“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every month, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Okay, let’s get to the featured book: Ready Fire Aim by Michael Masterson.
This is one of the better business books I’ve read and one that I regularly recommend when people ask me for the top 3-to-5 business books that have helped me the most as an entrepreneur.
Ready Fire Aim is full of incisive and actionable advice for small businesses of all sizes, ranging from day one to $100M+ in annual revenue, and it’s written by someone who has not only succeeded in business, but who has done so multiple times (anybody can get lucky once, but repeated successes is a tribute to skill).
I enjoyed how this book is organized, too. Instead of speaking broadly about important and effective business practices, Masterson begins by sharing the blueprint to your first million dollars in sales—“Stage One,” as he calls it. Then, he moves on to going from $1 million to $10 million in annual revenue (Stage Two), followed by $10 to $50 million (Stage Three), and finally, $50 million to $100 million and beyond (Stage Four).
This approach to teaching entrepreneurship makes a lot of sense to me because the problems, challenges, and opportunities change markedly as a business grows, and what got you to $1 million in revenue likely won’t be enough to reach $10 million, and what gets you there probably won’t get you to $50 million and higher.
For instance, in Stage One—zero to $1 million in revenue—your primary focus should be sales, and specifically, figuring out how to sell your product or service well enough to reach a critical mass of customers that you can continue to sell to. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters. Your business will eventually fail.
Accordingly, the first section of Ready Fire Aim dedicates nearly 70 pages to effective selling, and it gets my imprimatur. If you follow the advice Masteron gives, you will make sales, guaranteed. The only question will be how many.
I also appreciated how little filler this book contains. Too many non-fiction books are just long-winded articles—a few big ideas padded with pages of sometimes-interesting-but-otherwise-meaningless anecdotes and asides—but not Ready Fire Aim. It’s the polar opposite, actually, because much of the 356 pages of content is steak, not sizzle.
A lot of the material will also be useful to people who don’t own businesses but drive growth in other people’s companies. If, for example, your job is to acquire customers or create new products or services to sell to existing customers, this book is for you.
Let’s get to the takeaways.
Want to listen to more stuff like this? Check out my podcast!
My 5 Key Takeaways from Ready Fire Aim
“If you are opening a restaurant, you have to get the product right from the start. So, too, if you are manufacturing cars. But for most entrepreneurial businesses, it is enough to have the product and customer service just okay at the outset. Perfecting them can be done a little later, after you have gotten feedback from your customers.”
When you’re looking to start a business or launch a new product or service, your first goal should be to validate whether you can actually deliver something that people will buy, like, and recommend. Only after you’ve established this can you start to think about growing the demand for your product or service through marketing, advertising, and the like.
What’s more, you want to validate the value of your creation as quickly and cheaply as possible so you can scrap it and try something else if it doesn’t pan out.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and product managers don’t think like this. Instead, they focus purely on what they would like or what they just want to make and then invest way too much time, money, and energy into creating a “perfect” prototype only to discover that very few people actually want or like it. This mistake alone explains why so many businesses fail, and by avoiding it, you can greatly increase your chances of success.
So, the lesson is this: Getting your product or service just right is important, but not in the beginning (except in the rare cases where it actually is). Usually, the best opening move is getting a “good enough” version to the market as quickly as possible and starting to sell it to the early adopter types who most feel the need for it and who are more forgiving of mistakes and willing to share feedback than the average consumer.
“What you are looking for is an idea that will really excite you—an idea that feels like it might capture the market and create a tipping-point buying frenzy. If it feels that way, your success is not guaranteed, but your chances are much better than they would be if you weren’t excited.”
This mindset has served me well in the realms of product creation and marketing. Consistently, my most successful books, supplements, and marketing initiatives came from ideas that got me excited because of their potential, practicability, and probability of success.
If something feels like it could be a breakthrough, it may or may not be, but if it feels boring, it’s all but guaranteed to underwhelm when implemented.
Thus, when I’m considering the next book to write, product to create, or marketing project to invest time and money into, I brainstorm until I have at least a few exciting options. Then, I put them aside for at least a few days, take my temperature again, and remove any that I’m no longer excited about. Then, I discuss what’s left with a few savvy businesspeople to get their thoughts, and finally, decide which to proceed with and which to table or scrap altogether.
It’s worth noting that the viability of this strategy pivots on the quality of your creative, marketing, and business instincts, which in turn are informed by your knowledge and experience. You can hone your intuitions through experience alone, but this a long, arduous, and often painful slog that many people can’t stay with. A much more efficient (and pleasant) way to sharpen your judgment is learning—reading books like Ready Fire Aim, listening to podcasts and lectures, and so forth.
“1. Ask yourself how much it will cost to make the idea come to life. Take that number and double it.
“2. Figure out how many units it will sell (or how much extra cash it will bring in), and cut that number in half.
“If the net result of doubling your anticipated costs and halving your expected returns still looks like you’ve got a profitable venture, go ahead with it. If it looks marginal or negative, drop it and move on to the next new idea.”
No matter how thorough you try to be, accurately estimating the time and money required to complete tasks or projects of substantial complexity is a bear. There’s an adage known as Hofstadter’s Law that states “it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law,” and if you just accept that as true and act accordingly, you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and hairline.
This bit of advice by Masterson helps. Whenever you’re assessing the viability of a product or service, even if it’s your first, work to establish reasonable estimates of how much time and money it’ll take to bring it to market, and then double them, and then create a conservative forecast of sales based on good empirical data, and halve it. Only proceed with the project if the numbers are good under these assumptions.
This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way several times in building my businesses. Early on, I committed to at least a handful of abortive (and expensive) product development and marketing initiatives that wouldn’t have passed this test, and more recently, my biggest wins have come from undertakings that were still promising when viewed through jade-tinted glasses.
“My argument, in a single sentence, is this: Getting things going quickly is more important than planning them perfectly.”
In many athletic activities, the single physical factor that’ll most influence your ability to perform isn’t how strong you are, but how much power you can generate—how quickly you can produce forceful movements of your body.
Business is similar. Faster is almost always better. Yes, you need to be able to think strategically and develop clear, practical, and feasible plans that span the course of months and even years, but you also need to be able to shift into high gear and execute your plans swifty before their windows of opportunity close due to shifts in circumstances, competition, or otherwise.
As Napoleon said, “you must be slow in deliberation and swift in execution.”
What’s more, boldness and speed encourage, exhilarate, and empower us. They build morale, create a sense of vitality, and attract attention and admiration. They’re also effective tools to use against opponents and enemies to put them on their heels and force them to act reactively rather than proactively.
“If you want to develop a business that keeps growing, don’t spend all your time trying to reduce your product costs. Spend a good deal of time asking, ‘How can we make this better?”
One of the best ways to make a successful business more successful is a program of incremental improvements to its products and services, even when there’s no evidence that customers are unhappy.
How often should you do this? Masterson says that you should improve your products as often as you can, and I think it’s good advice.
This is why Legion’s Scientific Advisory Board is always engaged in upgrading our existing products, including perennial bestsellers that receive rave reviews like Pulse, Phoenix, and Triumph. These ongoing upgrades accomplish several things: they give me something new to announce (and people love new), they make customers even happier and more impressed with the quality of the products (which helps stimulate more word of mouth), and they make people feel closer to the business.
This is also why I’ve released multiple editions of several of my fitness books over the years and spent quite a lot of time trying to make each new iteration substantially better than the last. This strategy not only makes for a better first impression with new readers, but also delights many existing readers who get to upgrade their eBooks and audiobooks to the newest version for free.