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Maybe the Most Valuable Book Out There on Understanding People

 Book Yourself Solid IllustratedSo I am reading and listening to an updated revised version of marketing guru Michael Port’s excellent book “Book Yourself Solid Illustrated: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling” and in it at one point he says/writes:

”When I’m asked “What are the best marketing and sales books ever write?” my answer is always the same: “Besides my books?” Kidding. In all seriousness, my answer is , just one: Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, by Daniel Goleman, a popular science writer. We absolutly need to draw on social neuroscience research to learn how to market and sell professional services. At its core social intelligence is a person’s ability to understand his or her environment and react in a way that creates successful relationships. And successful relationships ensure successful direct outreach.”

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human RelationshipsHe might very well be right about Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human RelationshipsI heard that passage by Michael Port and I since I had some credits to use in my account I thought I would check and see if it was there. I have read Goleman’s other books and recalled reading and listening to his book Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence  thinking it was a great book and Social Intelligence didn’t disappoint me in any way and I think that I may have to put it on the top of my list too as one of the most important business books ever (and books about understanding the lives we live too).

Almost as soon as I started listening to the book I went to Amazon ordered and downloaded the Kindle version so I could sync the two modes of “reading” the book via Whispersync and highlight the important passages in the the text for my future reference.

This is one of those books that I will have to read/listen to several times just to make sure I am gleaning as much as I possibly can from it.

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‘How Much Should I Charge?’ & ‘Where Did The Money Go’ get a Facelift

Well it looks like Ellen Rohr’s two great books that I so often recommend , How Much Should I Charge? Pricing Basics For Making Money Doing What You Love and Where Did the Money Go?: Accounting Basics for the Business Owner Who Wants to Get Profitable, have gotten a makeover or facelift. Notice however I said “a makeover” not “revised.” The covers are new but so far I can’t see anything on the new Amazon pages or on her web site that indicates there’s any new or revised content but still they’re great books and essentials for the contractor just starting out.

How Much Should I Charge? Pricing Basics For Making Money Doing What You Love

How Much Should I Charge?: Pricing Basics for Making Money Doing What You Love

By Ellen Rohr

Price: $14.95 & eligible for free shipping with Amazon Prime

While she never uses the phrase ‘Capacity Based Markup‘ in plain simple language that anyone can understand Ellen Rohr lays out and explains the mechanics of setting a price for your work using the ‘Capacity Based Markup’ methodology.


Where Did the Money Go?: Accounting Basics for the Business Owner Who Wants to Get Profitable Where Did the Money Go?: Accounting Basics for the Business Owner Who Wants to Get Profitable

By Ellen Rohr
Price: $14.99 & eligible for free shipping with Amazon Prime

The excellent companion book that explains financial language and the necessary financial thinking we all need to know in colloquial terms that makes sense to anyone.


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Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.

I’ve been re-reading and re-listening to my Seth Godin book and audio book library these last few weeks and one of the reoccurring themes Seth talks about over and over again is the vital importance of being “remarkable” and is the fundamental concept in his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (a brown cow isn’t remarkable, a purple cow is so you remember it and talk about it).

And today when I was searching for an old Inc magazine article on the Inc web site I ran across another article I thought was interesting an apropos regarding being “remarkable.” In ask Robert Stephens (Stephens is the founder of Geek Squad, a tech-support company that was acquired by Best Buy in 2002) Stephens answers t a question put to him:

“I want to generate buzz about my executive search firm among potential clients. What is the best way to boost word-of-mouth marketing?”

Stephens reply is a great one and I give you this link so you can read it on the Inc site but towards the end he said something that really caught my attention:

Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.

So I’m thinking of now here in 2010 and beyond how can builders and remodelers stand out from the crowd by being remarkable?

For some suggesting on how to get unstuck and moving on the road to becoming remarkable a quick list of things to consider read Seth Godin post on his blog: Seth’s Blog: How to be remarkable. In fact subscribe to his blog and read it religiously, go out and search for his videos on YouTube, Vimeo and wherever else they may be and watch them and and buy his books and audio-books. The guy is a master.

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ReWork, Crush It, Linchpin & The 4 Hour Workweek (again)

I’ve been tracking the upcoming release of the book ReWork by the folks at and today on their blog they published REWORK Trailer 1: Staying Late

After looking at that trailer I clicked through to Amazon to per-order my copy and I found Amazon had one of those ‘people who bought this book also bought‘ groupings that I thought would be a great one.

ReWorkCrush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your PassionLinchpin: Are You IndispensableThe 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content


We have of course ReWork form the people at 37 Signals which is a collection of essays where they discuss the business & management philosophies at the core of 37signals’ success (a full list of the essays can be found here). For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name 37signals they are the developers behind the online project management tools Basecamp®, Highrise®, Backpack®, and Campfire and if you read their blog you would know why this is a book to look forward to. One of my favorite marketing authors Seth Godin (who’s new book I will get to in a minute) had this to say about ReWork:

This book will make you uncomfortable.

Depending on what you do all day, it might make you extremely uncomfortable.

That’s a very good thing, because you deserve it. We all do.

Jason and David have broken all the rules and won. Again and again they’ve demonstrated that the regular way isn’t necessarily the right way. They just don’t say it, they do it. And they do it better than just about anyone has any right to expect.

This book is short, fast, sharp and ready to make a difference. It takes no prisoners, spares no quarter and gives you no place to hide, all at the same time.

There, my review is almost as long as the first chapter of the book. I can’t imagine what possible excuse you can dream up for not buying this book for every single person you work with, right now.

Stop reading the review. Buy the book

Crush It

And it was that journey onto the Amazon site that pointed out another book to me that piques my curiosity, Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary Vaynerchuk (wikipedia) in case you haven’t heard him or heard of him is the voice of Wine Library TV: Gary Vaynerchuk’s daily wine video blog. As I read the Amazon page on Vaynerchuk’s new book I read a bunch of things that attracted me but the clincher was:

Learn: Why storytelling is the most important business concept in the current marketplace.

That harkens back again to my attraction to the message in Seth Godin’s classic book All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. which I wrote about here back in August of 2005 which in a nutshell was telling authentic genuine stories are at the heart of great marketing and . . . and our belief in those stories makes them true. I truly enjoy watching the passionate and excited stories that Vaynerchuk tells us about wine in his video podcasts (and I don’t even drink!) so I want to hear what he has to say on the subject


Linchpin: Are You Indispensable is the latest from Seth Godin and whenever Seth Godin talks (writes) listen. It looks to me as though with Linchpin we get Godin’s takes on personal branding. How to be a indispensable member of a tribe (Tribes, was Godin last book) . A linchpin is the person that hold things together and keeps a group or organization on an even keel and working together. A linchpin is that indispensable member an organization.

The Four Hour Work Week Expanded and Updated

I wrote about the original 4-Hour Workweek a while back in my post on Relative Income and the book has now been revised, expanded, updated, and republished as The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.

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How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy

I’ve was working cleaning up my computer files the other day and I ran across a PDF of a Harvard Business Review article had downloaded a while back entitled How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy by Robert I. Sutton.

The no Asshole RuleBob Sutton is the author of the excellent book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (which is a book so many contractors I know really need to read) and writes the blog Bob Sutton Work Matters.

Getting back to the article Sutton writes in the intro:

The Idea in Brief

• It’s not easy being the boss during a downturn. Your natural impulse is to focus on your own well-justified concerns, but your people are watching your every move for clues to their fate.

• You need to rethink your responsibilities in terms of what your people may lack most in unsettling times: predictability, understanding, control, and compassion.

• By making tough times less traumatic, you’ll equip your organization to thrive when conditions improve—and earn the loyalty of individuals who will remain in your network for years to come.

Those are important points that I don’t most contractors think about proactively. In tough times our employees often talk scuttlebutt amongst themselves and with their peers about the state of their jobs and the companies they work for. The doubt and dissension that kind of talk can generate can destroy productivity and quality just when the business owners can least afford it. It’s always been my idea that a far better policy is to be up front and speak with authentic candor about just what is going on and what lies ahead.

If you are going to have to layoff or furlough staff be up front and let them know so that they can plan for it. The trust that builds will make employees far less likely to run out on you on short notice when it can really hurt you.

Video: Management expert Robert Sutton shares lessons on handling layoffs and teams in crisis.

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A 2008-2009 Christmas/Winter Reading List

I’m putting together a Christmas/Winter reading list for 2008-9. It consists both of books I’ve reently read or am reading right now that I would recommend to other contractors and some new books I’ve just discovered and plan to read.

The first book I’ll mention comes from that last category in that I haven’t read it yet but it looked so good I just ordered it and plan to start in on it in just a couple of days. ItsHow Fit is Your BusinessHow Fit Is Your Business?: A Complete Checkup and Prescription for Better Business Health by Mark G Richardson who is President of Case Design/Remodeling , Inc. I’ve been a long time fan of Richardson’s articles and commentary in Remodeling Magazine so this one was sort of a no-brainer i my book but in reading from a preview chapter I discovered on line I spotted a passage that tells me some of the information in the book is going to be particulary apropos for me and a lot of the contractors I work with. Quote:

“When all of your business comes from personal referrals, you are not really in control of your future. If the economy slows down or a specific market changes, you need to be able to generate new clients. Over-reliance on referrals can make your marketing “muscles” weak; when you need some “heavy lifting,” your strength will not be able to handle it. Most businesses with a very high percentage of revenue from personal referrals ride a rollercoaster from good times to bad.”

I’ve long been a beliver that contractors that don’t market and advertise are steering an aimless rudderless ship in terms of directing their business towards the projects they feel they are best suited for and Richardson comment illustrates another problem with the all my business comes from refereals perspective. I’m looking forward to see what else is in the book.

Next on my list is a book I ordered a month or so ago and have worked myself a little over halfway through at this point. It’s entitled Building a Successful Construction Company by Patricia W. Atallah.

Building a Successful Construction CompanyWhile I think a lot of small shop, mom and pop contractors will find the book addresses concerns and planning that they think is beyond them I still find it full of rich ideas and concepts and highly recommend it to the more serious contractor businsess owner regardless of the size of their business.

An excerpt (the introdution) from the book is avaible on the authors website at Building A Successful Construction Company – Book Introduction and in that excerpt the author writes:

“I started a construction business more than 12 years ago with business and banking experience and scant knowledge of the construction industry. What on earth possessed me, you ask? I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, and in my early 30s, I became anxious to drop out of the corporate fold and start my own business. I was looking for flexibility, a better balance in my life, and freedom from the limitations of a job description. I researched various possibilities for about a year and, based on my research, finally decided to start a business in the construction industry. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I recognized some of the critical issues facing the industry and saw an opportunity to eventually make a contribution.”

I often hear the you have to have “experience” argument being thrown around by a lot of men in the industry and I think that the author, Patricia Atallah, illustrates that business smarts are probably the most valuable asset an individula can have.

Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John BoydNext I’ll mention a group of books written about John Boyd. Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd and two more biographies written about him entiled Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
and The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security

I first turned on to learning about Boyd through a Yahoo Group Theory of Constraints discussion group I am a member of but you can read a little bit about him and his influence on business here in the Wikipedia article on him.

I found Boyd’s OODA loop based planning similar to Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act PDCA Cycle and Boyd’s belief that management defines objectives and strategy. Workers (soldiers, originally) decide how to carry the work out right in line with Deming’s thinking on management too. Boyd believed people are entirly capable of making intelligent decisions, provided they have the right education training and work environment to make those decisions within.

Next on my list I’m going to put a book I haven’t read but only just accidently discovered while I was looking for Mark G. Richardson’s book that I mentioned above. This one is by Mark Richardson which to the best of my knowledge is of no relation and is entitled:Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceZen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I’m a long time fan (30 years) of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and consider it to be one of the most influential and seminal books in my life. I’ve only just ordered the book and so I haven’t read it yet so I can’t comment but I’m putting it on the list here for those who feel more intellectually and philosophically inclined to examine juust what is “Quality”.

The Wikipedia article on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance says ZAMM “is the first of Robert M. Pirsig’s texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of quality.” (more..) One of my favorite quotes from the book that helped reawaken my interest when I heard it again a decade or so ago when it was mentioned by the business guru Tom Peters in one of his books is :

— “Quality doesn’t have to be defined, You understand it without definition. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.”—


— ” Quality is not a thing. It is an event. It is the event at which the subject
becomes aware of the object… The Quality event is the cause of the subjects
and objects, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of the

Run Your Business So It Doesn't Run YouNext on the list I’ll put Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You
by Linda Leigh Francis

Now I’ve known about this book for a couple of years now but have never really sat down and read everything in it until this past fall and I find it so valuable I’m going to add it to my Contracting 101 Essentials list.

Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You teaches you the same lessons as Michael Gerber’s E-Myth books about the concept that most contracting businesses fail because the founders are technicians (trades men and women) that were inspired to start a business but don’t have the business awareness to run a successful construction business but also provides some actual plans (checklists) and management tools for you to work with in making sure you develop your own systems and don’t fall prey to the “Entrepreneurial Trap” .

Reaching The Goal: How Managers Improve a Services Business Using Goldratt's Theory of ConstraintsLast on this particualr list (there will always be more book lists) I’ll put Reaching The Goal: How Managers Improve a Services Business Using Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.

This book is rather technical about the practical application of the Theory of Constraints in a service business environement. I recommend it for the folks who have abasic understanding of TOC and who have already read The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
and/or Critical Chain : A Business Novel and/or Critical Chain Project Management, Second Edition.

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Relative Income

Relative Income, It’s a great concept so what is so many of us don’t seem t get it.

The 4-Hour WorkweekAs I was working today I was re-reading the The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferris by listening to the audio book edition as I was working today I was remnded of a passage I really enjoyed when I read it the first time through.

Two hard-working chaps are headed towards each other. Chap A moving at 80 hours per week and Chap B moving at 10 hours per week. They both make $50,000 per year. Who will be richer when the pass in the middle of the night? If you said B, you would be correct, and this is the difference between absolute and relative income.

Absolute income is measured using one holy and inalterable variable: the raw and almighty dollar. Jane Doe makes $100,000 per year and is thus twice as rich as John Doe, who makes $50,000 per year.

Relative income uses two variables: the dollar and time, usually hours. The whole “per year” concept is arbitrary and makes it easy to trick yourself. Let’s look at the real trade.

Jane Doe makes $100,000 per year, $2,000 for each of 50 weeks per year, and works 80 hours per week. Jane Doe thus makes $25 per hour.

John Doe makes $50,000 per year, $1,000 for each of 50 weeks per year, but works 10 hours per week and hence makes $100 per hour.

In relative income, John is four times richer.

… The top New Rich mavericks make at least $5,000 per hour.

The other day I was in one of the discussion forums and I heard one contractor telling another fellow that was getting set to start out on his own that he could expect to spend

“…65 hours working [in the field], another 20 for office crap”

…and I thought that was just insane. That’s not a life , it’s a self imposed prison sentence and in my estimation evidence of poor business design. To his credit the guy who was putting the pieces together and doing the planning to go out on his own wasn’t buying into any of that insanity. The insane guys who work that kind of schedule (and there are lot of them out there) are often the ones who don’t have a decent or respectable Net Profit margin in place and try to make up for that lack by doing it “in volume“.

Generally speaking contractors need to work smarter learn to substitute that for working harder and longer.

Perhaps the key central premise of the booke The 4-Hour Workweek Open The 4-Hour Workweek Book Info in a new window is that you are only “rich” if you have leisure time to enjoy yourself. It probably should go on the contractors required reading list.

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Why Starbucks Coffee Is Cheap?

There’s an interesting article in Reuben Swartz’s Dollars and Sense: The Pricing Blog entitled:
Why Starbucks Coffee Is Cheap that presents a rational and explains that "if caffeine is what you want, and you want it in volume, Starbucks is your low-cost provider".

While that may be true as far as ‘pricing’ is concerned in the total realm of "caffeine providers" which includes Coke, Pepsi, Red Bull and amongst others is that really what people"buy" when they go to Starbucks? I drink nothing but de-caf regardless of whether it’s soda or coffee but I still prefer Starbucks and my local cappuccino bar to the coffee from my local delis, bagel shops and other establishments. The Experience Economy

So what am I buying and what am I paying for?

It’s the "Experience" I get. If Caffeine is a commodity and as long as the consumer views it that way then Starbucks is one of the low cost providers (I think the delis and bagel shops beat them there and are the ultimate bottom line leader in the low price for caffeine category) when compared to buying Coke, Pepsi or some energy drink. But in their book The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage
author Pine and Gilmore describe something different that often goes on and certainly takes place for me when I buy my coffee in that I’m buying the ambiance and "eatertainment" as the authors describe it of the cappuccino bar. In fact I’m not only not buying the caffeine I’m also probably not really buying the coffee either. I buy my coffee in Starbucks and my local shop, Perks, because of the experience it gives me. I’m buying it there for the way it makes me feel.

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Estimating Book Recommendations

I’m often asked for recommendations regarding books on estimating techniques, not the data mind you, but the techniques and methods of estimating.

Unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of books out there to choose from but still there are some good ones that are well worth the time.

Defensive EstimatingOn the top of the list I like Defensive Estimating: Protecting Your Profits by William Asdal, CGR. It’s not about how to estimate a kitchen, a deck or some other project in the literal sense in terms of what items to include and look for but is instead a book about the “big picture” of estimating and is about approaching estimating with a particular type of viewpoint and that is one of “protecting your company’s profit” which is very different than an estimating mind set that many contractors dangerously adopt which is “estimating to get the job”.

The lesson of Chapter 2 Establish the Company Profit Number Based on Your Income Needs which again so many contractors fail to do is alone worth the price of the whole book.

Chapter 6 Using Retail Pricing at Every Line brings up a point I’ve often talked about when considering ‘risk’ in building and remodeling projects which is to ‘Put the Risk into the Line Item and Not the Bottom Line‘ , in other words ‘Nullify the Risk at First Entry‘ so that it can be specifically dealt with based on the risk of the task the line item describes.

And he concludes the book with chapters that give some great example of contract and specification language that can be used by builders and remodeler’s to defend their profits.

I highly recommend this book. I thought it was interesting though in reading the editors description of the book they say “Asdal takes the magic and science of estimating and turns it into an art.” whereas I would say “Asdal takes the mystic and mystery of estimating and turns it into practical science”. I think a problem many contractors have is they view estimating as some kind of mystical purely intuitive art and therefore never really develop the repeatable scientific methodologies (systems) for approaching it and it becomes a mess.

EstimatingBuildingCostsDelPicoAs for the nails, screws, nuts and bolts of producing an estimate and to what to actually look for in estimating particular projects and trades I think Estimating Building Costs by Wayne J. DelPico and Estimating for the General Contractor Estimating for ContractorsCookby Paul J. Cook are pretty good for that. You will get things from them such as how to calculate liner measure, are and volume
and then what to look for as you produce cost estimates in the individual trade areas.Where they are lacking is in connecting the COST of production to the PRICE you need to charge to run a business.

Estimating Building Costs Estimating for the General Contractor

Two other books I think that are very helpful and good resources to have in the ‘nuts and bolts of producing an estimate’ category come from R.S means and are entitled: Kitchen & Bath Project Costs: Planning & Estimating Successful Projects and Home Addition & Renovation Project Costs: Planning & Estimating Successful Projects . And like the two books I just mentioned these two book don’t do a good job of connecting the COST of production to the PRICE you need to charge for your services and are in fact terrible in that regard. Under no conditions should you use these books to actually price a project out. Instead use the line items lists and the project commentary on what to look for as basic templates of what you will need to estimate. Then substitute your own labor, material, and subcontracting costs and markup structure for what they give you.

Given this list people often ask ‘Well, what about Jay Christofferson’s Estimating With Microsoft Excel and while I have read it and keep a copy of it for reference it’s more about using Microsoft Excel to build a software tool than how to actually “estimate” anything so that’s why I don’t include it on this list of ‘Estimating Book Recommendations’.

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Looking Back on My Thoughts On Reading from August in ‘97

Way back 90’s I used to have personal web site on AOL and writing at that time what we’re really essentially blog posts years before I had ever even heard of blogs I wrote this:

In the introduction to his book Leadership Is an Art, Max DePree says:

"In some sense, every reader "finishes" every book according to his or her experiences and needs and beliefs and potential. That is the way you can really own a book. Buying books is easy; owning them is not. There is space for you to finish and own this book. The ideas here have been in my mind for quite a few years, changing, growing, maturing. …As a child, I often watched adults study books and learned one of my first lessons about reading. They wrote in their books. Intent and involved readers often write in the margins and between lines…Good readers take possession of what they are learning by underlining and commenting and questioning. In this manner they "finish" what they read."

My copy of Defensive EstimatingWell that’s me. My books are more often than not full of underlines, circled text, highlighting, and post-it notes. Their pages are sometimes wavy and wrinkled from being soaked from the sweat dripping off my brow on as I read them on a stair master or stationary bike.

Recently an online friend said to me he’d like to not just get a copy of Defensive Estimating: Protecting Your Profit
but that he like to get my personal notated copy of the book. I thought it was funny reading that in that he pretty much figured out on his own what I did to the books I read so I took a photo of it at the time to document it.

It turns out I’ve got whole bunch of books that look like that or even worse. Tom Peters’ Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties which was perhaps one of the books that really inspired me to go on the business book reading binge that I’ve been on for over a decade now. It was in fact the book I was referring to above whose pages were all "wavy and wrinkled".

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