Which books have had the biggest impact on your freelancing career? In this episode, Louise shares her favourite books about business, freelancing and creativity.
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(Includes some affiliate links, which means that I get a tiny amount of commission if you purchase one of the books at zero cost to you, which helps cover the cost of running this podcast.)
Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and health tech white paper writer. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Hello and here we are for another episode of 15 Minute Freelancer. For the first time in what feels like a gazillion years I don’t actually have any deadlines for the next few days so I’ve been taking things a little bit easier and catching up on some reading. I’ve just started listening to Dave Grohl’s audiobook, The Storyteller, and I could listen to him talk all day. It’s not a business book or freelancing book obviously, but I always get so much inspiration from reading or listening to people who have led unconventional lives. I actually do buy loads of business books, and a lot of them end up piled up on my bookshelf, where they silently judge me for not actually reading them. I think there’s a name for this – bibliomania, where you’re addicted to the rush of buying a new book and absorbing the knowledge and ideas within, and then you never get around to reading it. for today’s episode, I thought I’d share some of the books that I did read, that have had a significant impact on my freelancing career in some way. I’ve got 7 or 8 to get through so without further ado, let’s jump in. Just before I do, I’d love to hear about the books that have had a big impact on your business or got your creative juices flowing, so please drop me a voice note at memo.fm/15 or tweet at me with your recommendations.
The first book I read that really changed the way I think about work was the Four Hour Work Week by Time Ferriss. Now before you roll your eyes and skip forward to the latest episode of your favourite anti-hustle podcast, hear me out. I know this book was everywhere for a time, and the idea of working four hours a week has become a kind of meme for hustle culture, but that wasn’t my take. I think a lot of people who scoff at the book haven’t actually read it. It’s not really about working just 4 hours a week – the main premise is about finding ways to be more intentional with your time and cut the stuff that you do that wastes time, so in theory you could become 10 times more productive, so if you currently work forty hours a week you could achieve the same in 4. It’s kind of clickbaity and the advice and analogies are a bit dated now, but this book was my first exposure to a different way of thinking about what a career could be like. The idea that you didn’t just have to get a job and show up every day and follow the rules and get a promotion and plod up the ladder until you retire hadn’t really occurred to me before that. I didn’t know anyone who was self-employed, and this book made me stop and think about how it might be possible to design a career or life that I actually wanted. And the exercises about fear-setting, planning for uncertainty, 80:20 rules and that kind of thing were all pretty new to me at that time, so it really was my first foray into the world of personal development. So I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it now, but I definitely wanted to mention it as being an influence in the early days of my freelance journey. Two of Tim Ferriss’ later books might be better to check out now – Tribe of Mentors or Tools of Titans – which are collections of short snippets of his interviews with all sorts of experts and leaders and generally impressive people from all walks of life, who share their journeys and tidbits of advice. You can dip in and out when you need a bit of inspiration or motivation. As I said, I’m quite nosy about how people like that think about life and business so it’s right up my street, so if you like the idea of creating your own virtual board of directors, that’s what these books purport to do.
The next book or two books actually that made an impact on how I think about my freelance career were The War of Art and Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. No doubt you’ll have heard of these but if you haven’t read them, I urge you to drop what you’re doing and get a hold of them. The main message is about overcoming what he calls Resistance with a capital R, which is an invisible, internal, self-sabotaging force that stops us from closing the gap between the creator we want to be, and the creator that actually shows up.
Resistance is anything that stops you from sitting down at your laptop and finishing that blog post or video or podcast. And then Turning Pro is the follow-up, which is a slightly sharp pep talk about how to shift your mindset from amateur to professional. It’s not business tips, but more about shifting your attitude to harness your creativity as a professional.
The next book is Feck Perfuction (Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life), by James Victore.
I devoured this book and I’ve gifted it to numerous people since I read it. It’s packed with ideas for navigating the twists and turns of a creative career, banishing your mindset monkeys to unleash your creative power, and generally living fearlessly as a creative human. I would literally highlight something on every page, if it wasn’t so beautifully designed. Every page has quotes you’ll want to remember.
I couldn’t choose one to share so I just opened the book at random, and here’s a quote from that page:
"Don't waste your efforts trying to please other people. Make work that is meaningful to yourself first. Create work or a business that reflects your genuine passion. Your enthusiasm at the cellular level creates excitement and energy that radiates outward. You become a beacon, attracting your people, your tribe, your audience, even clients. I work to make myself happy. This makes my clients happy. More importantly, it makes their audience happy."
Good advice, huh?
In a similar vein to Feck Perfuction are Austin Kleon’s books, Show Your Work and Steal Like an Artist. These are great little books, again beautifully designed in a kind of sketchbook style that you’ll really enjoy flicking through, and they both gave me loads of inspiration for ways to tap into your creative side when it comes to marketing yourself.
One way to build trust and credibility is to explain your processes and let prospective clients peek behind the scenes in your business. Show Your Work is all about how to do that.
Specifically, Austin Kleon suggests 10 ways to share what you're working on so you can get discovered by the right people. It’s actually aimed at creatives and artists, but I think the same rules apply to online business and freelancing, and I got SO much out of this book.
Big takeaways for me were:
- think process not product – this is a good one for any freelancers who worry that they don’t have case studies or samples or impressive stats to share about previous results – you can gain trust by sharing your process and explaining how you work.
- share something small every day – don’t worry about writing epic blog posts or publishing NPR style highly edited podcasts. Just make a point of consistently sharing a small idea or tip or question to build a relationship with an audience of potential clients and referrers.
- teach what you know – you don’t’ need to be an expert in everything. A lot of the most successful content is answering really basic questions for people. If you’ve got a handy process for using Notion to organise your work, or using Loom to record screenshots, or something like that that will help your target audience, why not put together a short how-to or tutorial or even a couple of tweets?
- stick around – you don’t need to be aggressively marketing yourself all the time, but if you keep showing up, you’ll make more connections, build better relationships and ultimately attract more of the right clients.
The next book I wanted to mention is Survival Skills for Freelancers, by Sarah Townsend. Sarah was a guest on this podcast a few episodes back and she packed SO much great advice into our conversation about setting boundaries so you can control your time, how to avoid burnout and deliver your best work, practising a growth mindset and remembering 'progress over perfection', building a boost bank, to help you celebrate the wins and beat imposter syndrome, and how to get in the right frame of mind to promote your services.
Her book is the perfect practical how-to guide for freelancers, whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been around the self-employed block a few times.
Next, is Grit by Angela Duckworth. This is a super interesting discussion of the science behind the idea that success is based on passion and resilience, not talent. Hurray! We just need to put in the hours of practice, so it's not that straightforward. This book was a nice reminder to make time for deliberate practice if you want to get good at something, celebrate the small wins, because improvement happens incrementally and you need to keep your motivation up, and to set realistic but tangible goals if you actually want to improve at something.
I don’t know if I’d describe myself as gritty, per se, but I found this book really thought-provoking.
Another book that I read quite recently is You Are The Brand by Mike Kim. I discovered Mike Kim through Mai-Kee Tsang’s Quiet Rebels podcast, and one particular quote he shared jumped out at me. He said Jeff Bezos said branding is what peoples say about you when you’re not in the room. Mike Kim says branding is what they know about you before you get in the room.
The idea here is that if you are a company of one or a freelancer, you are the brand, and whether you like the idea of personal branding or not, the fact is that if you want people to contact you and hire you, they need to know something about you, and what they know about you is your brand. And the book is about thinking about how you use your expertise, your personality, your ideas as the foundations of a brand that you can build your business around. He has 8 steps for that process, including how to figure out your message, how to create an authentic marketing strategy, figuring out pricing. A quick and helpful read, if you’re looking for a primer for personal branding.
And finally, I want to finish off with a shout out to Helen Hill, who has just this week published her book, Falling Off The Ladder, which is a part memoir, part manual no-holds-barred account of her challenges in corporate life and what led her to make the leap to self-employment. I had the pleasure of being an early reader for this book, and I was really impressed with how honest Helen has been about her experiences and feeling a bit like a square peg in a round hole in following a traditional career, and I think a lot of people will relate to that. It’s full of tips for how to make that transition yourself, with prompts and questions in each chapter to help you get your mindset ready for your new life of freedom.
OK! that’s all for today. I’d love to hear your recommendations too, what are the books you’ve read that have made an impact on your business? Let me know at memo.fm/15 if you want to leave a voice message, or go the old-fashioned way and send me a tweet!
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me, Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want answered on the podcast find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing!