I’m a firm believer that you should never stop learning. Perhaps that’s where my intense dislike of self-proclaimed experts comes from. That, or the fact that half the time I probably know more about the topic at hand than they do, and since I wouldn’t call myself an expert, how is it that they can?
But learning is key to not only personal development, but the ultimate success of your business. When you are running a one or two person shop, you have to learn how to do almost everything. And there are very few places in the world where you can get that sort of experience in every aspect of a business in such a short time. The fact is that you’re probably short on knowledge in a great many areas.
Many small businesses fail, obviously enough, because they run out of money. But in order to run out of money, you need to be doing more things wrong than you’re doing right. Or at least more wrong of the things that matter. To avoid that, you need to learn more about the areas you’re inexperienced in and apply that knowledge. Most software companies are started by software people.
This is a naturally occurring phenomenon. I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I would imagine that there aren’t many art majors or medical professionals who quit their day jobs and decide to write and sell software on their own. It just doesn’t happen. As a developer and self affirmed geek, I’ve never run into a technical problem that I couldn’t solve, or at least didn’t know where to start looking to find the answers I needed.
Move outside the realm of technology though, and it’s easy for a geek to flap about like a fish out of water. When it comes to things like marketing, positioning, advertising, payment processing and other similar business issues which are not necessarily technological, geeks as a whole are just out of their element. Throw them a Z-transform any day of the week and it’s as good as solved. Ask them who their product is designed to be sold to, and the answer is invariably “everybody with a computer”. The ones who aren’t out of their element already own their own successful startups.
To help me achieve and maintain my status as a jack of all trades master of none, I read a lot. Whether they’re blogs, or books it doesn’t really matter so long as the content is useful. The problem I’ve found, is that it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff at a glance. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one suffering from this problem, so in an effort to help others fighting the same sort of problems, I’m going to introduce Mike’s Bookshelf in the next few weeks.
This past weekend, I ordered 12 new books from Amazon.com. Only one of them was a technical book. The other 11 were about various marketing techniques, advertising techniques, and generally helpful stuff for geeks like us who really just don’t know any better. If you took some classes on marketing or economics in college, you’re probably a few steps ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, my educational program was a beast. Weighing in at a whopping 199 credits, the undergraduate Computer Engineering program at RIT was anything but nice. And with the exception of a single elective, every one of our courses was required. Sure, I could have taken economics to satisfy my liberal arts requirements, but instead I chose things like Philosophy of Religion and Psychology.
In retrospect, I chose pretty poorly if I wanted to have any sort of decent business background, but it’s about 10 years too late for regrets. Accounting for Dummies is actually a decent book, incidentally. It probably saved me at least a quarters’ worth of economics classes, I probably remember just as much as I would have, and it was around $1,180 cheaper.
But “Mike’s Bookshelf” is where I’m going to start posting book reviews of the various books I’ve purchased over the years. I’ll probably post a few technical books here and there, but it will focus mainly on non-technical books, because I think those will be the most valuable to those who are starting their own businesses, or thinking of doing so. Some books will be well written and helpful. Others will not. Some will be dated, and others more recent.
Regardless of the topic or when it was written, I’ll try my best to give everything a fair shake. If you think I haven’t done so, let me know.