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Winter Reading List: 7 Books Recommended by our Business Coaches

Get cozy and improve your existing business or business idea by checking out the following books. All recommended by Business Impact NW’s business coaches! Interested in scheduling a meeting with one of our business coaches in the new year? Check out the business coaching drop-in hours on our calendar!

Business Coach, Henry Wong’s Recommendation:

Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles

I learned about this book shortly after starting my mobile food truck business. In a business where each customer interaction only lasted about 30 seconds to a minute and seeing over 100 customers an hour in peak times, having the customer service piece down was absolutely critical – and it had to be done fast! Almost 10 years later, I find the concepts in this book have never been more important given today’s social media and the instant flow of information and feedback through apps and reviews sites.

Obviously, the key concept as indicated by the title is so important to understand. That is, “Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.” The idea that I actually found most useful and intriguing, however, was that what customers don’t say is oftentimes just as important as what they do say. As described in the book, how important it is “to know enough to realize that ‘Fine’ or silence is an important message”.

Darren Guyaz HeadshotBusiness Coach, Darren Guyaz’s Recommendation:

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

This book came into my awareness soon after starting as a business coach/consultant for the Washington Women’s Business Center. We talked about various business models in our MBA program, but nothing compares to practical application of theory. Working with hundreds of clients across the business spectrum necessitated a deeper understanding of both current business models as well as approaching entrepreneurship with a more unconventional methodology, to allow for creative, out-of-the-box thinking. This book was instrumental in understanding this landscape and helping my clients look for new ways to become successful.

I love the general theme of the book, “…a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow’s enterprises.” It speaks to creative, right-brained thinking in a left-brain dominated world. One of the most valuable takeaways for me, however, was the ‘Design’ section, and specifically Visual Thinking: “By visually depicting a business model, one turns its tacit assumptions into explicit information. Visual techniques give “life” to a business model and facilitate co-creation.”

Business Coach, Susan Gibson:

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Duckworth, Angela

I have used Grit in teaching University of Washington undergraduate students about leadership. Reading and discussing the book transforms their perspectives on self-worth, self-appreciation, and leadership success and reveals to them that a path filled with obstacles, and the manner in which we overcome them through perseverance and resilience, takes us to where we want to be. It’s a wonderful exploration of why talent is not the single key to opening the door of leadership success. Rather than assuming that talent gets us to the finish line of the goals we seek, Duckworth demonstrates, through an approachable and inviting study of multiple case studies and scholarly research, that perseverance and resilience as learned behaviors and attitudes are truly what are needed to succeed.

Duckworth was the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her ‘lack of genius’. Now a celebrated researcher and professor, she provides encouragement and inspiration to non-geniuses everywhere. Through her book, we visit cadets at West Point, finalists in the National Spelling Bee, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll along with an impressive slew of historic achievers as leaders. She illustrates why “grit can be learned, regardless of IQ or circumstances…Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference. This is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success” (The Wall Street Journal).

For anyone who is struggling to start and grow a business, achieve a steady cash flow, or navigate the perils and risks of putting it all on the line, Grit and Duckworth encourage us to keep going, use our heads and instincts, and do the necessary hard work of persevering with passion. For all of us who have overcome tough times, worked through failure or grief, or experienced rough patches, grittiness and Grit illumines as beacons on the dark path to the light ahead.

Business Coach, Jessica Conway:

The Birth of a Brand by Brian Smith (founder of UGG)

One of the most effective teaching tools I use with my clients is to draw comparisons between what they are currently experiencing (whether it is struggles with financing, getting a product to market, identifying the appropriate target market, developing personal resilience, etc.) to entrepreneurs who started with just an idea and made something of it. I refer to Brian Smith’s story frequently when helping my clients solve the problems they face as entrepreneurs. Smith addresses issues with which most aspiring business owners struggle when they have a grand idea but do not know where to start.

 Often aspiring business owners plan to start their business on a scale that is not realistic. Smith reminds his readers that you can’t run before you walk or walk before you crawl. “You can’t give birth to adults.”

Business Coach, Shawn Palmer’s Recommendation:

The Art of Pricing by Rafi Mohammed

Overall, I compliment the author on the selection of his title, as his text largely covered the subjective concept of price accuracy through the lens of the seller; and also the publisher’s selection of font size. After that it was mostly downhill.

The author consistently over-emphasized value to the buyer as a the precept to pricing constructs; meanwhile he omitted price-elasticity and price being a function of demand, means, and opportunity cost. His example was an auction where the author posited that value alone drove the winning bid, where he clearly showed that value was greatest among those who could not afford to keep pace with the frantic bidding. While he did lend credibility to his hypothesizing that different customer segments would value products and services differently, he ultimately disproved price being linked linearly to value as most businesses do not sell single items via auction.

While his examples in the (admittedly) challenging-to-price restaurant industry proved enlightening and relatable, there were too few examples of different business types. What is the equivalent of early bird specials, VIP seating areas, and charter club memberships in low-selection retail (few distinguishable products), service-related businesses such as consulting, or commission-based industries such as real estate?

With the author’s over-emphasis on profit-maximization, he does build in the reader the necessity to weigh the profit margin of different product lines and to offer price variation. He missed, however, leveraging price to increase or decrease demand; for example, a business coach who sets an artificially high price for individual coaching services where she might instead desire to drive customer demand toward group coaching sessions, workshops, and online access. He mentioned loss leaders, but failed to sufficiently explain the relatability to different industries or products.

While unintentional, the author crept toward predatory pricing practices, citing a need to wring every last dollar of profit from a business’s customers.

Finally, despite failing to clearly articulate and demonstrate interconnectedness of key concepts, the author did successfully build urgency in the need to understand the complexities of pricing strategies, the components to be considered, and the impact that even small changes can have on an organization’s bottom line.

WWBC Program Director, Susan Perreault’s Recommendation:

Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth by Alan Weiss

As a wholesale product distribution company in a service-based industry, organizational success was directly linked to the success of our clients. Our clients were primarily single-location, micro businesses that were women-owned and led. Guidance on how to price services, and how to increase service prices, were common requests fielded by our account representatives. Owners feared losing existing clients and/or not pricing competitively, which could discourage new clients. Value-Based fees are based on setting price primarily on the perceived value to the customer, not on the actual coast of the product or service, competitive pricing or historical price in the market.

Key Concepts:

  • Based on your competitive advantage and brand (perceived value) – value proposition – brand differentiator
  • Main goal- to better align fees/pricing with value delivered
    • Outcomes/results, not inputs/tasks
  • Focus – buyer self-interest (needs/desires)
  • Takes focus/discussion away from price
  • Key – establishing value with client

VBOC Program Director, Steve Watts-Olerich’s Recommendation:

Steps Ascending: Rise of the Unarmed Forces by Matthew Griffin

I read this book as part of our staff development at Business Impact NW. I have been interested in Combat Flip Flops and their story since I first learned of Matt and Leo at an event I attended a few years ago. This story is about their incredible journey from concept to the business they have today.

What I really enjoyed about the book was the raw telling of the story – detailing the exciting, sometime scary steps they had to take, the people they encountered along the way and ultimately arriving at the successful business they have today. Combat Flip Flops believes that education of young women will ultimately be the answer to the ongoing war in the region. The description on Amazon says it all in a very accurate way: “The remarkable true story of a group of former Special Operation soldiers turned entrepreneurs on a mission to end the war in Afghanistan with business, not bullets. -Every copy purchased sends a girl in Afghanistan to school.”

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