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Summer reading: Keep it simple in a complex world Add to ...

It’s never been more difficult to be an entrepreneur or so it seems. There’s more competition, more to know and more be wary of. All of which may explain why a new crop of books on being a successful entrepreneur make a virtue of keeping things simple.

In fact, the main message in Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions is so simple it verges on the simple-minded. Mr. Kawasaki, a “former chief evangelist for Apple” and author of The Art of the Start, focuses on “how to achieve likability” and the sometimes more daunting task of learning to like others. Mr. Kawasaki’s advice tends to state the obvious – from smiling more (“Do you like to do business with grumpy people?”) to enchanting your employees by telling them how much they’re appreciated.

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If enchantment sounds a little touchy-feely, that’s Mr. Kawasaki’s point. “I am going to show you how to change the world,” he promises, “not understand it.”

John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself is, by contrast, a nuts-and-bolts analysis of the elusive but essential technique behind generating word-of-mouth, a.k.a. referrals. Mr. Jantsch, author of “the small-business marketing bible” Duct Tape Marketing, begins with the premise that “human beings are physiologically wired to make referrals.” From there, it’s a short step to making a long-lasting impression.

Or as Mr. Jantsch sums it up: “Nobody talks about boring businesses.” The Referral Engine is replete with stories of outside-the-box successes like Scott Ginsberg, who achieved celebrity status in the marketing world with his quirky decision to wear a name tag every single day, all day. Some eight years later, Ginsberg has turned this gimmick into a full-time job giving motivational speeches and writing motivational books. Mr. Jantsch also cites examples like Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, which came up with a way to stand out from the pack of rental car companies by picking up customers at their homes. All of this adds up to a straightforward strategy for Mr. Jantsch: wow people. Exceed expectations and your business will be remembered. Better yet, it will create buzz and generate referrals.

But while Mr. Jantsch, a marketing coach, aims to encourage his readers’ can-do spirit, Carol Roth, an investment banker and business strategist, takes the opposite approach. In The Entrepreneur Equation: Evaluating the Realties, Risks, and Rewards of Having Your Own Business, Ms. Roth is deliberately discouraging, especially for anyone making the decision to start their own business. Sure, you can do anything you put your mind to, she says, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Still, Ms. Roth’s tough love approach will prove valuable for established entrepreneurs, who may be struggling with businesses that are undercapitalized – most are, according to Mr. Roth – or who may need to be reminded “that many business problems are personal problems in disguise.” The Entrepreneur Equation is that rare thing in a business book – a reality check.

Of course, you just might need a pep talk after reading The Entrepreneur Equation. Fortunately, that’s precisely what you get from Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work! Overcome Resistance and Get out of Your Own Way. Mr. Pressfield, a bestselling novelist, veteran screenwriter and author of The War of Art, is more Zen philosopher than marketing maven. The strength of his book lies in its mix of candour and optimism. Mr. Pressfield makes no claims to understanding business practices, just human strengths and weaknesses. Which is to say his public enemy No.1 — resistance — is laying in wait for all of us. “If you’ve got a head,” he writes, “you’ve got a voice of resistance in it.”

Ultimately, though, Mr. Pressfield’s message to trust your passion, your blind faith, even your stupid stubbornness proves surprisingly inspiring. It may not be easy running your own business today, but, according to Mr. Pressfield, that’s as good a reason as any to do it. As he says at the end of Do the Work!: “I stand in awe of anyone who hatches a dream and who shows the guts to hang tough, all alone, and see it through to reality…. If no one has congratulated you, I do that now.”

Books referred to in this review

  • Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, by Guy Kawasaki
  • The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself, by John Jantsch
  • The Entrepreneur Equation: Evaluating the Realities, Risks, and Rewards of Having Your Own Business, by Carol Roth
  • Do the Work!: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way, by Steven Pressfield

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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