Business books are the new black

These days, when you go to conferences and networking events, savvy business owners aren’t merely exchanging business cards anymore. They’re exchanging books. It seems that your very own business book is now the ideal way to showcase your expertise, broadcast your message and generate new leads. You might wonder what in the world you would write a book about. After all, you haven’t hit the heights of Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg just yet. So what could you possibly say that would be worthy of documenting in your own book?

The reality is that you have a lifetime of knowledge in your chosen area of speciality that you can share. You may not be able to write an entrepreneurial memoir about how you how made space flights accessible to non-astronauts or how you created the world’s largest social network. However, you can write about “How to relieve back pain – forever” if you’re a chiropractor, “How to succeed at sales without ever making a cold call” if you’re a sales guru, or “How to grow your business with Google” if you’re an SEO specialist.

It’s these ‘how-tos’ that I’m seeing coming on to the market. Some of them are brilliant. Others aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. These days, it’s easy and cheap to print a book. The harder part is producing a book that people rave about, which enhances your reputation and adds to your bottom line by helping turn readers into customers. If you’re thinking about writing a book, here’s what you should consider.

1. Calling card versus revenue stream

From the outset, you need to consider whether you want your book to be a marketing tool, much like your business card, or if you actually want it to be a new stream of revenue in your business. If it’s the latter, that means you need a dedicated strategy to market and sell your book. Just like any product, you need to determine its target market and work out a campaign to reach those people.

I see some entrepreneurs disappointed when they find their books are not out-selling Harry Potter. Even if you have the best business book in the world, your work has only really just begun once you have finished writing. Best-sellers don’t happen by accident. You need a comprehensive marketing campaign to back your book if you want it to turn into a lucrative revenue stream. So ask yourself: should this be your core focus? And do you have the time and resources to effectively run a mini book-selling operation alongside your core business as a sales consultant or SEO specialist?

For most business owners, additional revenue from a book is a bonus. The main purpose of the book is to build their credibility, position them as leaders, help secure speaking gigs, and showcase their expertise – all in a handy package that can fit in a briefcase or handbag.

2. Smart marketing

When you give someone a book, you are giving someone an item of real value. Ordinarily, the retail price of a book would be around $30. And, unlike a fleeting PowerPoint presentation, books go on bookshelves. Many get read – or at least skimmed – and few are thrown out. They have much more longevity than a brochure, newsletter or pitch document. In short, if they are done right, they are very effective marketing tools.

Not long ago I met a woman during a conference lunch break. She gave me her book on negotiating. Before long, nearby people were clamouring for their own free copy. She gladly obliged and ended up distributing books to about 25 keen recipients. She just kept pulling them out of her oversized laptop bag like Santa on Christmas Day.

It might seem like she gave away a whopping $750 worth of books in a few minutes. But her cost was actually far less. She had printed the book in China so each copy cost her less than $2. So for a mere $50 she had created goodwill and set up some warm leads. Many of those people subsequently emailed her to say thanks and she was able to continue a dialogue with them well after the conference. I was so impressed with her book that I referred her to a speaking engagement and featured her in a number of articles. Would I have done that if I hadn’t read her book? Simply, no.

3. Brain dump versus story-telling

You want your book to be a must-read. You want people to learn from it and recommend it to their peers. In short, you want to write a good book. Just because you might be using it as a marketing tool doesn’t mean you should ever compromise on quality.

If you really want to write a winning book, you need to ensure you’re telling your story in an engaging way, you’re involving your reader and taking them on a journey with every word in the book.

Your book should not be a brain dump. Although you’re downloading everything you know, you still need to craft it in a way that’s digestible and appealing to readers. I recently reviewed the manuscript of a business owner who wrote a book on time management. While the time management tips were fine, the book itself was not engaging in the slightest. I asked him how long it took to write. His answer: “On the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney.”

If you think you can write a best-selling book in 13 hours, think again. Or go see a shrink about your delusions. Quality business books need planning, structure and research. If you don’t think you can commit the time to do it properly, I would suggest not doing it at all. You don’t want to become known as “the guy who wrote that horrendous book”!

I don’t mean to scare you off writing a book. I just want you to go into it with your eyes open. The reality is that, when you do it right, you end up with a valuable asset that can potentially transform people’s lives – and transform your business.

If your book is truly helpful to readers, they’ll remember you. If your words inspire them, you’ll forever be associated with this positive experience. A book is a unique and powerful way to get into the hearts and minds of your readers and customers. And the best part is: once you’ve written the first one, there’s always the opportunity for a sequel!
Do you have a book in you? What would it be about?

Valerie Khoo is Managing Director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point, Sydney. As one of Australia’s leading centres for writing training, the centre runs short courses to help people get published and write with confidence.

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