By Alison Coleman
It’s said that everyone has a book in them, and most entrepreneurs probably think they have several, as the creaking shelves of the business book section in any bookstore will attest.
But what makes a compelling business read? Is it the celebrity entrepreneur behind the story, the thrills and spills of the business journey itself, or the sharing of the highs and lows and the tough lessons in business life that others can learn from?
I asked Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, whose best selling autobiographies embody the lot, how he approaches his book projects. It turns out that everything hinges on his lifelong habit of always carrying a notebook and making copious notes and lists.
“These vary from lists of people to call, and lists of ideas, to lists of companies to set up and lists of people who can make things happen,” he says. “Luckily I’ve kept these notebooks my entire career – my home has always been full of them – filled cover to cover with to-do lists, ideas, successes and failures.”
This wealth of material formed the basis of all of his previous books, and proved particularly useful in writing the latest instalment of his autobiography ‘Finding My Virginity’.
“Whatever book I’m writing, I put the adventure at the heart of each anecdote and the business lessons tend to follow naturally,” he says. “Whether we’re launching airlines in Australia or space companies in the desert, there are basic business lessons at the heart of each moment. My goal is to have fun learning from success and failure and encourage others to do the same.”
Overnight business success for a teenage entrepreneur is another winning theme for a business autobiography. At 18 years old Jordan Daykin became the youngest entrepreneur in history to receive investment in the Dragons’ Den, securing £80,000 from Deborah Meaden for a stake in GripIt Fixings, a business Daykin founded when he was just 14.
Today the company is valued at £20million ($26 million) and its founder, now 22, has just published his autobiography ‘Gripped’.
He says: “I’ve long been interested in writing a book, my main motivation being to educate and inspire young people, just as I was inspired by books I’ve read and people I’ve met through business.”
With his many experiences, successes and setbacks over the last few years there were always going to be some great stories to tell, in terms of entertainment value and lessons for life. From concept to completion the book took around a year to produce and Daykin had a talented ghostwriter on board which helped to speed up the process.
“The biggest challenge was fitting everything in to what I wanted to be a concise, entertaining read,” he says. “Although I’m still young, there was so much I wanted to say and I had to think carefully about which anecdotes and pieces of advice would be genuinely useful to the audience I was communicating with.”
Few entrepreneurs have stories that are as high profile as Branson’s or as dramatic as Daykin’s, and unless your business is already well known it’s tough to sell your business life story as a book. But that doesn’t mean your experiences lack literary merit.
If you think you have enough material to write a book, the advice from Alison Jones, founder of Practical Inspiration Publishing, is to focus on what your reader needs.
“If you have a useful lesson or approach that others can use, make that the focus and use your own story to illustrate it,” she says. “If you’re writing to inspire people, focus on your challenges and how you overcame them, to show what’s possible and offer some practical steps they can take.”
One business autobiography that impressed Jones in that respect is Ultimo founder Michelle Mone’s book ‘My Fight to the Top’.
“It’s a remarkable story, and she’s very clear about her desired impact, which is to inspire her readers to take control and fight for their dream, regardless of their background,” she says.
Nowadays, with access to e-book tools and online marketplaces like Amazon, books can be produced relatively cheaply, making it easier for entrepreneurs with plenty of material but no publisher to go the DIY route.
Marketing manager Tom Bourlet kept notes of his tips and tricks on how to build a blog, which he turned into an e-book. Launched in May this year, the book, ‘The Spaghetti Traveller Guide On How To Blog: From Blogger To Brand’, has sold just over 200 copies.
When he first started recording his notes, his plan was to create a list of useful practical tips that he could potentially use as a blog post. But as time went on, the volume of the notes far exceeded the length of a blog post, covering many areas, from making a media kit, to optimising the blog site for both users and search engines.
“That’s when I considered turning it into an e-book,” says Bourlet. “However I didn’t really know where to start, so I just kept writing until I felt happy with it.”
His advice to other budding business e-book authors is to value their voice.“So many people suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t believe people will want to read what they say,” he says. “You have to believe and be confident that your opinion, experience and actions matter and will be interesting to others.”
Regardless of whether they plan to publish their story, there are benefits to be gained by business owners by logging the details of their journey. “The process of writing forces you to reflect and process experience, and that’s an incredibly powerful tool to have at your disposal each day,” says Jones.
While preparing to launch her own business she kept a private WordPress blog, recording ideas, conversations, feelings and fears, which proved to be hugely helpful, both practically and emotionally, as she took the leap into entrepreneurship.
“On the days when I thought this was all a terrible idea I could look back and reignite my enthusiasm and self belief,” she says.