Oprah Winfrey and I have a lot in common. We could be twin sisters separated at birth, if you overlook the difference in our incomes. Oprah loves to talk. So do I! Oprah is a TV goddess. I love TV! Oprah helps people make their dreams come true. Hey, my mission is to help people make a living doing what they love. Isn't that something?
When you have a great job like Oprah and me, you can spend 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. discussing spirituality, personal development, fall wedding color selections and good books.
It's time I started my own book club. Oprah has a book club. Of course, she's got plenty of time to fritter away. What does she do really? Her show is only an hour a day. She does the occasional movie. She's only launched one magazine. On the other hand, I am a very busy gal. I'm running a multi-thousand dollar company. And I am a best selling author, if you count the "Ball Cock Replacement Industry's Best Selling Books" list.
Not to be outdone by my soul sister, I'd like to welcome you to Ellen's Book Club. I love books. Most of what I know I mined from books. The greatest minds in the world are prone to writing books about what they know. Great writers love to tell about wise and wonderful people. Isn't that nice of them?
Dear small shop operator: Here's a list of terrific books just for you. Read them. Be inspired. Apply their pearls of wisdom, and someday we will be reading about you!
"Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea" by Gary KinderThe hero of this tale is an engineer. And if that isn't wild enough for you, wait until you learn about the fate of a paddle steam ship, burdened with 21 tons of Gold Rush gold in an almost perfect storm. This true story is about Tommy Thompson, a young engineer so fascinated with deep-water exploration, he becomes a treasure hunter.
For a lesson in the power of vision plus persistence . . .
He figures if he finds something compelling under miles of ocean water, he can find the money to build his dream machine - a vehicle that can explore, excavate and open beer bottles 8,000 feet underwater. He's right!
The money doesn't drive Thompson. He's obsessed with the technology. He knows more about underwater exploration than the U.S. Navy. But, Tommy learns quickly that money greases the skids. He becomes a brilliant entrepreneur out of necessity. He stays committed and determined, in spite of setbacks that would flatten Pollyanna. This is one fascinating book. The power of vision, persistence . . . and 21 tons of gold.
"Moneyhunt" by Miles Spencer and Cliff EnnicoSkip the prime time TV game shows. On PBS, the authors of "Moneyhunt" host a show by the same name. Contestants pitch their business plans to a panel of business experts and venture capitalists. If their plan passes muster, they get seed money. Otherwise, they get a handshake and a nod to the door. Now that's my kind of game show!
For a frank look at what it really takes to create a successful business . . .
The book offers "Moneyhunt" rules for being successful in business and illustrates each rule with a story about a hero who followed the rule, or didn't. This is not a sunny, "no worries" look at entrepreneurship. On the contrary, the setting is the battlefield of business, where most companies end up beaten and crushed.
There is a thought-provoking story about ethics in the chapter, "When Push Comes to Shove, the Battle Goes to the Ruthless." The lines between right and wrong are not always clear in life and business. Best to consider what you would do when push comes to shove. The hero of this chapter finds the gray between the black and white. Would you?
Though the odds are against you, there is no better way to make a fortune than as a winning business owner. Be smart and pay attention to the rules, such as "In litigation, there are no winners," and my favorite, "Be sure the reward is worth the risk."
"Soloing" by Harriet RubinWhat if you pitched the whole company thing and went back to working in a truck all by yourself. Unfortunately, at some point, your knees and back would wear out. But, there are advantages to the solo lifestyle.
For a new perspective on employer-employee relationships. . .
Harriet Rubin is about as far away from being a plumbing contractor as Tammy Faye Baker, but she absolutely nails the thrill of being on your own and making a go of it. So often, working for someone else or with others nudges us into compromising situations we would rather not think about.
Rubin examines the security of working for yourself that can never be matched by depending on others to make things happen. Her book is compelling, even if you have no interest in scaling back from small shop to one-man shop. After all, it's nice to know that you could.
Another take on the solo lifestyle: Consider outsourcing instead of hiring employees. Enlist the help of soloists. Have you ever hired an employee to handle a task that used to take you a few hours here and there, and suddenly the task takes exactly 40 hours per week? Explore independent contractor relationships. Hire on a per-project basis. If you do have employees, treat them like subcontractors. The contractor-to-contractor relationship tends to be more respectful than the employer-employee relationship. You don't own them, and they just might go "solo" any day now.
"H2Oh" by Dan Holohan;Have you noticed that companies with the least essential goods and services have the greatest marketing strategies? Nobody needs a greasy burger, diamond ring or mediocre beer. Those companies know that. So they create a demand with great marketing.
"Off-the-Wall Marketing Ideas" by Nancy Michaels and Debbi J. Karpowicz
For learning to market like McDonald's, De Beers and Budweiser . . .
In contrast, what you do is vital, essential to the survivability of mankind on this planet. But do plumbers market? Not many. Most complain the market won't allow them to charge more for their services than the unskilled handyman who works out of his Geo Metro. Nonsense.
Holohan has written about 5,000 books, mostly beautiful technical stuff. Don't overlook his marketing book "H2Oh!" Instead of giving you cut-and-paste marketing materials, he teaches you how to think and act like a marketer. Real Jedi warrior stuff. His opening story is about a man who got the whole world to run on his time. Now if he can do that, think you could charge more than the Geo Metro dude?
Another great marketing book is "Off-The-Wall Marketing Ideas." This book is chock full of clever, original ideas for making a big splash. I've always liked using charity events and community projects as the backdrop for our marketing efforts. I always figured that if it bombed as a marketing event, it was still a good deed done. Michaels and Karpowicz lay out a sure-fire plan for maximizing your publicity as you save the world or the whales. Don't you love a win-win situation?
The authors are very encouraging when it comes to blowing your own horn. In fact, maybe you should carry a horn with you. It could be your personal icon, your brand. Play taps when you discover a beyond-repair water heater. Think Jerry Garcia and tie-die. Picture the Colonel in his white suit and black string tie. The one thing that will always set you apart from the other guys is you.
Remember, the market doesn't set prices - marketers do. You can become a first class marketer and these books can help.
"Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" by J.K. Rowling Sure, everyone's talking about Harry Potter. It is a terrific book series about the basic conflict of good and evil, set in a fantastic world of witches, wizards and magical creatures. The books are fun. But the story behind the books is even better.
For a reason to believe in the gold ring . . .
British author J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mom without two sixpences to rub together. She wrote the first book on a pub table during stolen hours while her daughter slept. She found the right agent and publisher. Serendipity? Hard work? The right product? Maybe all of that. The books took off like a Firebolt 2000 Quidditch broom.
"The Goblet of Fire" is the fourth book in the series. Its initial printing was 3.9 million books - the largest single run of books ever. The books are hefty, 752 pages, and only fit four to a box. Bookstores hosted Harry Potter parties on the night of the book's release. They encouraged patrons to dress up as their favorite characters, good or evil.
Just picture those mountains of boxes, all over the world, delivered to the grasping hands of desperately addicted 10-year-old readers precisely at the stroke of midnight. Rowling isn't a struggling single mom anymore. Buy and read all four Harry Potter books because we are all well served by a rags-to-riches success story, especially one that gets kids hooked on books.
Guess what is Oprah's favorite book of all time? "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. Mine, too! Spooky, isn't it?