Blue-Collar Gold Shows the Potential Beyond the StereotypeWhen most people think of entrepreneurs, they think of white-collar employees. They don’t think of chimneys. Yet, chimneys were the essential ingredient behind Mark Stoner’s rise to million-dollar success. Like others, Stoner didn’t believe a blue-collar job was the path to big success. His trip through the blue-collar industry was supposed to be temporary until he found something “better”. But things didn’t out that way. Blue-Collar Gold: How to Build a Service Business From the Dirt Up is the story of Stoner’s success and the lessons he gained along the way.

What is Blue-Collar Gold About?

Most people have a negative view of the blue-collar jobs. Society today often views them as inferior to white-collar jobs and certainly not the path to a lucrative business career. This bias assumes that blue-collar workers are not entrepreneurial like their white-collar counterparts.

Stoner’s own experiences, as depicted in his book, tell a very different story.

Before launching the blue collar business that would make him millions, Stoner was a member of a country band that was on the rise. They had won awards, gained a little attention, and were preparing for a deal. Unfortunately, that’s when trouble with the band leader and an ego inflated with success sent the group’s fortunes spiraling.

Stoner took the opportunity to dive full-time into a very unusual side gig — that of a chimney sweep. But through a series of unexpected twists and turns, it would also lead to blue-collar gold and make him a millionaire. The process wasn’t a straightforward one. For a long time, he treated his chimney-sweeping like a “job” instead of a profitable business.

Then he got seriously injured on the job.

It occurred to Stoner he could scale the business and scale he did. He shifted into business growth mode. Stoner obtained more trucks, expanded his service area, and began to grow the business to the point he could step away and still earn income.

Blue-Collar Gold contains the lessons on leadership, business development, and marketing that Stoner gained along the way. His core message is that a great potential exists in supposedly blue-collar businesses but entrepreneurs have to be willing to step outside their comfort zone  By moving past the “blue-collar” stereotype, entrepreneurs can find new frontiers of opportunity with the same growth potential as the high tech startups you see on television or in magazines.

Stoner turned a one-man side gig as a chimney sweep into a multi-million dollar business. He is a speaker, the current president of the Chimney Safety Institute and founder of the Sir Vent Chimney and Venting Service, a franchise that developed out of his expertise in the chimney-sweeping industry.

What Was Best About Blue-Collar Gold?

Blue-Collar Gold deserves credit for highlighting the business potential in supposedly blue-collar businesses. As Stoner reports (and news reports have declared for years), hundreds of blue-collar jobs go unfulfilled each year. These gaps in the economy are waiting for entrepreneurs and workers to fill them.

Blue-Collar Gold also demonstrates how leaders can use theory and practical experience to become better leaders. The book shifts between Stoner’s actual experience and the insights to be gained. This interplay of experience and learning is exactly what entrepreneurs need to advance in their careers.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Blue-Collar Gold is better suited for professionals already in blue-collar businesses. While the book offers plenty of helpful tips it lacks critical details prospective blue-collar entrepreneurs need to get started. Some of these details include funding, money management and business planning. Providing these details could help a prospective blue-collar entrepreneur break  into a new industry or a current blue-collar business owner refine his or her management skills.

Why Read Blue-Collar Gold?

Blue-Collar Gold tells an advice-packed, inspirational “rags-to-riches” story to inspire anyone interested in taking a second look at blue-collar business. Stoner also deserves credit for changing the discussion within the blue-collar business world itself. The blue-collar businesses have traditionally emphasized technical skills. Stoner’s journey shows the power of including business development and other “soft skills” into the blue-collar business world with unexpectedly profitable results.

This article, "Blue-Collar Gold Shows the Potential Beyond the Stereotype" was first published on Small Business Trends

From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking GrowthMany businesses see growth hacking as a “startup” game for tech-savvy Millennials. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success would argue that it is not. The book, written by the very person who coined the now-trending buzzword “growth hacking” (Sean Ellis) with co-author Morgan Brown, explores the realistic principles behind growth hacking to demonstrate how any business that’s ready can achieve and sustain massive growth in a short period of time.

What is Hacking Growth About?

Most people hear about the wildly successful results of expert growth hackers like Ellis, Seth Godin, and Neil Patel. They don’t focus on the principles that gave them those results. That is the focus of Hacking Growth. Unlike the perception, growth hacking is not all about getting as many customers to download your product or use your story as possible. It’s actually about sustaining growth by offering great value to your current customers and applying the right levers to scale that value to a larger and larger audience.

Ellis came to this realization when he left his sales job to work for Uproar, a gaming company. At first, Ellis tried to follow the traditional advertising path (banner ads, for example) but found that he was playing a losing game. That’s when he and his team began to focus on data, experimentation and cross-department collaboration. They ended up going viral, with games being placed on 40,000 websites.

The process that Ellis developed out of that period in his life (along with later experiences) helped him shape the foundations of what is called growth hacking today. As Ellis and Brown point out, growth hacking is less about having the most innovative technology or a million-dollar budget (though these two things wouldn’t hurt). It’s about developing a process that allows your business to adapt to the changing needs of your customer through experimentation, data analysis and observation, not assumptions. It’s about finding and leveraging your unique competitive advantage that connects with your customers (the book calls this connection an “aha moment”). By doing this, the authors say, your business has the best opportunity to support your current customers while hacking the foundation for future ones.

Ellis is the founder and CEO of Growth Hackers and Qualaroo, a contributor to Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal, and advisor on growth hacking issues. He is a former first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni and helped two companies go from zero customers to IPO filing (LogMeIn and Uproar).

Brown is an author, consultant, speaker and growth hacking expert who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Inman News, a real estate news company. He previously served as the Interim Head of Growth at Qualaroo and True Vault, a data company.

What Was Best About Hacking Growth?

Popular buzzwords, like “growth hacking” can become so vague and overused that they become meaningless. Hacking Growth helps to combat that problem by focusing on the principles, rather than the spectacle, of growth hacking. Unlike the popular myth, growth hacking is not only for tech-savvy companies started by Millennials. It’s for every business owner that takes the time to learn and experiment with a new mindset. Ellis and Brown demonstrate how this mindset is ultimately the method by which companies survive a constantly changing consumer-driven world.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

While Hacking Growth emphasizes that growth hacking can be adapted to almost any business, the book’s growth-hacking process may not be for everyone. Hacking Growth tends to focus on product-oriented businesses rather than service-oriented businesses. These companies might include software companies, manufacturers and others. The book also focuses on businesses having the resources and staff to conduct experiments, and conduct different types of marketing research. This does not mean a small business (even a solopreneur) can’t learn something from the book. It just means that readers who have a small business need to adapt where it makes sense.

Why Read Hacking Growth?

Hacking Growth is best suited for the business owner who feels confused by the actual process of growth hacking. As mentioned earlier in this review, growth hacking is a topic that’s well covered. That being said, there is more glitz than substance in talk about growth hacking. Hacking Growth skips all of this by focusing on lessons extracted by Ellis and Brown so readers can adapt those principles to their own business situations. The key, as readers will quickly find out, is not to create a “read it and forget it” recipe for business growth. The key is developing the right mindset and process to achieve that goal. Hacking Growth provides insight into the right mindset readers need while attempting to hack their business’ growth and gives examples that demonstrate what a sustainable process looks like.

This article, "From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking Growth" was first published on Small Business Trends

Crowd Start is the Ultimate Guide to CrowdfundingIn the age of Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe, Crowd Start: The Ultimate Guide to a Powerful and Profitable Crowdfunding Campaign offers an opportunity for prospective individuals or businesses to learn how to leverage the power of crowds to achieve their dreams. The book, written by an entrepreneur who successfully exceeded funding for her own crowdfunded project, details how readers can establish a well-planned campaign. The book covers the fundamentals, strategies and roadmap that will take a crowdfunder from Day Zero until completion.

What is Crowd Start About?

In Crowd Start, author Ariel Hyatt dives into the world of crowdfunding to help prospective participants decide if they are ready and able to get involved. You may have heard about crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. You might have heard about the success stories of entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and other individuals that used crowdfunding. Based on those success stories, you might assume all you need for a successful crowdfunding campaign is a smart idea and the right kind of “buzz”.

The answer couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As Hyatt points out, crowdfunding is not a guaranteed win. In fact, a surprisingly large number of crowdfunding campaigns fail to reach their goal for a wide variety of reasons. Nothing, not even the cutest cat videos, guarantees a success so participants have to put in the time to build an audience, craft a campaign, and get funding.

But what makes up a crowdfunding campaign with a high chance of survival? Hyatt points to several core elements: a good idea, a committed audience, well-designed and engaging campaign and a team of helpful supporters. Starting with this formula of a good idea, crowd power, platform and teamwork, a person launching a crowdfunding campaign can stack the odds heavily in his or her favor.

Maintaining your crowdfunding campaign’s momentum is the next hurdle, something Crowd Start covers in a lot of detail. The book outlines a highly specific timeline that readers can follow to keep the audience engaged and responsive through the entire campaign. Crowd Start then provides tips for what to do after crossing the finish line to leverage crowdfunding success or failure into an experience worth the effort.

Hyatt is the founder of CyberPR music, a PR firm that leverages publicity, social media, crowdfunding and branding to help creative professionals, businesses and others leverage the power of crowds to achieve their dreams. A veteran of the PR industry, Hyatt is also a speaker who has been involved with big events like South by Southwest and helped clients get press on Oprah, CNN, and Forces.

What Was Best About Crowd Start?

Crowd Start provides a detailed step-by-step template for those who want to know exactly what they should do at every point in a crowdfunding campaign. Hyatt provides templates for social media messages, blog posts and email newsletters along with recommendations on how to leverage advertising and other online tools to extend the reach of your campaign. This level of insight comes from the author’s own PR experience, but also her experience running a successful crowdfunding experiment earning her over $10,000 more than expected.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

One area of caution to consider with Crowd Start is the amount of time it will take to run a campaign, which isn’t really discussed in the book. Hyatt provides a lot of channels, from social media updates to videos and blog posts, that must be maintained to keep the momentum of a crowdfunding campaign going. While the timeline in the book can help with figuring out what tasks should be done each day, more information on how to efficiently allocate time during a crowdfunding campaign might give readers a more realistic assessment of the time commitment and work involved.

Why Read Crowd Start?

Crowd Start is an excellent example of a book written from the perspective of someone who knows their subject matter. As discussed above, Hyatt successfully launched her own crowdfunding experiment and has used her expertise to help others. Crowd Start serves as a blueprint to that success, identifying the key milestones and challenges of which perspective crowdfunders must be aware. This kind of information will be extremely helpful to any person or business at any point in the crowdfunding journey. This includes those thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign and those who have already completed a campaign and want additional insight into their experience from an expert.

This article, "Crowd Start Serves As the Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding" was first published on Small Business Trends

Rewriting the Manual With The Accidental Entrepreneur's HandbookIf you wanted to become an entrepreneur, chances are that 99 percent of the people would tell you that you need a business plan. They would tell you to study the market, estimate how much money you need, and how much in sales you need to cover your expenses. The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook: Useful Stuff For Your Enterprise Voyage would question that logic. This book argues that you don’t need some external requirement (like a degree or fancy 50 plus page business plan) to become an entrepreneur. You only need to take that first step on your entrepreneur’s voyage and then another one.

What is The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook About?

The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook begins with the premise that everyone can be an entrepreneur. History seems to bear this out if you think about. People from all walks of life have become entrepreneurs. If this is true, then why are prospective entrepreneurs constantly held back by those who insist on a  more formalized approach? Why do some supposed “experts” seem to believe only a certain type of person can be an entrepreneur?

The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook argues potential entrepreneurs hold themselves back from entrepreneurship because they (consciously or subconsciously) allow circumstances to opt them out of it. They might have an idea for a business but they don’t want to leave safety for the unknown. They might have been told only people who display certain traits (extroverts, for example) can run a successful business. They might believe they need a world-changing idea before they can become accepted as an entrepreneur. So they bury their entrepreneurial dreams and read about other success stories while quietly wishing they could experience the same success.

The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook calls this approach just plain wrong.

Entrepreneurship isn’t about fancy PowerPoints or even suits. It’s a way of thinking. Entrepreneurs make stuff happen by implementing ideas that fulfill another person’s need, whether that is a haircut, BMW, or someone to watch the kids while a couple goes on date night.

Accepting this broader definition is the point of The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook. The book asserts that readers don’t need any external validation to be an entrepreneur. They only need an idea and a key set of characteristics (discussed in the book) to get started on their “enterprise voyage,” the author’s name for the rough-and-tumble ride of entrepreneurship.

Author Iain Scott, also known as Enterprise Iain, is a former teacher who left a career in education (despite constant reminders of his loss of security) to become an entrepreneur. Although he knew nothing about entrepreneurship, he utilized the techniques he discusses in his book. In his book, Scott describes how he found a calling to help others launch their entrepreneurial dreams (instead of managing his own business.) He is the founder of Can Do Places + Spaces, a website focused on entrepreneurship, and works as an author, podcaster and filmmaker with a long history covering entrepreneurial support programs.

What Was Best About The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook?

The best part of The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook is the redefinition of the concept of “entrepreneurship”. Most books, to this day, run under the assumption that you have to follow a set path to becoming an entrepreneur. Scott’s book shares why this is misleading and ultimately blocks prospective entrepreneurs into a cycle of “wantepreneurism”. Prospective entrepreneurs feel they don’t meet the requirements even though they are blocking their own paths with these beliefs. The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook dispels those ideas and provides readers with a more realistic overview of the entrepreneurial journey

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook can best be thought of as an inspirational guide to an entrepreneur’s first step. The book, however, lacks sufficient detail on the next steps an entrepreneur should take once they decide to move ahead with starting a business. As the book points out, there is no straightforward “check off the box” path to entrepreneurship. That being said, prospective entrepreneurs can learn a lot from following the previous steps of entrepreneurs. Adding more case studies (including more details about the author’s journey in his food specialty business) may help readers navigate their initial first months as an entrepreneur.

Why Read The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook?

The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook should appeal most to prospective “wantrepreneurs” and new entrepreneurs in their first few months of business. While some more detail could be helpful, the book provides an excellent overview of entrepreneurship. It is a motivational and realistic guide to entrepreneurship outside the more formal approach and complicated business jargon (although some business terms are used.) And it shows how anyone can adopt the entrepreneurial spirit. If you are an entrepreneur who is waiting for the right moment, a new entrepreneur who is wondering if you are going in the right direction or just someone who wants to take more ownership of your life, The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook is a creative and inspirational boost that urges you to chase your dream now, rather than someday.

This article, "Rewriting the Manual With The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook" was first published on Small Business Trends

Launch in Just 1 Day with the 24-Hour Business Plan TemplateYes, you read the title correctly. Steven Fies wants to help entrepreneurs who are ready take their startup ideas to the market in 24 hours (or even less) in his new book, 24-Hour Business Plan Template: How to Validate Your Startup Ideas and Plan Your Business Venture. The book details how startup business owners itching to launch their business can quickly validate their ideas for an even faster launch than any person has ever dreamed.

What is the 24-Hour Business Plan Template About?

There is a book for launching your startup in 7 days. If that’s too slow for you, you could try 48 hours. If that’s too slow for you, Fies’ book, 24-Hour Business Plan Template, says it is even faster. An important point to note, however, is that the book focuses on the validation of a potential business idea. It doesn’t spend a lot of energy focusing on developing business ideas.

Why does Fies believe that you only need 24 hours to validate a business idea? He wants prospective entrepreneurs to break up with the idea of a perfect “business plan”. No matter how much you plan or how detailed your idea, according to Fies’ logic, it’s still just a guess. Every business plan will evolve and morph over time, especially in the first few critical months. While many prospective business owners are still drafting their 50+ page business plans, Fies believes they should be earning money.

By jumping into the market now with a business idea that has shown some promise, you are in better position to focus on what really matters: execution. Execution is what distinguishes the success of a plan, not how many PowerPoint slides or Excel spreadsheets you have. By speeding up the launch process. Fies believes entrepreneurs avoid getting emotionally tied to one idea. The more time and resources an entrepreneur invests in an idea, the harder it is for an entrepreneur to remain objective about that idea. Using the strategies in Steven Fies’ book, entrepreneurs shouldn’t have that problem. By launching an idea quickly, they can quickly modify or scrap ideas that won’t lead them to the success they want.

Fies is a serial entrepreneur, author, president at ThinkPlanLaunch (a talent management consulting agency) and owner of S. MICHAEL Creative Branding. Besides his work, he enjoys playing guitar, surfing, breakfast burritos and taking care of his family, which includes a chihuahua.

What Was Best About the 24-Hour Business Plan Template?

The caveat to Fies’ book is the business idea. If you have a legitimate business idea that you are ready to execute on, this book can lead you through the steps to flesh out the idea into a workable plan that includes an executive summary, company objective, sales and logistics. This kind of fast-paced planning reinforces Fies’ central point that you don’t require a lot of planning to get started launching your dream. Of special note, Fies focuses in on sales, one area that many “start your business in x days” books do not.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

The downside to Fies’ book is again the business idea. There isn’t a lot of help in this book for entrepreneurs who aren’t confident about their business idea. The book also may be a little intimidating to someone who is not familiar with the business world. That being said, for Fies’ intended audience (entrepreneurs who have a business idea but are afraid to pursue it), this book will emphasize how to calm their entrepreneurial fears through proactive validation.

Why Read the 24-Hour Business Plan Template?

24 Hour Business Plan Template is best suited for prospective entrepreneurs (in their first or next business) who want to maintain the structure that comes with a business plan but don’t want to wait months to execute that plan. The book walks readers step-by-step through a template that they can print off, fill out, and follow along with the book. That combination of guidance and emphasis on speed may be just the thing for the entrepreneur who needs that final push to move his or her business idea one step closer to reality.

This article, "Launch in Just 1 Day with the 24-Hour Business Plan Template" was first published on Small Business Trends