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Books That Have Changed the Way I Think....

September 30, 2020

I know that the majority of you who are reading don't have a background in design. Cool, these AREN'T books about graphic design or illustration... these are all books about business, strategy, marketing and brand positioning (with the exception of two or three, which are noted).

In order to give you a framework about why these books have had such an influence in my life I've got to tell you a little about how I started down this path of becoming a consultant/ designer.

In 2015 my wife and I shut the doors on our local coffee shop, we had put a few years into building ur brand but our efforts just weren't enough when our local economy collapsed. Luckily I had a small job lined up working for a local designer who was designing menswear accessories. My background in art got me in the door with him and I was fortunate to have take me under his wing - it didn't pay much but between that and my wife's unemployment we were able to get by.

Fast forward a year and a half and I had parted ways with designing menswear and decided to pursue being a freelance graphic designer - I was taking on odd jobs through sites like fiver and upwork (ugh), trying to find my way being an order-taker. I was asking my clients questions like "is this red ok?" and saying things like "let me know if you need any changes".

I was also spending about 70% of my time learning my tools and 30% of my time chasing odd jobs. It was stressful. I think I make 8,000 that first year.

Within a year and a half or so I was able to land steady retainer clients through sweat and luck and settled into being an order taker... but I was so stressed out working 12 hours days that I was having panic attacks and the stress actually landed me in urgent care hooked up to an ekg making sure my dizzy spell wasn't a heart attack. Something HAD to change.

I always followed leaders in the industry, trying to understand how I could better serve my clients, I started looking for commonalities in their teachings. One thing, amongst others, struck me - they all quoted books they had read. Could it really be that easy... I should just start reading more?

It sounds so elementary as I type this, but it's true. If you're stuck in your business, MAKE time to read. I started carrying a book with me and reading a couple pages whenever I had time. If my wife was running into the store to pick up a few groceries I knew I could get a couple pages in. Instead of looking at my phone before bed I'd read a chapter or two.

Amongst other things, this is one of the main reasons I was able to slowly 1) 10x what I was charging my customers (I was charging 500$ for a logo and branding package at the time (3 years ago), the last quote I sent out was 6k - I was charging $800 to design a web page, I just sent a quote for $8.5k) and 2) understand on a deeper level what my clients were needing. Within a year I went from asking "Is this what you need?" to saying things like "This will solve that problem for you" and "If we do this, based on this, this should happen for you".

So I've put together a list of books I've consumed over the past two years that have helped me position myself as a designer who can solve problems.

1. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

This is an incredible framework to build your brands story around. I've used this framework with clients who are either doing a complete brand overhaul or building their brand from the ground up. Don't sleep on the recourses that come with the book either, the website helps you keep your thoughts in front of you as you work through his framework. I really helps you go beyond "features and benefits" and get into the psyche of your clients.

2. Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt

This is a book I listen to when I'm not sure what book I want to listen to. This, I believe, is the ultimate when it comes to strategy. Not only does Rumelt walk you through, step by step, what strategy IS, but in doing so, he also hands you the keys. to an incredible framework you can apply to your own business.

3. The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

Here's one that may not apply to everyone. But if you're in the creative services and you're sick of being an order taker, learn how to partner with your clients and start doing it by reading this book.

4. Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!) by George Lois

I keep this book on my desk and read a page when I need a dose of pure creative adrenaline.

5. Creative Strategy and the Business of Design by Douglas Davis

Another one that might be for creatives only. This is one of the first books I read that really helped me understand the PROBLEMS my clients we're facing and how I could solve them as a creative.

6. The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth by David C. Baker

I don't want to sound hyperbolic but this book has had the single biggest impact on me this year. I've listened to it on Audible, no lie, 5 times since I discovered it this Spring. David really understands what it means to be an expert. If you're a generalist in your profession, trying to please anyone and every one, this book will help you realize your potential and the power you could hold by niching down. I canNOT recommend this book enough.

Honorable mention: Strategy Is Your Words by Mark Pollard

Only because I haven't finished it yet. However, I'm halfway through and thoroughly impressed. I can tell this is going to be one I'll probably immediately re-read.

Honorable mention: The Brand Gap

Really one of those books you can always pick up and find something new in.

Well there you go. Send me a message on my Instagram and let me know which one you're gonna dive into first!

Hey, I'm Jeff

I help ambitious restaurant groups craft and grow powerful brands using creative strategies and meaningful design.

Pt 1: Brand Strategy and Positioning


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Getting Online

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Getting Online

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