The 10 books that most influenced my 10 years of business life

It’s hard to believe but ten years ago yesterday, I left the marketing agency I’d been working for as a graphic designer, and went out on my own. My new business was called Swish Design.

That little business I started as a solo venture all the way back then has changed a LOT in the past ten years. And I, personally, have learned a LOT too. So much, in fact, I thought a great way to celebrate our tenth birthday would be to put the best of those learnings into a book – my first business book.


Another way I wanted to celebrate our birthday was to share the ten books that have most influenced my business life over the past ten years.

Given I’ve read over 150 business books in that time, narrowing those down to a list of ten was quite difficult! In the end, however, I chose to share the books that most challenged how I thought, changed how I thought or lead to some concrete action that helped the business immeasurably.

Here they are:

1. Tribes – Seth Godin

Seth Godin wrote this book just as social media was starting to really take hold. As always, he was two steps ahead of everyone else. He identified that the businesses/individuals who were best able to build a ‘tribe’ around them would be best placed to thrive going forward. And this has proven to be true. I have seen countless ‘ordinary’ people, just like you and me, build incredible communities. Communities who love everything they do and will buy everything they are selling!

I’ve been painstakingly building my own tribe (as a writer) for the past 5-6 years and it’s been humbling to see the huge impact that tribe has had on my business life and how supportive they are of all the things I try.

2. 7 Day Startup – Dan Norris

Speaking of ‘things I try’, I loved my friend Dan’s book, not because I am a ‘startup’ kind of person. I it loved for the fact that it changed my entire approach towards launching products/services. This book really highlighted for me that there is a huge difference between your tribe telling you ‘Yes, that’s a great idea, we’ll definitely buy it if you make it’, and them actually buying your thing when you make it.

I used to spend months and months creating products because people said they wanted them … only to find they didn’t want them enough to actually pay money for them when the time came to buy. These days, I ask people to pay for things before I spend time creating them. This has saved me an unimaginable amount of time and frustration in the past 2-3 years.

3. Difference – Bernadette Jiwa

Truth be told, I could have mentioned any of Bernadette’s books here. They have all hugely influenced how I approach marketing, ensuring it’s all customer-centric as opposed to me-centric. I love the base philosophies of all her books, but I particularly love the ‘Difference Map’ from Difference. It’s just so useful for anyone trying to figure out what their actual point of difference from their competitors is. It’s something I come back to all the time whenever I feel our marketing has lost its way.

4. Virtual Freedom – Chris Ducker

When you’re running a service-based business, you need to be able to outsource certain tasks in order for your business to be able to thrive. Otherwise there will always be a ceiling on where you can go with it. Reading Virtual Freedom and bringing on a remote team to support our in-house team gave Ant and I our lives back. And also allowed us both to get back to doing the things we most love in our business which, as you can imagine, has made working life a lot more enjoyable.

5. Essentialism – Greg McKeown

I’m not sure how this book isn’t better known/talked about more. To be honest, it didn’t so much teach me anything new as it did reinforce the conclusions I’d already come to. (I wish I had read it five years earlier, it would have shortcutted the long process I went through to come to those conclusions!) In a nutshell, this book highlights that it’s impossible to do the prioritising that is necessary to life a productive and happy life if you don’t actually know what’s important to you. Essential reading for both business and life.

6. Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

In business, it’s really crucial to have an understanding of people’s motivations and why they’re behaving a certain way. It makes everything easier from marketing and sales to customer service and expectation management. I learned so much about how humans think from this book.

7. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

This book, more than any, taught me to question anything that is presented as ‘conventional wisdom’. Levitt and Dubner not only manage to make economics entertaining, they offer a fresh way of looking at, well everything. Which in turn makes YOU look at everything with fresh eyes.

8. Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed

Here’s a book I bet you’ve not heard of. But it’s really, really interesting. Its sub-title says it all really: Why most people never learn from their mistakes – but some do. Basically it shows that our propensity for covering up mistakes or pretending they never happened is, at best, holding us back in both business and life, and, at worst, downright dangerous. The comparison between how aviation tackles ‘mistakes’ versus how the health industry does – I promise it will change everything you think about dealing with errors, serious or otherwise.

9. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

More than anything, this book showed me how gut feeling is often so much more powerful than we think. And how having too much information (and the overthinking that goes hand in hand with that) can often lead to making bad decisions. This book also showed me how much of the stuff I think I ‘know’ is downright wrong!

10. Quiet. The Power of Introverts– Susan Cain

This book – not just for introverts. If you are an introvert, you will look at yourself differently after reading this book. If you’re an extrovert, you will understand the introverted mind better. Why on earth is this important in business? One, because introversion and extroversion is primarily about energy. If you’re an introvert doing stuff in your business that is a huge energy drain (which is what I was doing), then your business will struggle to thrive. Two, a huge part of running a business well is being able to understand people well. Understanding the strengths of introversion and extroversion, and the differing energy needs of the two, will make you a better manager of staff, suppliers, clients, and most importantly … yourself.


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