like time to relax, eat or catch up on email".

My favorite quote #2 "Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction".

5. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Next is a book that explains how to maximize the value of our contribution.

Essentialism- The Disciplined Pursuit of LessFrom the backflip of the book: It provides a step-by-step guide to breaking from our standard way of thinking and behaving in order to be able to identify the most essential goals and tasks and eliminate everything else.

Essentialism - a systemic discipline rather than a time management technique - is about pursuing less, but making the time and space to pursue it with all our strength.

It's about learning to make different choices and using this ability to reclaim our control.

Here's what I learned from Greg:

Luk's big picture

While Cal Newport teaches us how to get rid of our daily distractions, Greg helps us to identify the essential things in life and what we can do to cut out everything else. 

Greg helped me with making the right (essential) choices to be able to perform my most vital tasks to the highest possible standards. He was another guide on my journey to develop my new business. Because I have created a very precise positioning for myself, I can trim the fat around the non-essential things.

For example, I do read a lot - mountains of books, articles, papers, case studies, interviews, videos, online training programs, you name it. With my laser-sharp positioning and detailed business plan as my first guide and 'The Essentialist' as my other guide, I only consume those things that are relevant to deepen my expertise and achieve my goals in the next 3-5 years. It became really easy to say ‘No’ to all non-essential clutter. 

My biggest take-away's:

  • Essentialism focuses on 4 main points:
    • Do less, but do it better. The never-ending task of identifying the less important things in your life and to cut them out, and doing what's left over to a higher standard
    • Reduce. Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything and chose instead specific directions in which we can excel
    • Constantly question yourself and update your plans accordingly: what's worth doing and what should I let go immediately?
    • Anchor. The Essentialist wastes no time in ensuring that the changes are put in place
  • Accepting trade-offs. We need to learn to embrace the idea of 'less but better' and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life. Greg has really helped in cutting out the most non-essential fat in my daily life (both private and business). Say 'NO' to non-essential tasks and plan the essential ones carefully. 

My favorite quote #1 "Giving yourself space to escape and seeing the bigger picture will help you pick out the vital from the trivial".

My favorite quote #2 "Becoming an essentialist requires you to identify what's slowing you down and then eliminating it, rather than simply finding ways to work around it".

My favorite quote #3 "The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default".

My favorite quote #4 "Do you tend to say 'I have to' rather than 'I choose to'? If so, then you are following the non-essential path".

6. Limitless by Jim Kwik

How to accomplish more by changing your Mindset, Motivation, and Methods - this book is a must-read.

limitless_jim_kwikFrom the backflip of the book: Jim Kwik is a veteran coach, having worked closely with successful men and women such as actors, athletes, CEOs, and business leaders from all walks of life to unlock their true potential.

This book is about flipping your mindset to identify what you want in every aspect of your life, so you can move from negative thinking to positive possibilities; igniting your motivation – the key to opening up mental capacity, and; mastering the method - training yourself to learn at an accelerated pace.

My biggest take-away:

Anyone can unleash his/her superbrain using Jim's model of combining the right

  • Mindset
  • Motivation
  • Method

Reminding me of the model every day, helps me a lot.

My favorite quote #1 "So often the answers we want are there, but we’re not asking the right questions to shine a spotlight on them. Instead, we’re asking useless questions or worse, questions that are disempowering."

My favorite quote #2 "Often when you put a label on someone or something, you create a limit – the label becomes the limitation.'

SUBSCRIBE TO 'THE AUTHORITY' NEWSLETTER

7. Oversubscribed: How to Get People Lining Up to Do Business With You by Daniel Priestly

There are people who don't chase clients, clients chase them. In a world of endless choices, why does this happen? This is the question this book addresses

oversubscribed_daniel_priestleyFrom the backflip of the book: Have you ever queued for a restaurant? Pre-ordered something months in advance? Fought for tickets that sell out in a day? Had a hairdresser with a six-month waiting list?

This book is a recipe for ensuring demand outstrips supply for your product or service, and you have scores of customers lining up to give you money. It explains how to become 'oversubscribed' in a saturated marketplace. It is full of practical tips and inspiring examples.

My biggest take-away's:

  • Small Audience: today's markets are so flooded with endless options that it can be challenging to get reliable traction as a consultant. However, you only need a limited number of passionate fans to be successful (relaxing idea, isn't it?). You build such a small audience with a consistent and repetitive message (creating valuable content consistently, using multiple distribution channels). I love that!
  • Entry Product: you need a standardized entry product/service, medium-priced and with individual guidance/coaching added to it. Consider it your Troyan Horse.
  • Focus On Existing Customers: existing customers are worth more and will provide you with awesome recommendations if you surpass their expectations.
  • Your Profile: prospects want to see your expertise and credentials and then follow you to learn from you continuously. Share your best ideas and experiences and charge for implementation/advisory support.
  • Be Different: don't try to please everybody, have clear a point of view and message, dare to say No to people to protect yourself.

My favorite quote #1 "Too many business owners focus on the entire marketplace. They are deeply concerned by what the majority will pay rather than finding the small group of people who really value what they offer. But if you focus on the wider market price, you’ll always be average."

My favorite quote #2 "Creating your own market is about solving bigger problems for people than others do. Being unique is not about performing a task at a high standard; it’s about having a unique ability to get things done."

8. Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher

If you’ve ever been stuck as a consultant, James could maybe help you. Why? Because he has been there himself (being stuck). And he can explain how he freed himself.

Reinvent yourselfFrom the backflip of the book: "Change is the only constant," writes James Altucher. "Companies decay, technologies disappear, governments change, relationships change and opportunity is a shifting landscape. Reading the stories and learning the critical skills taught in Reinvent Yourself is how I found my own way through the chaos of change and onto the path of new opportunity and success."

You probably don't know James Altucher. Time to get to know him as you can learn a lot from him. I am a big fan of James since a few years and I've learned a lot from him.

My biggest take-away's:

  • Helping others: James confirms what I always advice consultants to do: reframing your head from ‘selling’ to ‘helping’. It gives you a better mental guiding principle. From working with consultants, I learned that this helping-mindset also makes it easier for most consultants to embrace the sales aspect in consulting.
  • Redefine yourself consciously: 'Our old roads' are no longer viable in today's fast-paced, ever-changing world. There's simply no linear, fixed and pre-established route to success (whatever success means to you). James pushes us to blaze our own path everyday again (see picture below) in a very conscious way.
  • We need a mentor: Someone has to show you how to move and breathe, says James. But don’t worry about finding a mentor, says James. Ultimately, if you have a passion for reinvention, everything is 'a mentor'. The car that gets repaired in a garage becomes a metaphor for your solving client problems as a consultant, if you connect the dots. And everything you look at, can connect the dots.

My favorite quote #1 "Reinvention is life. This is the call to adventure that constantly whispers to us. Do we answer it? Do we take the call?"

My favorite quote #2 "You are not just the average of the five people around you. You’re the average of the five habits you do, the things you eat, the ideas you have, the content you consume, etc."

9. Traffic Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Filling Your Websites and Funnels with Your Dream Customers by Russell Brunson

Master the evergreen traffic strategies to fill your website and funnels with your dream customers in this timeless work from the $100 million entrepreneur and cofounder of the software company ClickFunnels.

traffic-secrets-coverFrom the backflip of the book: The biggest problem so many entrepreneurs struggle with is not creating amazing products or services, but rather getting customers to discover them. Russell Brunson explains to his readers how to get your message out there and have it heard by the right audience. It's about understanding exactly who your dream customer is, discovering where they're congregating, and throwing out the hooks that will grab their attention to pull them into your funnels

My biggest take-away's:

  • Clients don't come to you: It's the biggest judgment mistake consultants can make. I am talking to hundreds of consultants and most of them naively believe that prospects will show up, once they've built a nice website. Unless you build traffic to your website (and your expertise), nobody will ever find you!
  • Traffic means 'having a real business': Russell asks us the tough question: "If you can't get a consistent stream of traffic of new prospects coming to your website or content (e.g. blog), do you even have a real business"? Ever thought about that?
  • Dream customer: Russell is teaching us we all need to spend much more time identifying our dream customers and find out where exactly our dream customers are hanging out (or 'hiding', as Russell calls it). On top, we will need to discover why prospects could get attracted to our story and start paying attention to our expertise.

My favorite quote "Waiting for people to come to you is not a strategy. But understanding exactly who your dream customer is, discovering where they’re congregating, and throwing out hooks that will grab their attention to pull them into your funnels (where you can tell them a story and make them an offer) is the strategy."

Any other book recommendations? Feel free to let me know! info@thevisibleauthority.com

Interested in receiving all my learnings to become a better consultant? No spam, no BS. Pure teaching! Subscribe to my newsletter.

SUBSCRIBE TO 'THE AUTHORITY' NEWSLETTER

Luk Smeyers

Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities.  I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years. 

Book_Blueprint_v3

The Visible Authority
Blueprint

 

The proven Visible Authority steps that will grow your consultancy business

Order here!

You May Also Like

These Stories on Building Visible Authority

Blog subscription