I remember as a kid watching cartoons every Saturday morning, there was a frequent advertisement that had the taglines “The more you know, the farther you will go,” and “Leaders are readers.” At the time I didn’t think much about it, but as I started my cleaning and restoration company, those taglines would have a profound impact on both myself and my business partner, Larry. 

You see, when we started our business we had no real skills. Like many new business owners, we were just concerned about getting the phone to ring and getting paid. That mentality was great while it was only Larry and I, but not so much as we gained a building full of employees. We had no clue how to properly lead or manage them. We expected them to just do what we did, which was not a fair ask because we were just making it all up as we went along. Not a great way to run a team or a business. We needed to figure some things out fast so we could grow the type of business we dreamed of owning. That’s when the Saturday morning television taglines were rekindled in my mind that I need to read. 

Leaders are readers. The more you know the farther you will go. 

Larry and I are of the same age, so we both remembered the old commercials. With that in mind, we went to work educating ourselves on what we needed to do to build the business we dreamed of and a business which our team would be happy and proud to be a part of. Armed with our library cards and a strong desire to improve, we went to work. We read many books. Some were great and some not so much. Often we would read the same book at the same time to make sure we were on the same path. Even though both Larry and I tended to work ungodly hours, we made the time to keep reading and keep improving. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.   

After all was said and done, our newfound knowledge helped us transform our business. Along our journey, there were a handful of books that changed our business and changed our lives. Here are the highlights of each and how we used the gained information in our service business. 

  1. The most important book for us was Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth. This is a classic book told in story form to push the importance of building business systems. We realized from The E-Myth that our lack of structure and systems was creating a business culture where there was no accountability. Gerber’s book taught us the job of the owner is to work “on” our business, not “in” our business. Put another way, as stated on page 109 in the book, “Think of your business as something apart from yourself, as a world of its own, as a product of your efforts, as a machine designed to fulfill a very specific need…”  The E-Myth changed my entire definition about what it was to be a business owner and I used this book as a model to build a turn-key business that was better for our team, our clients and us.
  2. The next important book for us was The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. This is a book dealing with focus. Many entrepreneurs are very tempted by new ideas and shiny objects. Chuck Violand refers to this as “entrepreneurial drift” in his great book, The Entrepreneurial Conspiracy. Larry and I are very guilty of this and we tended to drift off in search of cool new things, instead of sticking to the important tasks to build our core business. The One Thing teaches working on the one item that will fix or improve almost all of our problems. Emphasis is placed on taking scheduled time each day, uninterrupted, to work on that most important task. This helped Larry and I to stay on point and helped us create a more focused business environment.   
  3. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is Larry’s all-time favorite book. Larry was in charge of marketing for our company, so Purple Cow formed Larry’s understanding that we needed to stand out and be seen as unique in our local market and able to succeed. In fact, Larry and I recently re-read and reviewed Purple Cow on our Blue Collar Nation Podcast. Twenty years after its publishing, Purple Cow is possibly more important now than it was when it was written, due to us being under a constant barrage of marketing messages coming at us from all angles.
  4. The last book is a bit more obscure than the others. Quiet by Susan Cain. Susan Cain gave an amazing TedX talk based on her book, which prompted me to read it years ago. The premise of the book is how introverts can learn to excel in a business world designed for extroverts. Being an introvert myself, I used the book to better understand myself and how I can use my introversion to my advantage as a business owner. Later on, Larry read the book, which was eye-opening for him. As an extreme extrovert, Larry thought quiet and reserved people needed “fixing” and had a hard time understanding not all people gained energy from being around lots of people. Quiet was a watershed book for Larry, creating understanding of how to better communicate with our technicians and office staff, most of whom were introverts.   

There are many books which we used to help us build our business, but these four are the ones which impacted us the most. Regardless of what books you choose for yourself, my call to action for everyone reading this article is to commit to reading to improve your skills. 

Reading changed our lives, and if you make it a priority in your life, I am sure it will change yours, too.