Recommended Freelance Reading: 2021

Looking for something new to read? I had fun cobbling together the last list of business books, and couldn’t resist making a second. So, that said, here’s my recommended freelance reading list from books I read throughout 2021. 

These books cover a wide range of topics like writing, branding and productivity. I hope you find something that helps! If not, feel free to reach out—I’d be happy to recommend something more specific.

Like last time, for your convenience I’ve included my biggest takeaways from each book. Let’s jump in:

* Note that 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.

Anything You Want book cover

#1: Anything You Want – Derek Sivers

Derek is the creator of the company CD Baby. He’s also someone that realised, one day, his business had morphed into something he didn’t like. Everything started out well, and he had a great time starting and running his business.

One day Derek realised he wasn’t enjoying himself anymore. And ten years after starting the business, he sold CD Baby for $22 million. He wrote this book to share the experience, and be open about the mistakes he made along the way.

This is a very short read, but worth your time. It’s a great story that highlights the importance of having a goal in mind, and knowing when to quit. Besides the main theme, it’s peppered with smaller tips that’ll give you food for thought. 

My top takeaway:

Understand what you want from your business, and what you want it to become. Neglecting to do this could result in it turning into something you hate.

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

Just Fucking Ship book cover

#2: Just F*cking Ship – Amy Hoy

This book addresses the difficulty and overwhelm that goes hand-in-hand with new projects. Throughout, Amy talks us through launching a new product or service. And that’s while comparing it to cooking, prepping and serving a thanksgiving meal. 

It sounds a little bizarre (especially to a Brit), but reading it through the book made a lot of sense. And that’s even though I’m unfamiliar with thanksgiving. The side-by-side comparison helped me envision the project-launching process. 

The book shares 21 principles to help us get stuff done. And I had to smile towards the end of the book, when the author explained she’d used them to create and ship it. In 24 hours!

My top takeaway: 

Even if your new project needs some serious work, aim for progress over perfection. Get it out there now if you can improve on it later. 

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

May I Have Your Attention Please? book cover

#3: May I Have Your Attention Please? – Mish Slade

This was a delightful read. That’s not a word I use often—it’s not very ‘me’. But it’s a word that fits this book well.

The book makes the point that most of the language used by businesses is terrible. It’s often full of fluff and buzzwords that add nothing to the message. In fact, that kind of thing detracts from it, because it’s making it harder for the reader to understand.

Mish asks whether we want others to hear us. We do, right? That’s why we write in the first place.

So why not make our language understandable, and then interesting? Trouble is, it’s harder than it sounds. This book is a great starting point though.

If nothing else, it’s a good laugh! It studies lots of copy from business websites. Then it breaks that copy down into what-not-to-do’s, and much-better-versions.

My top takeaway:

Keep it simple. Avoid fluff and words people don’t actually say in real life. And finally—have a little fun, so your audience does too.

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

On Writing Well book cover

#4: On Writing Well – William Zinsser

This book is one of my favourites. It’s very old, but the amount of reprints they’ve done is testament to the content within. It’s also still very relevant, even in the modern day.

It might not give you all the modern knowledge for things like social media… But I know it can help you become a better writer. Years ago, it helped me ace my university dissertation.

Writing is a skill that benefits us in many ways. I don’t know about you, but I rarely go a day without writing something. There are emails to write, notes, website copy… The list goes on.

I’m a big advocate of writing, and see great value in it. If you’re going to be using it throughout your life and business, honing your skills might be worthwhile.

My top takeaway:

Consider structuring your paragraphs. Zinsser said each should have three sentences—an intro, the substance and an outro. Stick to this rule and you’ll see your writing improve in no time.

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

Purple Cow book cover

#5: Purple Cow – Seth Godin

Ok, unpopular opinion time! Seth Godin is a marketing celebrity and writer of lots of bestselling books. But… His writing style drives me up the wall.

It seems hard to digest. He opts for lines over paragraphs and expects us to think hard with every sentence. I find it difficult, and frustrating to read—I’m sure William Zinsser would agree.

Even so, this book is worth it. As others have said before me, he repeats himself throughout. You could read a few pages and walk away with the message.

But that’s not to say you should. This book explains it’s not enough to be ‘normal’ any more. Reason being—the world is full of ‘normal’ businesses.

Seth says you have to be a standout to be of much interest to people. It’s a great point. Unless you have a completely original idea, you need to stand out somehow.

Why not make it easier for yourself? Wondering how to go about it? Purple Cow shares examples of other businesses that have managed it—so we can learn from those.

My top takeaway:

Be different. In a world where every cow looks the same, be a purple cow.

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

The Secret Of Selling Anything book cover

#6: The Secret Of Selling Anything – Harry Browne

This is an excellent book. If you have any concerns about selling to people, I’d recommend checking it out. Harry draws on his own sales experience to share the lessons he’s learnt.

In our heads, the stereotypical salesperson is a used-car salesman, or door-to-door seller. And that person will use every trick in the book to walk away with our money. I don’t know if this is true these days, but clichés tend to stem from reality.

The book tells us it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, this is the wrong way to go about things if we want to sell something. Instead, try asking the other person about their problems.

If they have a problem you can solve, great! You can help them, and feel good knowing that. If not, no worries—it’s that simple.

My top takeaway:

Outside of threatening people, we can’t force anyone to buy stuff. They have to want it. So you needn’t feel guilty about selling to someone—if they don’t want it, they’ll not buy it.

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

Take Your Shot book cover

#7: Take Your Shot – Robin Waite

I enjoyed this book. You might too. I rarely see business books written as stories, but when I do, they always seem to deliver.

Plenty of business books can be dull, and don’t leave us wanting more. I’m happy to say that this one breaks the trend, even giving us a satisfying ending. It focuses on a stressed Golf Coach, giving us a window into his frequent troubles and worries.

He’s a husband, a dad, and a businessman. And when we’re introduced to him, he’s struggling on all counts. This is a short journey that most of us will be able to relate to in one way or the other.

My top takeaway:

People are paying for the results, not golf lessons (or other deliverables). Sometimes, packaging up what you offer will help others envision those results.

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

The Fortune Cookie Principle book cover

#8: The Fortune Cookie Principle – Bernadette Jiwa

This book is all about story, and it makes a great point. Without sharing your story, there’s a risk others will see your business as a commodity. And commodities blend in with the crowd. 

These simple equations from the book sum things up well:

Product – Meaning = Commodity

Product + Meaning = Brand

Throughout the book Bernadette shares lots of examples of stories done right. And besides those at the end of each chapter are questions that relate to that section.

These questions are excellent and will get you thinking about your business. They’ll help you discover your own story, and realise what makes your business special. Questions like that can be tough to answer, but are worth it in the end.

My top takeaway:

We can avoid the commodity trap. But to do that we need to lean on our stories—because those make us unique and separate us from everyone else.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to it on Goodreads.

The ONE Thing book cover

#9: The ONE Thing – Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

Within this book is an important lesson in productivity. The book makes only one key point, but even so, I reckon it’s worth the read—even after I’ve shared it with you. Here it is:

Freelancers often chip away at to-do lists, and get that feel-good feeling afterwards. But… It’s all too easy for us to get stuck in the day-to-day. Before you know it, a year has gone and you aren’t sure what’s changed.

To help us escape this trap, Gary and Jay do their best to drill the following sentence into us. Before you start your day, ask yourself this question:

What’s the ONE thing I can do today that would make everything else either easier or unnecessary? 

In theory, this question will keep you working on the most impactful tasks. And as you tick those off, you’ll be doing work that matters and making more progress.

My top takeaway:

Line up your dominos. As you work on small tasks, chip away at the big tasks.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to it on Goodreads.

The 1 Page Marketing Plan book cover

#10: The 1-Page Marketing Plan – Allan Dib

Marketing is a huge, intimidating topic. It’s also one of the most important things you can do to get new clients. In short, if no-one knows about you, no one can buy from you.

If no one knows you, you might be the best at what you do, but also the best kept secret. This is a lesson that didn’t sink in for me for a while. Long story short, we have to reach out for others to see us.

In this book Allan gives us the tools we need to figure out how to reach out. While he’s at it, he makes the topic more approachable and less intimidating in one swoop. Massive marketing plans?

No need. He’s created a framework you can use to flesh one out, all within a single page. It’s a refreshing thought for anyone that’s isn’t a marketing expert.

He makes some great points—one example: After you’ve finished a project, the service shouldn’t end there. Consider introducing a system to follow up with clients—it will help you stay top-of-mind.

My top takeaway:

I loved his take on knowing your audience. Allan says not knowing who you’re trying to reach is like going hunting with a bow and arrow. Only, you’ll end up shooting arrows everywhere hoping to hit something.

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

That’s all ten!

I hope you got something out of this recommended freelance reading list, whether that’s practical tips or some books to add to your 2021 Christmas list. And the next steps? Apply the lessons within, or buy the books to learn and grow your business. 

For more business book insights, check out my last list for ten more great books. And if you’re hungry for more, be sure to sign up to the email list/bonus pdf with the form below.

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