B2B CEOs, are you ready to write a book?

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Having published a book recently, I can see there are many benefits to writing a book.

Among the biggest attractions is enhanced industry stature. If you publish a book, it must mean you are an industry expert, right?

For many CEOs in the B2B industry, writing a book is a great way to drive a higher personal and brand profile. It can be an excellent vehicle to demonstrate expertise and insight, become an influencer and, at the same time, give back to the community.

Some of the best examples of book-writing CEOs include Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness (Zappos), Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity (Virgin), Andrew Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive (Intel), and Lee Iacocca’s autobiography (Chrysler). In the B2B space, we’ve seen books published by the likes of Ryan Holiday with Growth Hacker Marketing, Gabriel Weinberg with Traction, and marketing veteran Charlene Li writing her latest The Engaged Leader.

From the outside looking in, there is a lot of appeal in writing a book. One of the realities, however, is that books takes time, effort, solid ideas and excellent writing skills. While CEOs may be effective leaders, decision makers and managers, book writing may not be part of their skill-set.

In an interview with Li, the San Francisco-based CEO of Alimeter Group noted how arduous the process can be, especially as a parent. “My kids hated me writing books,” says the author of five business books. She often spent her weekends and evenings writing, and hired a collaborator to help make the venture less painful.

“You have to really evaluate if writing a book is right for you, especially since you are managing a company and are responsible for your staff’s livelihood. It’s like taking the spoon out of the mouth of one child to feed another child [when you write a book while working],” adds Li.

Lessons from FreshBooks

Michael McDerment, chief executive with Toronto-based FreshBooks, plunged into the business book writing world two years ago when he published Breaking the Time Barrier – a project motivated by the online invoicing company’s strong commitment to customer service.

Breaking the Time Barrier is a free e-book that he co-authored with Donald Cowper that shows people how to use value-based pricing to position their services and make money. To date, there have been more than 200,000 downloads, making it a huge success in many respects.

mcderm1McDerment, who co-founded Freshbooks in 2003, said the best advice he could offer to CEOs thinking about writing a book is sticking to what they know.

“Figure out the value in your experience and focus on your expertise,” he said. “I guarantee that is the only way that you will find the whole experience fulfilling and worthwhile, and your readers will notice it. You’ll be associated with and talking about the book topic for years to come so make sure it’s something you truly to believe in.”

Another important consideration, McDerment said, is making a commitment in terms of the time required and having a strong personal connection to the project. These are key issues to make sure the book project becomes a book, rather than a distraction with no end result.

“I wanted to create something truly valuable for FreshBooks’ customers but also needed to be sure that it didn’t take away focus from my primary role and responsibilities as FreshBooks’ CEO,” he said.

“If you’re thinking about writing a book, take some time to assess whether you can truly carve out enough time to do it well,” he added.

The payoff could be tremendous. Look at how James Marshall Reilly, CEO of the Guild Agency and author of Shake the World made the venture worthwhile, according to an interview with Inc Magazine: “I started getting phone calls from everyone all over the world. I started being flown around the world for speaking engagements. I started signing clients I interviewed in the book. For me it was all about unexpected platforms that emerged. Some people wanted me to come in and speak about the job market, and others wanted to talk about philanthropy and giving. There is no outcome predictability model for it but when you put a book out there and push it, you can sit back and watch interesting things come in.”

Li echoes Reilly, saying: “The most gratifying thing for is when someone comes up to me with my book and it’s all dog-eared, bookmarked, and she says this book made a huge difference to in her life. That’s the reason to write the book, and I still get shivers when I think about what impact my book may have on readers.”

Photo of Charlene Li via YouTube screenshot

Additional notes provided by David Silverberg

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Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Mark Evans help startups and fast-growing companies tell better stories (aka marketing). His strength is delivering “foundational” strategic and tactical services, specifically core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation. Find him via his blog
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