Recommended Freelance Reading: 2020

If you’re anything like me, you love a good business book. But finding the right one, and the time to read it, can be tough. So to give you a helping hand, here’s my recommended freelance reading list, inspired by books I enjoyed in 2020.

All ten of these can give you an edge over the competition. For your convenience I’ve included my biggest takeaways from each book.

Let’s get started:

(None of the links on this page are affiliate links. I’m recommending these books because they were helpful—not because I make money from doing so.)

Atomic Habits book cover

#1: Atomic Habits – James Clear

Often we rely on willpower to form habits. This doesn’t work so well, as I discovered firsthand. There are good habits and bad habits, and we ought to stick with the good and remove the bad.

Before I became aware of my habits I was doing whatever, whenever. This book should make you more conscious of all that stuff. I hope it’ll inspire you, too.

Thanks to daily habits I managed to reach a 365 day streak on Duolingo, and wrote over 80 lengthy Quora answers. More useful is the knowledge from each book I read every week last year.

My top takeaway:

A major barrier to habit-forming is resistance. Whenever you hit a mental obstacle, you’re encountering it. Make it easier for yourself to carry out good habits by finding ways to remove any resistance.

Do you want to go for a run tomorrow morning? Try laying your running clothes out tonight, somewhere you’ll see them tomorrow. You won’t have to fish them out of your cupboards, so you’ve made things a little easier for yourself.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

The Business Of Expertise book cover

#2: The Business Of Expertise – David C. Baker

This is one of the more interesting books I’ve read in some time. It covers a broad range of things within the realm of expertise. It’s also easy to read, and the great illustrations inside make a serious topic more approachable.

There’s some good instructional stuff in here about positioning, aka niching down. If you’re wondering whether you should, it could convince you. Another part I enjoyed covered expertise-building on specific topics.

The author recommends we read five books on a subject, then write a hefty essay on it. He tells an interesting story of how he did this himself, and others wound up paying him to read them. After the dust settled, they’d paid him to learn!

My top takeaway:

We can’t see the label from inside the jar. In other words? Sometimes we need to take a step back from our businesses and try to look at them from the outside.

If that’s a challenge, a good plan B is to ask otheror their perspective. If nothing else, you’d get fresh eyes and input on your business.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

But I’m Not An Expert! book cover

#3: But I’m Not An Expert! – Meera Kothand

Hot on the heels of The Business Of Expertise, we have But I’m Not An Expert! By Meera Kothand. To me, this book is a gentler introduction to the concept. If the previous seemed a bit serious, this one might be a better choice for you.

If you’re short of experience, that’s ok—this’ll teach you other ways to gain credibility. It defines an ‘expert’ and tells us the benefits we can gain from being one. Afterwards it tells us how to achieve that status.

One of my favourite points made was on ‘borrowing authority’. Meera says whenever we quote someone, we’re showing we share knowledge with them. If that person is an expert in our field, that person’s authority can rub off us too.

See what I’m doing with this article? It’s a big authority-builder. And all the way through, I’m sharing the knowledge of others.

My top takeaway:

No-one is born an expert, so we have to start somewhere. Often, those of us with smaller audiences have an easier time building trust with an audience. It’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

The Compound Effect book cover

#4: The Compound Effect – Darren Hardy

Next up we have The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Remember our first book, Atomic Habits? TCE will share how habit forming will help you.

This book is newer, but… It’s like a spiritual successor in my eyes. Darren talks about the power of small changes over time, which add up to equal one huge change.

Depending on what it is, it can be difficult to focus on one task for a long time. If we spend ages doing something in one sitting, we run the risk of getting burnt out. This book flips the script.

It tells us: If we want to finish a big task, it’s a lot easier to break it into small parts. It’ll become much more approachable, easier and less intimidating. I took this approach while writing this email course—one book a day, every weekday.

My top takeaway:

Make your big tasks easier by breaking them down into parts. Chipping away at them will give you consistent results. They might not seem to make a big difference in the moment…

But when you take a step back, your progress might surprise you. Long story short? Slow and steady wins the race.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Deep Work book cover

#5: Deep Work – Cal Newport

Today’s book is Deep Work by Cal Newport. A great read for those of us that have problems with procrastination.

There’s one main problem this book aims to answer. In a world of smartphones, notifications and the internet, how can we focus on the things that matter? Distractions aren’t anything new, but modern tech wants more and more of our attention.

On the average workday I get around 20 emails, and few of those are work-related. Social media is always giving me notifications and updates (none of which I asked for). And now those have crept into my inbox, too.

I always find myself clicking to see what’s new, only to find the latest irrelevant distraction. This is the situation, and there’s no changing it—we have to find ways around it. So, what can we do?

My top takeaway:

Others have overcome distractions by shutting themselves away. Consider turning the internet off and finding a nice quiet room to work in for 4-8 hours. That said, you don’t need to go as far as becoming a hermit.

It could help you remove distractions. If it works well, you might even enter a flow state. That could pave the way for incredible efficiency!

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Drive book cover

#6: Drive – Daniel H. Pink

Our sixth book is Drive by Daniel H. Pink. This book is all about motivation. It coins the different types of human motivation over the years—1.0, 2.0 and now 3.0.

The book explains that motivation used to be a lot simpler. You’d create a job, promise a worker money, and they’d do the work. Sometimes that job would be a job for life.

It’s rarely the case nowadays. Daniel tells us modern day workers need autonomy, mastery and purpose. To give you an idea of all three:

We have autonomy when we can do what we want, when we want. We love to pursue mastery of a subject. And for us to feel fulfilled, our work needs a sense of purpose.

My top takeaway:

It’s not enough for us to have work to do. Gone are the days of the job for life. The current worker has different motivations, and different needs from a role.

Want to learn more? Here’s the link to the Goodreads page.

The E-Myth Revisited book cover

#7: The E-Myth Revisited – Michael E. Gerber

This is the book. I created this list with this specific book in mind. I don’t think I’ve recommended any other business book as often as this one.

There’s a good reason for that. Reading it could help you avoid a major pitfall I see all the time in small businesses. If you only invest in one book on this list, I hope it’s this one.

What is that misstep? Businesses often spend all their time working in the business rather than on it. It’s easy for us to get carried away with client work, shifting from one job to the next.

The book will help you recognise whether you’re falling into this trap or not. It’ll also help you understand how often you should be doing one thing and then the other. To add to that, it’s very relatable—giving us the story of a baker that’s about to turn her business around.

My top takeaway:

We each have three little people in our heads. A technician, visionary and manager. The technician focuses on the present—wanting to get the job done, and get to work.

The visionary is full of ideas for the future, but isn’t too interested in doing the work. And the manager looks to the past, spending all day organising things. In most people, one of these people takes over.

It’s usually the technician. Ideally we’d have a 33% balance of each. We can’t let them all speak at once, so try allocating time for each to shine.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Hourly Billing Is Nuts book cover

#8: Hourly Billing Is Nuts – Jonathan Stark

Service-based businesses have a habit of defaulting to hourly fees. That’s what I did, back when I started. There are so many reasons why that’s a bad idea—and Jonathan does a fantastic job of listing lots of them.

Here are a couple of great points I’ve learnt from him:

Generally, the better we get at our jobs the less time they take us. If we charge by the hour for those services, we’re making less money. Is that fair on us?

When we give a client an hourly or daily rate, we’re telling them what we charge, but not how long something will take. They often have no idea what the final cost will be. Is that fair on them?

My top takeaway:

Charging hourly fees isn’t fair to us or our clients. There are other, better ways to go about pricing. Consider switching to fixed-fees, or if you’re brave enough—value-pricing.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion book cover

#9: Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion – Robert B. Cialdini

This book is a classic. I’ve seen people recommend this as the most important marketing book out there. There’s loads of great stuff inside, so I encourage you to check it out if possible.

Being as we can’t cover the whole book, here’s are couple of my favourite points:

When someone does us a favour, we often feel like we need to return it. This is the law of reciprocation at play. When you grab a free sample from a market stall, you might feel a ‘need’ to return the favour.

And how can we return a favour right there and then? By buying something on the spot. Businesses use this to their advantage all the time, sometimes in different guises.

Something else the book makes us aware of is the concept of scarcity. When something we want is in short supply, we worry we’ll miss out. This is also called FOMO (aka the fear of missing out).

My top takeaway:

We can look at psychology to understand marketing better. See if you can spot the above tactics on some of the big websites like Amazon. They often use free trials (reciprocation) and ‘only a few left’ messages (scarcity) on us.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Making Websites Win book cover

#10: Making Websites Win – Karl Blanks, Ben Jesson

Ok, a word of warning—this one isn’t super-fun. If you read it through you’ll be risking boredom throughout. Even so, it’s worth the effort.

So, why has this book made it onto the list? It’s jam-packed full of great tips and resources for improving your website. Most pages point you towards tools and resources that’ll help you improve your site—some of which are free.

The caveat here is that they’ve written this book with big businesses in mind, which they admit early on. Luckily they give small businesses like ours attention, too. The parts I found most useful gave options for websites with minimal website traffic.

My top takeaway:

The mistake lots of people make with their websites is making them look pretty. This results in lots of great looking websites. Unfortunately, while they look great, most are impractical and/or confusing.

Try flipping the script. Design for functionality first, aesthetics second.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

That’s the lot!

I hope you got something out of my recommendations in this freelance reading list, whether that’s practical tips or some books to add to your own 2020 reading list. And the next steps? Apply the lessons within, or buy the books to learn and grow your business. 

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