Until fairly recently, I was an avid reader of small-business books. The E-Myth Revisited, Duct Tape Marketing, The Four Hour Work Week, you name it — if it was about the process of running and growing a small business, it was required reading.
Now, I actively avoid reading such books.
It certainly wasn’t that I ran out of reading material — there’s a ridiculous backlog of them sitting on my bookshelves, waiting for their chance to educate me how best to run my business. Rather, I came to realise that I was reading instead of doing.
Reading about doing results in a very misplaced sense of progress. Reading 200 pages detailing exactly how to attract a never-ending stream of eager clients to your door can easily result in the assumption that this is pretty much a done-deal; all you have to do now is implement the recommendations, and you’ll be sorted.
For me at least, the “this has worked for thousands of small businesses” tone of most small-business books effectively trivialised the most important element — the doing.
By constantly devouring small-business books, I was forever postponing the implementation of the brilliant ideas contained within. I’d start of course, but would inevitably get distracted by the next book offering its own recommendations, which had worked wonders for thousands of small businesses.
When I finally acknowledged the blindingly obvious fact that I was involved in an elaborate cycle of procrastination, I did something “radical”; I put all the small-business books away (with the exception of 37signals’ “Getting Real”), tried my best to stop worrying about the future of my business, and went back to just doing what I enjoy.
No more attempts to create a predictable funnel of new business, no more educating my target market on the value of the services I offer. Just designing and coding for fun, because I’m a geek and that’s what I like doing.
This was towards the tail end of last year, just as the economy was going through the floor, and anybody with any sense was ramping up their marketing efforts. Not surprisingly, we had a couple of very quiet months.
Instead of rushing back to the books though, I continued doing what I love. I tidied up a few ExpressionEngine add-ons that I’d developed for internal use, and released them to the community for free. I also became more involved in the ExpressionEngine forums, simply because I had a bit more time on my hands.
This wasn’t part of a big marketing plan. There was no attempt to establish my expertise within a particular niche, or build a marketing list by offering something of value for free. It was just the natural thing to do.
And then something rather wonderful happened.
Other ExpressionEngine developers started downloading and using the add-ons I’d developed. They started leaving nice comments on the EE forums and Tweeting about them. Some pretty big companies (in my little world) even started plugging them.
I was, frankly, rather chuffed. There was still bugger all work coming in, but I didn’t even care at that point. It was just nice to get some positive feedback from my peers, and feel like I was contributing something — however small — to a product and community that I genuinely like.
And then, after a couple of months, something even more wonderful happened.
People started contacting me directly, offering me ExpressionEngine-specific jobs — everything from small custom add-ons, right through to full EE-driven websites — all on the back of the free add-ons I’d written and released for fun.
A few months on, and the majority of new work coming through the door can still be traced back to those add-ons. The best part is that I’m being paid to do something that I was doing for pleasure anyway.
So those business books are staying on the shelf. I’m going to continue doing what I enjoy, and see where it takes me, and my business. I recommend you do the same.